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How Baylor Built the Nation’s Best Offense: A Statistical Look

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Baylor Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Scott Drew’s Baylor squads have been prolific on offense. Over the last 14 seasons, they’ve ranked top 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency 12 times. Only Duke has matched that feat.

The Bears have gone to another level this season. They rank No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency on three of the big analytics websites: Torvik, Haslam and EvanMiya. They rank No. 3 on KenPom but are within striking distance of overtaking Iowa.

Although the 2019-2020 Bears were the best Baylor team until this one, they ranked No. 17 in offensive efficiency. Here’s how Baylor’s ranked in major offensive categories from 2010, the elite eight season, through the 2019-2020 season:

Baylor’s Offensive Marks (KenPom)

The 2020 Bears struggled, at times, because they couldn’t shoot well from inside the arc. The Bears had 13% of their shots blocked, which ranked 350th nationally.

The 2021 Bears are better from nearly everywhere (lower numbers—given it’s a ranking—are better):

Baylor has achieved an unprecedented feat to start the campaign. Through six games, Baylor ranks top five in offensive rebounding rate (3rd) and effective field goal percentage (2nd). There are 6,510 teams that have completed a season in KenPom’s database. No team has ever finished top five in both. Only four teams have finished top 10 in both categories (2013 Indiana, 2007 Georgetown, 2005 Wake Forest and 2002 Kansas).

It makes sense that teams would normally struggle to shoot and offensive rebound. Most teams that can crash the glass aren’t going to have great shooters. Those excellent offensive rebounding teams put out two traditional big men, which can make spacing the floor difficult.

But the Bears have ways to still space with two big men. Baylor runs a play that the Clippers popularized. Some call it “45” because the four and the five come up to set two screens. Butler told me that when he attacks out of the play, he often looks for a switch. The Bears put immense pressure on teams in that alignment because Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua can roll to the rim, and Mark Vital is an unbelievable screener. So those two aren’t just guys teams can ignore (some do and pay the price). And then Butler remains a threat with the ball; He can shoot, hit another guard on the strong side, or make a phenomenal pass to hit Davion Mitchell for a triple on the other side of the floor. During the 2019-2020 campaign a team could play off Mitchell, as he shot 32% from deep. When he’s hitting 54% of his 28 attempts—after a form change in the offseason—teams are in big trouble when they plan to close late:

Against Kansas State, one play exemplified how annoying it must be to play Baylor. Jared Butler drew a foul and missed both free throws. After Baylor’s 31 point thrashing of the Wildcats, Bruce Weber said, “They’ve got the rebounding of West Virginia where they just crash the glass, dare you and say, ‘Can you box me out?’ We joked on the bench, I thought they were missing free throws on purpose because they thought they had a chance to go get the rebound. They’re good. There’s no doubt.” Flo Thamba grabbed an offensive rebound, and Butler ended up with more points than if he’d drilled the free throws:

If there’s one constant in an America that features unending change, it’s that Baylor has played at a slow offensive pace. From 2014-2020, the Bears ranked sub 250 every year in average length of offensive possession. That worked—the Bears were elite every season except 2018—and speeding things up wouldn’t have made that offense better. But the 2021 Bears are 50th in average offensive possession length. Baylor can just get into pick-and-rolls (which will be covered in-depth later in the week) and let one of the guards go to work:

The Baylor lineup is just ridiculous. On Evan Miya’s website, the top four players in the Big 12: Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, Mark Vital and Macio Teague. Butler is KenPom’s Big 12 Player of the Year. On Torvik, Butler is the Big 12’s best player, while Mitchell is third, Teague is fourth and Jon Tchamwa Tchatchoua is seventh.

I appeared on Sirius XM’s Big 12 show with Holly Rowe and Gabe Ikard on Tuesday. Ikard asked me a good question about Baylor’s 3-point shooting being unsustainable. He’s right. The Bears aren’t going to make 47% of their triples over a full season. But the Bears are going to be one of the country’s best 3-point shooting teams. Butler, Teague, Mayer and Flagler have all been high-quality shooters in the past. Mitchell radically altered his form, and he’s had his best six game stretch in his three year college career.

Scott Drew and his staff have one of the two best teams in the country, and they’ve put them in some great actions to maximize their ability. We’ll cover that later in the week. For now, it’s enough to know Baylor’s achieving a historic offensive year.