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How the Unthinkable Happened: Explaining Baylor’s Loss to Texas Southern and What’s Next

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I re-watched it so you wouldn’t have to

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-West Virginia v Baylor Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor lost to Texas Southern as a 22 point favorite. They lost a game KenPom listed them as a 97% favorite. And they lost despite leading 55-39 with 11:27 left.

There were some major issues:

1) Pick-and-roll defense:

Baylor’s 1-5 (point guard-center) pick-and-roll defense was consistently burned. The Bears elected to hard hedge more pick-and-rolls. The concern with Tristan Clark is that he can struggle to move laterally. And when hard hedging, the defense has to react.

In this play, Devonte Bandoo gets beat. Clark has to help, but he’s slightly late because he’s not in perfect position as he scrambles back after hedging. That makes it essential that Mark Vital helps the helper. He needs to crash down earlier. Three slight issues led to an easy basket for Texas Southern:

The Bears weren’t good at helping when Clark ended up switched onto a guard. Baylor’s probably not going to be able to switch 1-5 pick-and-rolls much. Clark isn’t fast enough to stick with quick guards. He ended up getting beat. Unfortunately Bandoo didn’t crash into the paint fast enough—he needs to be in the middle of the paint in this clip, and Texas Southern scored:

If I were Baylor, I’d consider returning to the traditional drop pick-and-roll coverage. Clark had trouble playing both the roll man and the guard last season. But I think the Bears are better off running that coverage. Texas Southern shot 92% at the rim, per hoop-math. The Bears need to fix that.

2) Terrible 2-point shots:

Good lord, the Bears took some brutal looks. Matthew Mayer is going to be a good player. He was brutal, in stretches, on Tuesday. In the first half, he wouldn’t stop calling for the ball early in the clock. King Mcclure had to tell him he was in the wrong spot. And he fired a lot of contested and bad shots:

Bandoo, Darius Allen, Mark Vital and Jared Butler all struggled with this too. The new guys were too eager to take over the game. Baylor could have survived some of their other problems if they had five of those possessions back.

3) Timing:

One set explains Baylor’s issues. With McClure running point guard duties most of the night, Baylor ran a play called “eye” quite a bit. I’ve covered that look in the past, but the Bears run that play with two forwards setting screens up high and two shooters in the corner. It’s a variation of “horns” that Bill Peterson designed for the team.

The timing is off here as Mayer takes off too quickly, which lets them make a switch that doesn’t create a mismatch:

If you wait, the guard can’t always make an easy decision:

A few other Baylor plays were just off. In the first half, Baylor wasn’t sure about when to cut. They also threw some passes on offensive rebounds to nowhere. Baylor can’t give away possessions, and they certainly did late.

4) Things outside their control

Look, Baylor still should have won with these two problems. But it takes a lot of issues to lose to Texas Southern. These two things mattered.

First, Baylor played without Makai Mason and Mario Kegler. Those guys are, at worst, two of the four best players on the team. I’d rank them as the second and third best players on the team. I still think Tristan Clark should be Baylor’s best player. But plenty of smart Baylor folks think they’re the two best guys on the team—Ashley Hodge with SicEm365 believes that, and some people associated with the team do too. The Bears would have won if either had played. They should be able to win without those two, but Baylor’s a way different team with those two.

Unfortunately those two may miss a lot of the season. Kegler is out for at least five more games because of a violation of team rules. He’s also had problems with his knee. He needs to play every other game.

Mason has missed nearly all of the last two years with injuries. He missed the first game with an ankle injury. He should be ready to go soon, but it’s a fair question whether he can play 90% of the season. The team is substantially worse without him.

The officiating was pathetic. And it hurt Texas Southern too. Vital was called for chipping someone. Bandoo supposedly pushed off a man. Allen was called for a moving screen. Clark couldn’t move without getting called for something.

Texas Southern also drew a terrible whistle. They caught a technical for hanging on the rim for less than a tenth of a second. They also earned suffered from some pathetically soft calls. If Baylor had won a close game, Texas Southern would have rightfully pointed out some catastrophic calls. Both teams deserved better officiating.

Baylor ended up shooting 3-of-11 from the line. The Bears missed some front end of 1-and-1s too. May God save us all if the Bears shoot that poorly at the line again.

Can if be fixed?

The season is not over. Every once in a while 1% events happen. Baylor had one of those on Tuesday. They played terribly, and Texas Southern hit some shots.

Baylor has to get healthy and avoid any suspensions. The next three games are all virtually guaranteed (though Texas Southern was too). The Mason-Kegler Bears aren’t the Bears of November 6, 2018. Sadly the Bears’ performance that night ensures the team has a smaller margin to make the tournament.

Michigan State lost to Texas Southern in 2015 and ended up making the Final Four. Baylor’s a long way from that happening. But it took a lot of bad luck to lose the first game. If they can catch some good luck with Mason’s health and Kegler’s future, the hope still lives.