With Baylor (15-8, 6-4) possibly missing King McClure and Makai Mason, Oklahoma (15-9, 3-8) will give the Bears everything they can at 8:00 on Monday in the Ferrell Center. The game airs on ESPN2.
Oklahoma is in serious danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. They’ve lost four in a row, including three home games. The road game was against the league’s worst team, West Virginia.
This is close to a must win game for both teams. With Baylor hobbled, Oklahoma needs to find a way to win this game. Baylor needs four more wins to feel decent about their NCAA Tournament bid, and Oklahoma, at home, is one of the three easiest games left.
As always, we’ll look at playing offense against the opponent, then turn to defense. Finally, we’ll close with a prediction.
Baylor destroyed Oklahoma in Norman. They went 10-of-20 from three and won by 30. It didn’t take much space for the Bears to score:
The Bears’ strategy focused on getting Brady Manek isolated. Once that happened, Baylor got easy buckets. The Sooners left him on the bench for much of the second half. Given his skills on offense, Baylor will try and play him out of the game again:
Regardless of who plays, I’d expect to see plenty of Freddie Gillespie pick-and-rolls. His 2-point jump shooting allows him to catch the ball on the short roll, and he can then fire quick shots. He can also slip to the hoop if Oklahoma runs over the top of screens. He was Baylor’s best player against Kansas State, and he could be again:
Baylor will have to balance pushing in transition, especially if McClure can’t go. The Bears ran in Norman and that led to some excellent transition threes. But Baylor appeared to be winded at the end of the Kansas State game. Devonte Bandoo said after the Kansas State game, “I’ll be honest, I really haven’t played this type of minutes in a long time. I was really gassed. It’s something that I’ll have to get used to.” That makes plenty of sense. Bandoo has come off the bench for about 15-20 minutes and focused on running around screens and giving his full energy in a shorter burst. Now he’s playing 30+ minutes. That’s a difficult switch. But if Baylor can run, they can avoid Oklahoma setting their top 20 defense:
The energy and lineup will be crucial in this one. Jared Butler’s speed proved too much in the first meeting. If he’s not asked to do everything for 35 minutes, Baylor’s odds are pretty, pretty, pretty good:
Oklahoma’s offense has been terrible during Big 12 play. They’re 9th in the conference in adjusted offensive efficiency. They rank in the bottom three spots in offensive rebounding, 2-point percentage and 3-point percentage.
The Sooners scored just .7 points per possession in the first meeting. That mark is well under the nation’s worst offense averages. They went 4-of-20 from three and 11-35 from two. Even if Baylor plays better defense this time, Oklahoma might hit a few more shots.
Baylor’s best work was on Christian James. He’s on KenPom’s All-Big 12 team. But he went 2-of-9 from the field and had an offensive rating of 71 (anything under 95 is bad). The Bears keyed in on him and worked their zone to double him in the corner.
Baylor will likely mix zone and man-to-man. Other than James, there isn’t a guy that terrifies Baylor in isolation settings.
This is probably a game where Baylor doesn’t want Oklahoma to take 30 threes. The Sooners are just 209th in 3-point percentage. But Baylor is better than Oklahoma and a team can always get hot from three. If these two teams play their normal game, especially at home, Baylor should win this one. If Oklahoma takes 30 threes, there’s a chance James, Manek or someone else could get hot in a one game sample.
This has been a wild season. Jake Lindsey and Tristan Clark are gone. The extent of McClure’s knee injury is unknown. And Mason’s foot injuries have already cost him two seasons and parts of this one.
Baylor lost to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin. They were down 40-9 against a mediocre Wichita State team. If you’d told anyone after the non-conference that Baylor would be down Clark and possibly McClure and Mason, you’d think Oklahoma would win by at least 20.
Things can always change though. And Baylor’s become a much better team. Gillespie was way out of the rotation two months ago, and he just went 6-of-7 from the field and outplayed the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year. Butler has been a revelation. Mario Kegler won Baylor the Alabama game, and Mark Vital is a 6-foot-5 sophomore playing center; he is 12th nationally in offensive rebounding rate and plays harder than anyone.
The new look Bears played well enough to beat Kansas State. Gillespie told the media, “The bench players play too...they were also highly recruited.” I think those bench players will play well enough to beat Oklahoma. I’d love for Baylor to have Mason and McClure, just as I’d love for them to have Clark and Lindsey. But I have faith in the guys left against Oklahoma. I think Butler and Gillespie will have big games. I’ll take Baylor 72-68.