No. 11 Baylor (7-1) takes on No. 18 Butler (9-0) at 8:00 on Tuesday in the Ferrell Center. The game airs on ESPN2.
The Bears are five point favorites in Vegas. KenPom likes Baylor by four and Torvik likes Baylor by three. The Bears are 64% and 63% favorites on the two sites.
We’ll take a quick look at playing offense against the opponent, then turn to defense. Finally, we’ll offer a prediction.
Butler has the 32nd ranked KenPom defense. The Bulldogs have held 4-of-5 top 100 KenPom opponents to at least .1 points per possession below their season average:
The Bulldogs aren’t a great 2-point defense, ranking just 214th in that category. They’ll mix pick-and-roll defenses, but Baylor had a good bit of success with ghost screens (where the big man setting the screen doesn’t bump but rolls to the hoop), which should get some looks against Butler:
This game will probably come down to how well Baylor can shoot from distance. Butler will stunt, where they’ll have their guards briefly leave shooters to slow drives. That necessitates MaCio Teague fires with any space. He’s picked spots to avoid getting blocked, but against a veteran Butler team, the Bears should be glad to take open looks. The Bulldogs love to aggressively help:
Butler is also a much older team, which means they’re more disciplined at playing set plays. Arizona and Villanova weren’t ready to defend some of Baylor’s most popular actions in the second half. I’d expect Butler to take away Baylor’s primary looks, much like Baylor will take away Butler’s. These teams will counter, and it may come down to how well Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell can do forcing help.
Butler has an excellent offense. They rank No. 12 in offensive efficiency. They’re not great at offensive rebounding (160) or getting to the line (241), but that doesn’t really matter because Butler is 22nd in effective field goal percentage and 13th in turnover rate. The Bulldogs lead the country in non-steal turnover rate, which means this team doesn’t commit many mistakes.
Butler has scored more points per possession than all their power five opponents average on defense. They have a top 10 player in Kamar Baldwin. He’s shooting 42% from deep and scored a combined 53 points against Stanford and Ole Miss. The Bears haven’t faced a wing as talented as him:
Baylor’s second challenge will be defending the post. If Tristan Clark can’t go, or remains severely limited, then the Bears will need to figure out how to double. Butler loves to work weak-side action (the non-ball side of the floor) from the post. Their big men are adept passers, and the Bulldogs are phenomenal at cutting to the hoop:
Butler’s off-ball work requires a different level of defense from Baylor. The Bears are No. 15 in adjusted defensive efficiency, but they haven’t faced a team that cuts this well. Villanova is capable, but they focused more on working the ball inside and having Collin Gillespie isolate. Butler has a good point guard in Aaron Thompson, but he’s not going to beat Mitchell much on the ball. Instead, the Bulldogs will try to draw Baylor’s attention to one side of the floor, then cut. It’s a new challenge for Baylor.
My expectation is that Baylor might play more zone. Butler is 219th in 3-point field goal attempts, and the Bears are probably better taking their chances that Butler can’t hit a bunch of threes than hoping Baylor can focus on a panoply of cuts.
I have immense respect for Butler, and this is a game the Bulldogs can certainly win. With Clark limited, Butler may work the post and get enough cuts to crush the Bears. Even if the Bears handle those plays, Baldwin is a formidable threat.
The Bears are going to be a problem for Butler though. As good as Butler’s played against some top 100 KenPom opponents, the Bears are a tier better than anyone they’ve faced. Jared Butler and Mitchell should force quite a bit of help, and I expect Baylor to attempt 20+ threes.
I’ll say Baylor has a much better 3-point day than they did against Arizona, and the Bears find a way to pull away late. I’ll take Baylor 70-64.