No. 2 Baylor (4-0) takes on No. 13 Texas (5-1) at 2:00 on Sunday in the Ferrell Center. It will air on ESPN.
The Bears are six point favorites on KenPom and given a 70% chance to win.
After some fans wanted him fired, Shaka Smart has his best team in his six years in Austin. The Longhorns are No. 4 on Kenpom.
As always, we’ll take a look at playing offense against the opponent, then turn to defense. Finally, we’ll close with a prediction.
Texas has the nation’s No. 2 defense. They’ve played four top 75 KenPom teams: Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina and Villanova. They held Villanova to their lowest offensive efficiency of the year. Most impressively, they destroyed Indiana’s offense, as the Hoosiers scored a catastrophic .66 points per possession (the nation’s worst offense usually scores about .85 points per possession).
The Longhorns have been strong defensively by contesting shots well. They rank 14th in effective field goal defense. Texas has four frontcourt players 6’9 or taller, which gives them rim protection on the run. With that large frontcourt and quick guards, they’ve defended well in transition, allowing opponents to shoot just 38.3% in those opportunities, per hoop-math. That’s one of the best marks for a power six school.
There’s a case the Longhorns might be a bit inflated defensively. They’re not terrible or a fraud on defense; they’re good. They roll out a McDonald’s All-American at power forward and four other starters with at least three years of experience in Austin. Saying they’re inflated is arguing they might be closer to the nation’s 15th best defense and not the smothering team they were against Indiana. But this will be a real challenge for the Bears.
The Longhorns have not been great dealing with off-ball movement and pindown screens. Texas doesn’t switch much in those spots, so the Bears can find shots running guys off those screens. Indiana settled for a bad two, but there are better shots and driving opportunities on these:
Against North Carolina, Texas had an awful sequence. Matt Coleman and Andrew Jones disagreed about whether they were switching. That led to an open look off a pindown. Then Greg Brown watched the ball instead of rebounding. The Bears will have chances to crash the glass; Texas ranks 151st in defensive rebounding. The Tar Heels collected 46% of their misses against Texas:
The Bears should try and run as many middle ball screens as possible. Coleman, Courtney Ramey and Jones often try and fight over screens. Coleman has done very well fighting over. But Baylor’s guards are a tier above anyone Texas has played, including Villanova. If the guards get downhill, Brown has not been good deciding whether he needs to contest or stay back for a rebound. Sims had this play. There’s zero reason for Brown to be a second man throwing his arms up. He needed to find a man and grab a rebound. The Bears should go foul hunting, and if they don’t get calls, they’ll have offensive rebounding chances:
This is a tough lineup game. Maybe the Bears will come into this one thinking they need to stay big. Texas isn’t as easy to run on, and that’s one of the big advantages to the Fival (Vital at the five with Matt Mayer). I think Mayer can have a good day when he’s matched up with Brown. The big man isn’t great on the perimeter, and Mayer can force him into some of the tough spots Villanova placed him:
Brock Cunningham has been a revelation and good glue guy for Texas. He seems to fit the team well. But in isolation settings, he hasn’t been the best. The Bears will likely dribble weave until one of the four guards has Cunningham, and then try and take him to the hoop:
There are plenty of ways the Bears can score against Texas, but that shouldn’t obscure that Texas has a very good defense. Maybe they’re do for some regression in 3-point defense. Davidson missed some fairly good looks, and it’s hard for anyone to hold their opponents to 22.5% from beyond the arc (Texas’ current mark). But Texas is 42nd in 2-point defense, which tends to correlate with 3-point defense. They also rank 18th in 3-point attempts allowed, which is another good sign that the Longhorns make it tough to shoot threes.
While I think Texas is a bit overrated defensively, I think they’re probably underrated on offense. Andrew Jones has been borderline terrible. But he missed time recovering from an illness and will improve. Brown is a lottery pick; those guys usually improve over the course of a season. They have a host of good guards, and Smart’s working to perfect a good rotation. I had Texas No. 3 in my preseason Big 12 rankings, and I’d be more likely to move them up to No. 2 than take Texas to finish 4th or lower.
The Longhorns have improved by 132 spots in offensive efficiency. They’re substantially better getting to the line, and they turn it over way less. The only thing they don’t do much better is shoot threes. And maybe they’ll be better there too. Jones has started 6-of-29 from three after hitting 38% on a high number of attempts last year.
With good guards and big men, the Longhorns love to run ball screens with one shooter on the weakside. Coleman and Ramey have been good passers, and the big men are such threats on lobs that the Bears have to be careful if they want to pack a defender in the paint:
Baylor tried that against Illinois and had the same issue for a play:
When defending Brown, the Bears absolutely must close to make him a shooter. He’s too big and athletic to let him get into the paint off the dribble.
Brown’s 5-of-24 from deep. Any close on Brown must be soft and let the defender still meet a dribble. If he makes threes, fine. Don’t let him beat you to the hoop:
Kai Jones has really improved. I asked Scott Drew about the challenges of playing him at yesterday’s press conference. He said, “his length and athleticism are very hard to simulate because there’s not many guys with his skillset.” If this game goes poorly, Jones might pick up a cheap foul or two on Mark Vital, and without him in the game, the Longhorns will make it much tougher for the Bears to switch pick-and-rolls.
Jones is a monster, with an offensive rating of 139, which is 77th nationally. Vital can deal with the challenge of his drives, but he has to avoid foul trouble, as there’s not another Bear that can defend him well:
Coleman has risen to a new tier. Some of the advanced stats aren’t as high on him. I love advanced stats, but we’re early in the season, and I am pulling the, “watch the games” card with him. He hit the game winning shot against North Carolina. He’s shooting 41% on triples, and is even making them off the bounce:
When he gets going in the lane, Coleman has a second burst. They probably want to make him take 2-point jump shots, but he’s pretty good at those two. That’s a fair tradeoff because that burst is something:
Texas adds another dimension with their lob ability. Sims has been a rim runner the last four years. Jones and Brown are threats too. Royce Hamm will come in and jam on your soul.
With so many good big men, Texas also offensive rebounds well. Baylor turned over SFA 35 times on Wednesday. They’ll need to force a bevy of turnovers on Sunday because when a shot goes up, Texas has a good chance to nab it:
The Bears guards have to limit Texas’ guards. Davion Mitchell is the best perimeter defender Texas will face. Jared Butler has gone up another level since last season too:
I hope everyone got their jokes in about Texas basketball because, I’m sorry, but the Longhorns are for real. This team is unlikely to win the Big 12, but they’re going to be an excellent seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Before the season, I had Baylor going 15-3 in the Big 12 and splitting the series with Texas. The Longhorns are No. 4 on Kenpom for a reason. This squad mixes experience with talented youth. They have a phenomenal ceiling and a high floor. This is not 2016. Texas is better than Kansas. Though with their football game cancelled, once again, we can’t make a definitive statement about football.
KenPom gives Texas a 30% chance, and 30% events happen constantly. Donald Trump—and I really don’t want to get into a debate about him, even though if you follow me on Twitter you know where I stand on him—had those odds to win in 2016 and did. A 30% event isn’t that low probability.
Baylor has a better team though. The guards are exceptional, and Baylor’s big men will avoid getting crushed by Texas. If the Longhorns make a run against Baylor’s bigs, the Bears can downsize and run Vital at the five. I’ll say Butler has a big game and the defense does a nice job limiting most of Texas’ perimeter. I’ll take Baylor 70-62.