Looking to avoid an 0-3 start in league play, Baylor (10-4, 0-2) faces what some have dubbed a “must win game” against Texas (10-4, 1-1) at 1:00 on Saturday at the Ferrell Center. The game airs on ESPNU.
As always, we’ll look at offense against the opponent, and then turn to defense. Finally, we’ll close with a prediction.
In his third season as the coach at Texas, Shaka Smart once again has constructed an excellent defense. The Longhorns rank 5th on KenPom in defensive efficiency. They’ve done well, holding Duke, Gonzaga and Michigan below their season averages in points per possession.
The Longhorns ranked 13th in effective field goal defense. They do a good job forcing 2-point jump shots—with 29.1% of opponent looks coming in that category. They also are a tough team to score against inside, in large part because of Mo Bamba, a for sure top 10 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft with a 7-foot-9 wingspan. He’s 5th in the country in block rate, which has gone a long way toward Texas limiting opponents to just 58.1% shooting at the rim.
In the half-court, Baylor might look to isolate Terry Maston on Dylan Ostekowski, a skilled transfer from Tulane and Jericho Sims. Iowa State’s Solomon Young might have the model for Maston:
The Longhorns are a tough team to get much going against with dribble penetration. They don’t have anyone as talented on the perimeter as Khyri Thomas from Creighton, but they’ll be the best collection of defensive guards the Bears will face this season. The Bears might be able to use that to their advantage a time or two. Jake Lindsey did last year in Austin:
Like just about every team the Bears have faced this year, the Longhorns will probably be more aggressive with pick-and-rolls than they usually are. The Bears have struggled against teams that can hard hedge. Texas often likes to weak or ice screens. But they can do what they like against other teams. If the Bears can’t create out of high-ball screens, they should get into some other offensive plays. It won’t take too many possessions to find out if the combination of Bamba and Matt Coleman is too tough to beat in a two-man game.
The Bears did not run their high horns look against TCU. They had an excellent second half and were dominant on the glass, so I don’t have any problem with that. But, I think a good reason the Bears may have avoided running that is because Maston’s 3-point range still may not be there after breaking his hand against Xavier. It would be nice to get this play back though:
If there’s one thing Texas hasn’t been quite so elite at, it’s defensive rebounding. The Longhorns rank just 179th in that category. Kansas racked up 12 offensive boards and Duke had 18, which helped ensure the victory for both squads. The Bears had an awesome game on the offensive glass against TCU—securing 19 offensive rebounds for a 42% clip. TCU entered No. 11 in defensive rebounding, so maybe with Maston and Lual-Acuil back, the Bears can get something going on the boards.
My biggest concern is how Baylor will do with Texas’ full-court press. The Longhorns don’t run Smart’s old havoc defense too often, but they’ve broken it out much more this season. Baylor’s struggled with turnovers, ranking 155th. The Bears need to just calm down and avoid getting trapped before bringing the ball across half-court; better to blow a timeout than give Texas an easy fast break bucket.
Once again, the Longhorns are a mess on offense. Their chief problem is that they can’t shoot. They’re hitting 29.2% of their triples and 64% of their free throws. Both those marks are sub 300 nationally.
My assumption is that Baylor will pack in the zone and dare Texas to make shots. Andrew Jones is a good shooter, but other than that, there’s nobody that scares me. Maybe Osetkowski or Eric Davis will get hot, but we build our lives on the expectation that reality won’t get too wild.
Texas will probably counter by looking to get Bamba and others behind the defense for some lob opportunities. Kansas’ 2-3 zone is quite different than Baylor’s 1-3-1 look, but the basic principle that a zone can forget about the men behind them remains:
The Longhorns don’t turn it over too often. The rank 60th in that category. The Bears don’t need to get too aggressive on defense to try and make that number a lie. Force a 2-point jump shot or make the Longhorns settle for threes, then rebound. This formula isn’t that complicated.
Texas ranks 127th in offensive efficiency. They just aren’t very good on offense. Other than Jones, there’s nobody the Bears should even think about flying to on defense. Seriously, this is a game to just trust the scouting report and bet that Texas can’t hit threes.
These two teams are pretty close in the rankings. KenPom gives Baylor a 60% chance to win. If I had to bet, I think the Bears have better odds than that. If an opponent can’t hit threes, then Baylor’s zone is well designed to limit a team’s attack. Creighton had an off night and went 5-of-30 from deep and couldn’t get much going. Texas wouldn’t be having that off of a night to shoot that poorly.
The Longhorns are a pretty good team. They could get some easy lobs and the way they defend, it’s not fun to try and pull off a comeback. Duke did in the PK-80, but the Bears aren’t that explosive on offense.
Baylor may have to make tougher shots than Texas to win, but that’s still a pretty good gamble to me. I think Baylor matches up pretty well with Texas and gets the victory. I’ll take Baylor 68-60.
Season Prediction Record: 13-1
Against the Spread: 6-1