TCU got every break they could have expected to win this game. Baylor started 1-of-11 from three. Mike Miles hit a 60 foot prayer before halftime, and the Bears’ cadre of big men all found themselves in foul trouble.
Baylor’s one of the country’s two best teams—the Gonzaga-Baylor debate remains ongoing (though Baylor is once again No. 1 on KenPom)—for a bevy of reasons . But sometimes basketball is simple: the team with the best player wins.
Jared Butler is much better than anyone on TCU. Jamie Dixon’s recruited well at his alma matter. They have good players, especially Kevin Samuel. But they don’t have anyone as good as Butler. Nobody in the Big 12 does.
The Horned Frogs led at halftime. In 20 minutes, anything seems possible, so the Horned Frogs had hope they could catch another poor shooting half from the Bears and ride to victory. Then Jared Butler happened, and the Bears won by 18.
Butler had a marvelous second half. He started 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, breaking an 0-of-7 run—dating back to the Oklahoma game—from beyond the arc. In the first 15 minutes, he had 13 points on just five shots. He added four assists and had zero turnovers. In one key stretch he hit Mark Vital for an easy no-look pass. After the game Butler said he focuses on, “Numbers and moves through them” when he looks at if Baylor has a 4 on 3 advantage compared to the defense. He’s done a fantastic job processing his best bet this year and leads the league in assist rate.
The stat line for Butler was ridiculous. He finished with 28 points, which is his highest total for a game outside of Central Arkansas (30) and Kansas in 2019 (31). The second half score: TCU 21, Butler 16.
After going through the NBA Draft process, he told me this summer that teams wanted him to improve his defense. He’s done that this season, blocking jump shots. Today he did a nice job coming into the paint to stop big men from getting easy buckets on pick-and-rolls. He finished with four steals. Some of those keyed fast breaks, including one pristine pass to MaCio Teague for a slam dunk.
The Big 12 is filled with talented players. Cade Cunningham may go No. 1 in the draft; Jalen Wilson’s fueled Kansas’ run as a top 10 team, and Greg Brown has insane plus/minus numbers and will be a first round pick. But the advanced numbers all like Butler as the league’s best player. If the coaches voted for the award tomorrow, he’d likely be the unanimous player of the year. Today exemplified why.