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TCU at Baylor: Preview and Prediction

A big game for both teams

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off five straight wins, Baylor 14-6 (5-2) plays TCU 15-5 (3-4) at 7:00 on Saturday. The game airs on ESPNU.

Things are different since TCU beat Baylor 85-81 to open Big 12 play. The Bears no longer have Tristan Clark. But they’ve been dominant—crushing the rest of the league in offensive efficiency.

KenPom gives Baylor a 69% chance to win, and Torvik gives the Bears a 57% chance.

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


Baylor scored 1.14 points per possession (PPP) in the first matchup. That should be enough to beat TCU in a rematch.

The Bears did a nice job scoring inside against TCU. They went 25-of-43 from 2-point range, and grabbed an offensive rebound on 34% of possessions. With Clark out, Baylor needs to find a new way to maintain those high marks.

The Horned Frogs could have a big problem slowing down Baylor’s 3-point attempts. Baylor went just 4-of-16 from deep in Ft. Worth. Only Makai Mason and Matthew Mayer made 3-point shots. TCU normally has a pretty good 3-point defense—they’re 55th in 3-point attempts and 10th in 3-point percentage—but they can overload the strong side. It will be up to Baylor to make more of these shots in round two:

Mayer had a phenomenal game against TCU. He finished with 17 points and an offensive rating of 141 (anything over 110 is very good). In the last two games, he’s become a much better playmaker. The Bears will count on him to show his work against Oklahoma is transferable to TCU:

The Horned Frogs are a good defensive team. They had a bad game against Texas Tech, but they still rank 32nd in adjusted defensive efficiency. Baylor will need to make a few tough shots, if TCU has a good shooting day:

Mason’s work in the paint will be huge. He went 8-of-8 from two against West Virginia. He got into the paint late against TCU. The Makaiser needs to get to the hoop again because he makes it once he’s there:


Baylor’s defense didn’t get it done against TCU. They scored 1.2 PPP, even though they missed 15 free throws.

Alex Robinson carved up Baylor’s defense. His dribble penetration jumbled Baylor’s rotations and led to open shots from three and near the hoop. The Bears should consider switching all dribble hand-offs and trying to defend pick-and-rolls, while in man-to-man, by only involving the two men in the screen. When Robinson gets a slight advantage, he makes life painful:

The Bears’ zone did not fare well against TCU. Too many Horned Frogs can hit long 2-point shots, which means Baylor can’t just ignore spots in the zone. The Bears also have to extend out well past the 3-point line with TCU’s strong 3-point threats like Kouat Noi and Desmond Bane. I went into the first game thinking Baylor had to play zone because they’d struggle to contain drives. But TCU proved adept at beating the zone:

With their smaller starting lineup, Baylor will be in a better spot to play man-to-man and contain TCU’s guards. The Horned Frogs counter will probably be working high-low action and trying to score inside. Alabama scored their first 26 points against Baylor from inside the paint. The Horned Frogs don’t have the top end speed of the Crimson Tide, but they have better passers and are tougher to stunt. That makes this a difficult challenge for Baylor.

Baylor will probably try and stay small as long as possible. Mayer was a force in the first game, and Butler is faster than TCU’s guards. While Freddie Gillespie and Flo Thamba have been quite good lately, Robinson is an intelligent pick-and-roll conductor. He’ll try and make those guys defend him in space or if they drop, he’ll hit long 2-point looks.


There’s a case for TCU in this game. Their guards are quick and intelligent, which proved a big issue for Baylor earlier in the season. If TCU shot okay from the line in Ft. Worth, they’d have eviscerated Baylor’s defense. Maybe they do that and pull away.

There’s a better case for Baylor in this game. The Bears’ have significantly improved in the 27 days since these teams played. Mario Kegler has figured out his role, and Butler is the league’s best freshman. Scott Drew and the staff have put Mason in strong spots, and when teams have forced them to go big or small, they’ve had a plan.

I suspect Baylor will shoot better from three, and TCU won’t destroy the smaller Bears in the rematch. I’ll take Baylor 78-73.