Baylor’s offense is down to 110th on KenPom, which is the worst mark in over a decade. Things need to improve for Baylor to be competitive in the Big 12.
Against Arizona, Baylor’s pick-and-roll offense with Matt Mayer at the helm showed why it can be so difficult to defend:
Last season, nearly every Baylor opponent elected to hard hedge all ball screens. In that defense, the screen’s man comes up to the level of the screen. Arizona doesn’t (have the screener’s man) come up too far on Mayer, but he still comes up a bit. Teams do that to limit dribble penetration by the ball-handler and to stop the ball-handler from shooting:
Arizona’s two ball screen defenders are now out of position, once Thamba rolls to the paint. Neither man is going to be able to defend him. To defend that look, Arizona elects to tag the roller. The man responsible for defending Jared Butler on the weak-side (non-ball side) heads into the paint ready to bump Thamba and slow the play down until Arizona’s defense can recover:
The problem for Arizona is that once they elect to tag the roller, then there’s nobody available to cover Butler. The pick-and-roll is about creating mismatches. And with Mayer running that screen, he now has Butler open. But the pass is on the other side of the court, and Arizona has giant men ready to stop any pass. Mayer’s a tough man to stop though. He’s 6-foot-9, which means he can see over some of these defenders. He’s also an adept ball-handler, so he can keep his dribble going if teams cheat over. He finishes the throw to Butler:
Later in the half, Mayer made the wrong read. The Wildcats decided to keep hedging and having the weak-side defender tag the roller. But things don’t go so well here for Baylor:
Mayer starts off making the right decision. He keeps his dribble alive to wait for the weak-side defender to tag Thamba:
Unfortunately Mayer then decides to take a very tough shot, while his senior point guard is wide open in the corner:
If Mayer makes the pass, Mason has a wide open corner three. That’s much better than a mid-range contested 2-point shot. Arizona also has three guys in the paint ready to corral a defensive board.
Why am I excited about these plays?
There aren’t many guys that can run the pick-and-roll like Mayer can. The last few years have featured Baylor’s tiny point guards getting swallowed by hard hedges.
Mayer changes the equation. He’s just too tall and handles the ball too well to bottle him up with most hedges. He’s aggressive and doesn’t pick up his dribble early. That gives him the chance to get around the edge of the ball screen and throw a pass—from a high level—to the defender on the weak-side.
With Tristan Clark in the game, teams are going to have to tag the roller. He’s too dominant to get an open lane to the hoop. That should leave the weak-side shooter open plenty of times. And with Mason finding his legs against Arizona, he should start nailing those shots.
Mayer’s going to keep making some mistakes. That’s what happens when someone is a teenager. But he’s ridiculously skilled and has excellent shooting form. It shouldn’t be long before this clicks for Mayer. And when it does, good luck to the rest of the Big 12.