The Bears are No. 2 in the AP Poll and No. 2 in every advanced ranking site.
KenPom now projects the Bears will win the Big 12 by four games. Nothing is guaranteed, and they have some things they know they’ll need to improve to achieve the loftiest goal in the sport: winning a national title.
But there are so many positive moments that let’s take a look at 10 of them (and shouts to Zach Lowe for the format) from the past two games.
1) MaCio Teague’s defense:
The Bears have played quite a few four guard lineups, which usually leaves Teague responsible for guarding a man bigger than him. That task isn’t easy, and in a great podcast with Davion Mitchell for SicEm365, Ashley Hodge and Jason King got Mitchell to open up about Teague, and he really credited his defense for helping the team.
For the first time in program history, Baylor ranks No. 1 in defensive efficiency. Entering the season, associate head coach Jerome Tang mentioned the offense was way ahead of the defense. The defense has responded well, especially Teague. He played the entire second half against Texas Tech, and he prevented Oklahoma State from scoring:
2) Davion Mitchell’s bounce passes:
Mitchell’s shooting 42% from three and appearing on multiple draft boards. He’s one of the country’s best defenders too.
But lost in his impressive run has been his passing. These kinds of passes make it difficult to make any defense contain Baylor (also see another mention about Mitchell under No. 4):
3) Mark Vital’s defense in the Fival:
When Vital plays center, the Bears will switch everything and ask him to guard guys on the perimeter and in the post. He ended Kansas late, and he’s able to quickly contest and then defend the full play:
Vital interviewed with Holly Rowe for ESPN’s Big 12 Sirius XM show on Tuesday. Rowe and Vital had a great discussion about several topics. You can watch it here.
4) Jared Butler making the extra pass:
The game comes down to buckets, and few are as reliable as Butler. He’s 13-of-16 from deep in the last two games, and he ranks 33rd nationally in 3-point percentage (49%) on 81 attempts. Only one dude above him has shot more, and he’s also the only player to have attempted more than 65 triples (Chris Shelton from Hampton is having a season!).
That makes Butler passing up shots all the more impressive. Twice against Kansas, Butler could have scored near the hoop. But he threw it to Mitchell in a pick-and-roll, and he hit Flagler for a layup:
The first part of that video features Mitchell’s call for the ball. He has a high-pitched yelp that’s unlike anything I’ve heard in a basketball game. It’s genius because it’s efficient. “Ball” or “Jared” or some other word requires combining letters. Mitchell’s voice immediately draws Butler’s attention.
5) LJ Cryer’s confidence:
On nearly every other Baylor team, Cryer would play major minutes. But this year’s team has four spectacular guards above him. He’ll likely start next season, but we don’t get much of him this year.
He badly missed his first three against Oklahoma State. That didn’t phase him. He came back and hit his next one:
Cryer’s quick release will make him a problem for Big 12 defenses next season.
6) Dain Dainja’s energy:
Dainja is redshirting this year and working on his body. The big man can play inside and out, and has a nice shot. He might be the most talented guy on next year’s roster (though Mayer should be the team’s best player—assuming I’m right about who returns).
It’s difficult not playing. But Dainja brought the energy in Stillwater:
He waves the towel like a boxing trainer trying to inspire his fighter. Mario Kegler had some of the best bench celebrations when he sat out, and Teague worked in a bow and arrow 3-point celebration that made people think, “Maybe archery is for me.” I think Dainja with the towel joins them as a celebrators.
7) Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s recovery from mistakes:
Against Kansas, Tchamwa Tchatchoua gave up a basket underneath when he went for a steal he wasn’t going to get.
He didn’t sulk. He responded by making a great defensive play, then running the floor for a bucket:
Tchamwa Tchatchoua also crashed into Vital going for a rebound against Oklahoma State. When I asked him about that play, he said it was actually a good sign because they were both being aggressive going for rebounds. Tchamwa Tchatchoua is a heck of a player, but his energy and attitude carry over so well.
8) Flo Thamba’s screens:
Thamba’s always been an excellent screener. He moves so quickly that he gives Baylor’s shooters chances for fantastic looks:
Thamba has the perfect form as a screener. He gets wide and is elusive. Defenders get rammed into by him, and he rarely draws a moving screen call, despite Baylor’s guards occasionally taking off early.
The offense would not be as good without the kinds of screens Thamba sets.
9) Matthew Mayer’s footwork:
With his 6-foot-9 frame, Mayer can get downhill off the dribble. He avoids traveling in his excitement with an open lane, then glides to the hoop in a couple steps:
If Mayer needs an extra step, then Flo Thamba’s defender can help and contest. But Mayer’s footwork is superb enough to make that possibility irrelevant.
10) Adam Flagler’s lob:
Flagler’s had a strong two games after COVID-19 protocols slowed down his impressive start. That’s huge for the current and future Bears.
Next year’s team, assuming Mitchell and Butler go pro, will need play makers. This is not an easy pass to make, but Flagler makes it look easy: