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Baylor-Wichita State: Preview and Prediction

Both teams desperately need this game

NCAA Basketball: Wichita State at Baylor Dustin Safranek-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor (5-2) takes on Wichita State (3-3) at 7:00 on Saturday in Wichita. The game airs on CBS Sports Network.

The Bears are given a 45% chance to win by KenPom.

Both teams have had disappointing seasons. Baylor lost to Texas Southern and Ole Miss—not great teams. Wichita State has lost to Louisiana Tech, Davidson and Alabama. None of those five combined losses includes a KenPom top 60 team.

Despite their rough starts, these are two strong and well-coached programs. Both have shown some flashes that leave room for hope. While these are two of the worst Baylor and Wichita State teams of the decade, they’re still both top 100 KenPom squads.

As always, we’ll preview playing offense against the opponent, then turn to defense. Finally, we’ll close with a prediction.

Offense:

Wichita State ranked 26th or better in adjusted defensive efficiency from 2012-2017. For the 2017-2018 season, they returned five starters from their 13th ranked defense. But they fell all the way to 113th in that metric last year. There were a lot of theories for why Wichita State couldn’t defend: maybe the loss of assistant Chris Jans cost them? Maybe the talent difference in the AAC hurt them? Or maybe the team just struggled as everyone came back for one last ride?

The Shockers enter the game 115th in defensive efficiency. They have two giant weaknesses. First, they foul constantly. Wichita State ranks 329th in free throw rate. Five of their six opponents have shot at least 20 free throws. Baylor ranks just 254th in free throw percentage. The Bears are not good enough to beat Wichita State—barring a drastically great shooting night from the rest of the floor—to beat Wichita State shooting that poorly.

Second, Wichita State gives up a ton of threes. Per hoop-match, 43.2% of their opponent shots have come from the perimeter. Wichita State likes to have their defenders stunt and drop to the nail (middle of the free throw line), which can open up 3-point looks:

Wichita State also plays quite a bit of drop pick-and-roll coverage. That defense can require help from the wing to stop a drive. The Shockers might elect to gamble Baylor can’t make floaters or drive to the hoop well enough. But if not, Baylor has to find wing shots:

The problem with not bringing help from the wing is that Makai Mason can rise up against that drop coverage. He did a fine job scoring out of that look against George Mason:

Tristan Clark will be a unique challenge for Wichita State. George Mason and South Dakota elected to double Baylor’s best player. Both teams slowed him down after his explosive performance against Ole Miss. The Bears hit enough threes against George Mason, when Clark faced that look, but they were stymied against South Dakota. I’d guess Wichita State will double for at least a stretch of the game. Baylor needs to take immediate threes in those settings.

The Shockers still play some pretty solid defense for stretches. Occasionally the Bears will have to make some plays when everything fails. Matt Mayer has shown flashes—though it’d certainly be nice if he called for the ball less and played in the offense more. But there’s a reason a guy with those flaws plays so much. He’s extremely talented and confident. Mayer or someone will need to make some ugly offense work:

Defense:

The Shockers’ offense is led by Markis McDuffie. The 6-foot-8 power forward is their best returning player, and he has hit 47% of his threes. Clark has gotten into major foul trouble. Wichita State will likely try to force Clark to defend McDuffie as much as possible to get him into foul trouble.

Baylor can live with McDuffie getting 25. He scored 26 against a mediocre Alabama team in a loss. The Bears challenge will be limiting the Shockers’ other options.

I’d be hesitant to play much zone defense in this one. Wichita State does a nice job flashing McDuffie into the paint. And they take a ton of deep triples. The Shockers are taking 40% of their shots from deep. Samaje Haynes-Jones and the guards could shoot a little better, but they can sure space the floor:

The Shockers offense, like their team, is decent but not great. They rank 66th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Wichita State doesn’t give up too many turnovers, and their solid on the offense glass—ranking in the top 100 in both categories. But this team isn’t exceptional in any of the four factors. Other than McDuffie creating, the squad doesn’t have a big offensive option to take over games.

Expect Wichita State to crash the offensive glass. Baylor had, quite possibly, their worst effort on the defensive glass this decade against South Dakota. South Dakota—certainly not a good offensive rebounding squad—grabbed 13 offensive boards. Baylor’s effort can’t be that bad against Wichita State. King McClure nabbed 14 rebounds against George Mason. Someone besides McClure has to do something on the glass on Saturday.

Prediction:

This is an extremely difficult game to predict. Greg Marshall has been outstanding. The Shockers have made a Final Four this decade. They were even better the next year. If Aaron Harrison hadn’t had the best day of his life in the round of 32 in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, they might have gone undefeated in 2014.

Baylor is also a difficult team to figure out. Mario Kegler has only played one game. Makai Mason’s feet remain a terrifying concern, given his injury history. If Clark gets in foul trouble, then Mark Vital at the five (the Fival lineup) has to survive. There are some real reasons to love the 2020 Bears. But it’s still 2018.

Nothing would shock me in this game. McDuffie is probably the best player in the game, and Wichita State is at home. Those two facts, plus Baylor’s struggles, make it apparent why Baylor is a slight underdog. These teams have been so inconsistent that either could blow the other one out.

I think Baylor plays better in Kegler’s second game back, and I think Clark proves to be a disaster for Wichita State. The Shockers could blow out the Bears, but I think I’ll see a Baylor win in Wichita on Saturday. I’ll take Baylor 76-72.

Season Prediction Record: 5-2.

Season Against the Spread: 2-1 (Some games don’t have public betting lines).