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Baylor at Texas: 1,400 Word Preview and Prediction

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Baylor looks to stay in first in the big 12

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Baylor Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a combined 56 point victory week at Oklahoma and against TCU, Baylor 15-6 (6-2) takes on Texas 12-10 (4-5) at 7:00 on Wednesday. The game airs on the Longhorn Network.

Texas is a weird team to analyze. They have wins over North Carolina, Purdue and Kansas. They have also lost to Radford, VCU, Providence, Georgia and Oklahoma State.

Scott Drew is 6-1—and has won the last six games—against Shaka Smart.

As always, we’ll preview playing offense against the opponent, then turn to defending them. Finally, we’ll close with a prediction.

Offense:

Baylor takes the Big 12’s best offense to Austin. The Bears have an adjusted offense of 115.4. The gap between Baylor’s Big 12 leading offense and Texas’ No. 2 offense is greater than the gap between Texas and the league’s eighth best team. Among the 76 teams in the power seven conferences, only Tennessee and Villanova have more efficient offenses during conference play.

The biggest advantage for Baylor is on the offensive glass. The Bears are 4th nationally, and 1st in the Big 12, in offensive rebounding rate. They grabbed 50% of their misses against Kansas and TCU. The Longhorns are just 217th in defensive rebounding. The Horns can often get out of sorts, and that’s when Baylor has to get second chances:

Texas has a very strong 2-point defense. They rank 29th in 2-point field goal percentage and opponents are taking just 28% of their shots at the rim, per hoop-math. The Longhorns start two big men, Dylan Osetkowski and Jaxson Hayes, who ranks 11th nationally in block rate. And they have another quality big man, Jericho Sims, coming off the bench. That makes scoring inside difficult. Baylor will likely focus on kicking out all offensive rebounds that are not easy dunk attempts. The Bears followed that philosophy a few weeks back:

Texas relies on their guards to get over the top and handle pick-and-roll action. That makes sense. Matt Coleman, Snoop Roach and Courtney Ramey are athletic and play hard. They’re often capable of doing that. But Texas’ big men are vulnerable to slips and hard rolls. Baylor needs to look for the screener:

Matt Mayer and Freddie Gillespie did a nice job of this against Oklahoma:

The Longhorns do a pretty nice job handling dribble hand-offs and action when they get three players involved in the defense. Given that, I wouldn’t expect Baylor’s ball screen continuity offense to beat Texas early in the clock. But Baylor presents two other challenges for Texas. First, the Longhorns can struggle when two men are forced to defend pick-and-rolls. I’d expect Baylor to mix in their eye formation (two big men set screens and two men hang in the corner in a modified version of horns) to try to force Texas to defend pick-and-rolls without a helper. The Bears will also probably run a 1-4 low set to force Texas’ big men to try and defend Baylor’s shooters. Iowa State did that well:

Baylor runs that play well too. Mason just went 9-of-12 from three against TCU, and he’s shooting 46% from three during Big 12 play. As he gets healthier recovering from two years of foot injuries, Baylor will have no problem putting him in this action:

Second, Baylor is difficult to zone. TCU tried to play a 1-3-1 look, and that went terribly. Baylor’s practiced against zone and worked on beating it all off-season; the Bears play a lot zone. They’re prepared to dissect one. TCU joined Texas Tech in learning that:

The Longhorns are also vulnerable to deep 3-point shooting, which Baylor can do:

Smart might try and redesign some of his defensive principles. The Longhorns ignored Kansas’ non-offensive threat, Marcus Garrett. Doing that hampered Dedric Lawson’s space, and they rotated quickly to the rest of the Longhorns’ guards. With four days to work—because this game is later in the week—Texas could ignore Mark Vital and Mario Kegler outside. Kegler has focused on taking guys inside and has been raining some 2-point jumpers lately. That’s not a guaranteed strategy, though it’s worked. And if you ignore Vital beyond the arc, he takes it inside and finds better shooters:

Barring a pretty bad shooting day, the Bears should score effectively against Texas. The guards are going to face stiffer resistance than they did against Oklahoma and TCU, but the Longhorns have to deal with getting two big men to defend Baylor’s smaller and quicker lineup.

Defense:

The Longhorns have the 39th ranked offense nationally and are ranked second in the Big 12. Baylor’s first challenge will be dealing with Texas’ size. Hayes is a force in space, and he’s far more athletic than Lawson or Alabama’s Tevin Mack, two guys that eviscerated Baylor.

Osetkowski has worked his size well the last two games. When teams hide a smaller player, he takes them to the paint, and when they double, he fires passes well:

There are two other problems for Baylor. First, Texas is a strong transition team. They like to run a pistol set, which will force Baylor to make decisions about crashing down and handling Texas’ big men. My guess is that Baylor will come up to the level of the screen, but the Bears, like Texas’ other opponents, will have a challenge defending the pistol set:

Second, Texas is a mental challenge to defend. Some of their big men prefer to score going one direction. Some guys will almost always drive to the rim, while Coleman has a deadly floater. Jase Febres can’t be left alone, but Elijah Mitrou-Long and Osetkowski aren’t great shooters. The Bears, with their challenge replacing Tristan Clark less than a month ago, focused more on universal defensive rules than keying in on each offensive players’ tendencies. But Wednesday is a night to deviate and focus on the scouting report. If Osetkowski goes 5-of-7 from three, then it’s okay to lose. But if Baylor helps off Febres to close out hard on Mitrou-Long, then they’ve put themselves in a terrible spot.

One big advantage for Baylor is that Texas is much easier to defend if their initial action fails. When that happens, the Longhorns often live with Roach and Coleman trying to overwhelm guys in isolation. Sometimes that works. Roach is supremely athletic and might blow past the Baylor guards—worse athletes like Alex Robinson have done that. But things can get ugly late for Smart’s men:

Texas truly lives and dies by the three. The Longhorns are 232nd nationally in 3-point percentage, but they’re 51st in 3-point attempts. They love to run side pick-and-rolls, and if teams tag the roller (big man heading to the hoop), they’ll fire to a wing to shoot a three. Texas’ big wins and losses are explained by how well they shoot. In their four biggest wins, they shot at least 36% from three. And in their four worst losses (though Georgia could maybe classified as worse than Providence), they shot 25% or worse:

In all of those games, Texas shot at least 20 3-point attempts. Most of 3-point defense is about limiting attempts. Once the ball is released, most teams don’t have much of an impact on the shot. That’s because players rarely shoot threes when contested.

This is all a long way of saying that Baylor could handle much of Texas’ offense well, but the Longhorns could just make a bunch of threes. Or Baylor could play pretty poor defense and Texas could miss a lot. Almost every Texas game against a good team (Kansas State didn’t have Dean Wade or Kamau Stokes, to be fair) is close. Hopefully Coleman or Mitrou-Long don’t hit a few terrible shots. But sometimes that happens.

Prediction:

Texas is a weird team to predict. If I gambled, they’d be the last team I’d gamble on. Few teams have a resume quite like theirs. While I think they’ll make the tournament, Texas could be 12-11 with a loss on Wednesday.

Baylor has played insanely well as Mason gets healthy. Jared Butler might be the league’s best freshman, and the Bears have some big offensive advantages. I expect another strong offensive night from Baylor, even as they fail to shoot so well this week. Texas will probably be favored in Vegas, but I expect they’ll lose in Austin. I’ll take Baylor 76-70.