Manhattan, Kansas- In normal times, the Octagon of Doom is one of the Big 12’s most intimidating arenas. As the last nine months have reminded everyone, there is nothing normal about this era, and for the few thousand of us lucky enough to see Baylor in person, there’s something abnormal about how dominant Baylor is offensively.
The Bears entered the contest No. 3 in adjusted offensive efficiency. With the Big 12’s Preseason Player of the Year (Jared Butler), possibly its best player through four games (Davion Mitchell), the reigning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year (MaCio Teague) and Mark Vital and Matthew Mayer back, the Bears figured to have a fantastic offense.
There’s something special about a great team hitting another tier. Nearly the best is a tough place to stop, and the Bears showed no signs of accepting that limitation today. They scored 1.65 points per possession in the first half. That tally is the equivalent of intentionally fouling an 82.5% free throw shooter.
Baylor scored 1.55 points per possession through the first 37 minutes of action. That mark topped any Baylor game in the last 11 years, which includes D-II opponents and sub 300 KenPom teams. When they took out their starters, they ended up at 1.49, which just barely is below their mark against John Brown in a game on Fort Hood. Mitchell went 6-of-10 from three, which is another sign that we should probably all enjoy watching him this year because he’ll be in the NBA next season.
Kansas State tried what they could. They offered token pressure. They went under pick-and-rolls, and they fought over them. Strategy matters when the talent differential is close. That will be the case a few days this season. It wasn’t Saturday. When MaCio Teague returned to form, starting the game with a pair of triples and a step-back two, the Wildcats were in trouble. He finished with 23 points on 5-of-9 shooting from deep.
The Bears hit a new tier with Mark Vital and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s offense. Vital is one of the country’s best offensive rebounders, but in warmups he nailed triples. He told me before the season that he felt more confident in his shot and that confidence seems to carry over to his ability to put the ball down and get to the hoop. He did that. Tchamwa Tchatchoua (now preferring the abbreviation E.J. for Everyday Jon) will get his own column from this one, but if you didn’t watch this game, get Twitter and follow anyone that watched it. He provided more highlights than a doctor’s office magazine rack in 1998.
Davion Mitchell’s better at everything. Butler is working harder this year to find teammates, finishing with an incredible 13 assists. Matthew Mayer didn’t get into the game until nearly 15 minutes elapsed. But Butler called an early play for him, and that set him up. He then felt confident and grabbed an offensive board and added a key tip-in.
LJ Cryer also showed unprecedented composure for a teenager. One of the advantages from not having fans is that the players can communicate easily. Mayer drove into the lane and might have attempted a contested shot. But Cryer got his attention and received an open three point attempt. He drilled it.
The Bears did so much right offensively today. The played a two big lineup with Flo Thamba (a good defender and offensive rebounder) and Tchamwa Tchatchoua for the first time all season. That look gave them a new ability to screen, and when Kansas State overloaded one side of the floor, they got empty pick-and-rolls.
Gonzaga knocked off Iowa by 11 earlier today. Scott Drew told us earlier in the week that Baylor-Gonzaga looks “bleak” because the Big 12 doesn’t want them to add non-conference games after January 2nd, and CBS doesn’t have a great window to play the game before then. That’s understandable. We’re all trying to get as many games as we can with COVID-19.
Kansas State didn’t play poorly today. They worked hard to make Baylor make the extra pass; the Bears did. The Wildcats came out on fire to open the second half, scoring 1.7 points per possession over the first eight minutes.
The scariest thing about Baylor is that they have plenty they can work to get better. They missed a few box out opportunities. Despite continuing their prolific performance from three, they’ve missed some floaters and shots near the rim. And the defense had a couple issues with the scouting report.
Those are the problems the Bears will meticulously work on over the next three months. They showed today they’re one of the country’s two best teams. The work continues to prove they’re the best.