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Baylor at TCU Preview and Prediction

The Bears look to add a giant road win to their resume

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor (17-11, 7-8) takes on TCU (19-9, 7-8) at 11:00 on Saturday in Ft. Worth. The game airs on ESPN2.

TCU beat Baylor in overtime on January 2nd, 81-78. That was the Horned Frogs’ first win over the Bears since they joined the Big 12 in 2012.

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

Offense:

TCU’s defense is not good. The Frogs rank 103rd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Bears scored 1.05 points per possession (PPP) in Waco, which is a decent total against TCU. They’ll probably need to score around that number to have a chance in Ft. Worth.

The Frogs are bad at field goal defense. They rank 276th in effective field goal defense. Vlad Brodziansky is an excellent offensive player, but he’s horrible on defense. Baylor tried to get Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston isolated on Brodziansky. Lual-Acuil finished with 28 points on 20 shots. Give a man some space on Brodziansky, and he’ll live for a day:

Unfortunately, Baylor went as cold as possible from three in the first matchup. The Bears went just 1-of-12 from deep. Make one more 3-point shot in regulation, and Baylor wins the game. The Frogs’ opponents attempt a ton of shots from the perimeter too—which is usually the best sign that a team is not good at 3-point defense. The Bears had plenty of good looks for Nuni Omot, King McClure and Manu Lecomte. They just missed. Baylor’s not winning in Ft. Worth with a shooting day like they had in Waco.

The Horned Frogs hard hedged nearly every Baylor ball screen. That’s not surprising because the lesson of defending Baylor basketball remains, “if you can hard hedge, you will hard hedge.” The Bears were swamped in the first half by TCU’s hard hedges, which led to the Bears falling behind by 11 late in the first half. Baylor fixed their problems by having Lecomte reverse his dribble and by also taking advantage of defenders scrambling. Sometimes that meant big-to-big passing and sometimes it meant lobs near the hoop for buckets:

The Bears nearly won, despite their shooting woes, by dominating the offensive glass. TCU ranks 60th nationally in defensive rebounding, but Baylor just schooled them on the boards. Lual-Acuil had seven offensive rebounds. Mark Vital grabbed second chances and so did Maston. Baylor finished with 19 offensive rebounds or a rebound on 42% of their misses. It’s tough to lose rebounding that well. But it’s nearly impossible to win shooting 1-of-12 from three. Maston and company need to keep crashing the glass because Baylor’s shots may still not fall in round two:

Credit to Jamie Dixon and his staff for having TCU ready for some of Baylor’s most popular plays. The Horned Frogs have a much worse defense than Texas, but the Horned Frogs were significantly better than the Longhorns at understanding what Baylor was going to do. In the first half, Baylor ran the awesome play/rip action set to try and get a bucket. The first two options—a pass under the hoop off a rip screen and Lecomte for three—were both well defended:

Scott Drew and his staff did a nice job adjusting to TCU’s tendencies. The Frogs were so concerned about Baylor’s big men near the hoop and the rip screen, that they were less focused on the big man near the elbow. Baylor reacted by having Maston pop out for a jumper, instead of setting a pin-down screen. That lead to a good shot for Maston:

The Horned Frogs played some zone, and Baylor did a pretty nice job against it. Teams like to play zone against Baylor because the Bears are a bad 3-point shooting team. But Baylor plays zone all the time. The team does a nice job getting good looks against zone. Teams are usually much better off playing man-to-man and hard hedging, while helping onto big men than running zone. But the Horned Frogs can go ahead and let Omot dunk some more:

Don’t expect TCU to defend Baylor’s big men like they did in Waco. Lual-Acuil and Maston crushed the Horned Frogs. Baylor’s 3-point shooting managed to crush the Bears even more. But just being horrendous from the perimeter would have been enough with how well that duo played. Maston has dominated Texas’ top 10 defense. Lual-Acuil already scored 28 on TCU. The Horned Frogs are going to have to offer help when the Bears are in the post. TCU is not West Virginia. They can’t just let Lual-Acuil beat them so much:

Defense:

Despite losing Jaylen Fisher for the season, TCU has been amazing offensively. The Horned Frogs rank 3rd in adjusted offensive efficiency. They don’t get to the line too often, but they’re good at nearly everything else.

The Horned Frogs rank 7th nationally in 3-point percentage. Desmond Bane, Kenrich Williams and Kouat Noi have all hit more than 40% of their triples this season. Given the Horned Frogs’ skill at making threes, Baylor often had their big man run over the top of screens, while the big dropped back. That led to some nice 2-point opportunities for TCU’s guards.

Baylor has to do a better job at off-ball defense. The Frogs use a decent bit of motion to try and confuse the defense. Below, Baylor messed up defending the perimeter and it led to an open shot for TCU. The Horned Frogs only rank 239th in percentage of shots taken from three. But with their skill beyond the arc, they can often mix strong off ball movement to get nice shots:

While the Horned Frogs are a difficult team to defend in any defense, they’re especially tough to defend while playing zone. The Horned Frogs tried to get one player, just inside the 3-point line, the ball and then they’d work it inside or kick it to 3-point shooters. When the Bears play zone, they need to do a good job not overloading the middle and coming up too high. When they do, the back of the zone is open:

Baylor’s going to have to get stops in man-to-man to win this game, unless TCU goes cold from three. Williams does a nice job, if he can get some space in Baylor’s zone. Once he does that, the Horned Frogs get a ton of quality looks. I’d take the chance that Baylor can get enough stops playing man-to-man.

Prediction:

TCU’s a 68% favorite on KenPom. The Horned Frogs have an elite offense and are playing at home. One more win should remove any doubt about TCU making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. With a black out game planned against their rival, TCU will be hyped for this game.

Baylor has a much better Maston for this one. He played well in Waco, but he’s been on another level lately when not facing West Virginia’s imposing big men. TCU’s post defense is catastrophic, which should lead to a big day for Baylor’s front-court.

This game could go any direction. TCU could get scorching hot and blow out the Bears. Baylor could make a few threes and put TCU in an impossible defensive situation. Jamie Dixon has made Baylor-TCU tough to predict.

I think Maston will have a big day, and Lecomte will hit a couple of threes. I expect a close game, but I think TCU fails to hit enough threes late in the game. I’ll take Baylor 78-74.

Season Prediction Record: 23-5

Against the Spread: 12-8