After Baylor knocked off Texas Tech, Mark Vital’s attention turned to a tweet by Fran Fraschilla:
Fran is a straight shooter, and a big fan of Vital’s. I asked Vital about that tweet after the game, and he said, “First of all I think I need to test Fran Fraschilla. I don’t know if he’s sick. I don’t know what’s going on; if he’s got COVID, I don’t know what’s going on. I never lost it. My teammates always encouraged me...I was my normal self tonight.” The pair appear to be on great terms still, and I bet Vital’s grateful for what Fraschilla said:
Vital feeds off that kind of thing. My guess is that Fraschilla felt like Vital needed a kick to hit another level. Fraschilla is a former coach and has a great relationship with Vital and plenty of players throughout the Big 12. He watches the conference as much as anybody. His words carry a lot of weigh, so Vital was determined to prove he’s still fantastic. He was tonight.
In the first half, Adam Flagler hit Vital for an alley-oop. His bounce appeared as good as ever:
Vital’s best skill is his defense. The Bears are No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and Vital can do so much on that end. He can guard multiple positions and secure boards. And in the open floor, he takes away easy baskets. After the game, Vital said, “I was always taught don’t give up on the play. Two things happen. You can either block it or get dunked on...at the end of the day I’m one of the highest jumpers in the country also...if he would have dunked it, congratulations to him. I jump everyday and twice on Sunday.” Those kinds of plays matter because it prevents any tightening from being that much closer. All the times Kansas pulled within five become times where the Jayhawks are one made basket from tying the game. Even the best risk tensing up more in those situations. Vital makes winning plays that preclude those situations:
KU went on a 10-0 run to cut Baylor’s lead to 56-51 with 10 minutes left. The Bears desperately needed a bucket and turned to Vital. I asked Drew about that call, and he said, “I think we got a little stagnant. We didn’t move the ball as well. Defensively, they got more aggressive. I thought it put us more in a state where we were being aggressive and running offense with a pace.”
The Bears ran a weave that led to Vital isolated on one half of the floor for an alley-oop:
When I asked Vital about that after the game, he explained the play was, “Just reading. Coach Drew did a good job, and the staff did a job with scouting. Playing off of reads...a lot of guys like to help off and give me that backdoor. Adam did a good job with passing (the earlier lob) and Jared did a good job reading.”
Check out how far Vital is from the hoop when Butler throws this pass. It’s ridiculous for Kansas—or any team—to defend this:
Maybe that’s why after the game, Bill Self said, “Let’s not get this too twisted. Baylor’s better than us right now. That doesn’t mean we can’t beat anybody...our margin for error isn’t what their margin for error is.” The Bears had 18 turnovers tonight. A lot of that is because Kansas is a really good team that played well. But the Bears had some turnovers that they’ll regret watching film. Baylor can overcome those mistakes though. Good teams demand perfection to beat great teams, and great teams can beat good teams without it. When Butler can read when to make a pass like that, and Vital can take off from that far away, there’s just not much Kansas can do.
Vital’s closed the last two games at center. I dubbed those lineups the Fival (the five, or center, manned by Vital) two years ago when Baylor played that allotment a bunch after Tristan Clark’s injury. I asked Drew about going to the Fival down the stretch in Baylor’s 68-60 win over Tech, and he said those lineups allowed them to switch everything.
The switchability of the Vital helped Baylor close out tonight/today (time is an illusion during the pandemic). Kansas ran a ball screen with Tristan Enaruna and Dajuan Harris. The Bears elected to switch. Check out how Vital’s pressure forces the turnover. He can defend 6-foot-10 David McCormack and a quality point guard:
The Bears won against Kansas for a host of reasons. Basketball games, like life, rarely come down to one explanation. There’s normally an overarching thing that explains something. Why did Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater? Primarily because the economy was roaring in 1964, and incumbents generally won in that era with a strong economy. But there are a host of other factors—candidate ideology, taking over Kennedy’s term, a successful domestic agenda at the time and not escalating Vietnam yet (things sure changed before too long). Similarly, the easiest explanation for Baylor’s victory tonight is that Jared Butler scored 30 points on 14 shots and added eight assists. That explanation beats about any other theory.
But there are other factors that matter. Butler understood that post-game and credited his teammates and mentioned that basketball’s a team game.
Vital gets that basketball’s a team game too. He’s not out there attempting four 3-pointers a game to try and show professional teams he’s an NBA player with range. Instead, he’s doing the necessary work to help Baylor win. He’s working to catch lobs, grabbing rebounds (he finished with 10) and defending all five positions. Vital said after this one, “My mindset this game was to be like my shirt says: a glue guy; don’t step outside my role.” By excelling in his role, Vital proved integral in the Bears knocking off the Jayhawks and moving another step closer to their first Big 12 title.