Waco, Texas- No. 3 Baylor (20-1, 12-1) beat No. 17 Oklahoma State (17-7, 10-7) 81-70 behind another elite performance by the offense. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising, but in a ton of stories about how phenomenal Baylor’s been, the offense’s dominance has gone under the radar.
Scott Drew builds dominant offenses. Since 2008, the Bears have ranked top 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency in all but two seasons. Duke is the only other team to do that.
Before the season, Jerome Tang, Baylor’s Associate Head Coach, served as acting head coach because Scott Drew had COVID-19. He mentioned the offense was way ahead of the defense. He said, “I’m not worried about our offense.”
If anyone doubted Tang’s words, his prediction may be as accurate as the warnings that China might have been lying about COVID-19’s spread.
In a war over analytics or eye test, all sides can agree that Baylor has the best offense in school history. By adjusted offensive efficiency, Baylor ranks 4.5 points per 100 possessions better than its next best offense (2010).
The Bears have now scored 1.25 and 1.17 points per possession in their last two games. Those are unbelievable marks, especially for a team coming off the pause.
Baylor ranks No. 1 nationally in 3-point percentage. The Bears drilled 9-of-22 threes tonight. Jared Butler went 4-of-7 from deep; he’s basically locked up Big 12 Player of the Year. MaCio Teague added a pair, including a tough transition three as Cade Cunningham brought the Cowboys within single digits. He also meandered through Oklahoma State’s zone, adding a pair of layups that eviscerated the Cowboy’s hope of a comeback in the second half.
Innovation is necessary in sports. Teams take away your best sets, and coaching staffs need to find new ways to get their best players the best opportunities to score. In the first half, Jared Butler hit Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua for a lob:
I asked Butler about that after the game, and he said, “Jon’s been asking for a lob for a long time. He said, ‘I miss getting lobs.....’ We got him one tonight.”
Scott Drew said, “That’s one of our plays, and he did a great job catching it, and it was a great pass.”
That play works because Flagler sets a timely back screen. That set is sometimes referred to as “Spain” because the Spanish national team used those kinds of screens to perfection. That fits Baylor’s early season pattern of getting Tchamwa Tchatchoua empty, or on one side of the floor where there’s nobody else to defend him. That means there’s not a guy that can bump into Tchamwa Tchatchoua and stop his roll to the hoop. And with Flagler’s back screen, the defense is already scrambling to adjust to even stopping their side of the field.
A lot sticks out tonight, but let’s focus on two other areas. First, Matthew Mayer has been on a tear in the last two games. He scored 18 points in Morgantown and made every shot he took in the second half at West Virginia. Tonight he added 19 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He can be unstoppable with his 6’9 frame and handle. He pairs that with an elite jump shot (45% from three on the season):
Finally, there’s Butler. He has 47 points and 11 assists in his last two games. After forcing overtime with a made layup with 2.2 seconds left on Tuesday, he added two dunks tonight. The first one was glorious:
I asked Butler about that after the game, and he said, “He (the defender) came over kind of wanting to take a charge. And I just gotta jump as high as I can, and that was it.”
Mayer and Butler are roommates, and will both be millionaires by the time they’re 23. In the interim, the duo have a competition over who can finish the season with more dunks. I asked Mayer about that, and his answer—where he mixes stoicism and the rules of the contest—is incredible:
Matthew Mayer with the hysterical answer about Jared Butler's dunks tonight, and the competition the roommates have over dunks: pic.twitter.com/tPfPmR3vd9— Kendall (@kendallkaut) March 5, 2021
In a classic Seinfeld episode a child in a hospital wants two homeruns from Paul O’Neil, then a New York Yankee. Kramer relays that promise to O’Neil, and he balks. He knows that’s nearly impossible against the best pitchers in the world. Maybe Drew understood the specter of O’Neil’s two home runs and managed expectations better. He said, “I asked him (Butler) for one dunk before the game; he delivered two.”
There’s a mood for this team that works. They enjoy the levity of the sport. Basketball should be fun. All of the men on scholarship would like to play professionally, and the coaches all desire that for the players. Each of them also face the pressure of knowing how good they are, and the unending desire to win. But despite the anxiety that could induce, Drew, Mayer and Butler can laugh it up and create funny contests or expectations. If you watch my questions above, it’s obvious I’m fairly nerdy (fairly might be doing a lot) and enjoy the quantifiable elements of basketball. But Baylor has a chemistry beyond all that. That’s the beauty of the game. When you crunch all the numbers, you’re left knowing something remains. In Baylor’s case, it’s the bond the men share. That bond is forged over the multiple seasons all of Baylor’s rotation players have been in Waco. They’ve suffered the heartbreak of losing a Big 12 title against Kansas last year, and the high of winning a Big 12 record 23 straight games. They’ve listened as their coaching staff gathered them in a Marriott and informed them the NCAA Tournament was cancelled. And they’ve won the school’s first conference title since before the Korean War.
The Bears have a greater bond that allows them to have the difficult conversations too. Mayer played just five minutes against Kansas. He said post-game tonight, “(I) had a real talk with Coach Drew about playing time. I had five minutes...(he) let me play through more stuff today...when I get to play a couple more minutes, I get in a groove and appreciate it.”
Drew gave Mayer that freedom the last two games. Multiple times this season, Drew’s acknowledged he’s always improving as a coach too. He doesn’t believe he’s solved basketball because he’s completed the greatest building job in the history of college basketball. He strives to get better every day, and with Mayer, he had a real and deep meeting about the best way to help him succeed. That led to two exceptional performances. Both were integral to Baylor’s wins. The Bears certainly lose without Mayer’s efforts in Tuesday’s overtime win in Morgantown, and they might have lost tonight too.
Add this offense, and the chemistry Baylor has, and Baylor should achieve Mayer’s goal. He said after the game that among Baylor teams, “We want to leave a legacy as the best team ever.”
They’ve done that already, and with what they’ve shown since after COVID-19 left eight of them sidelined, they just might end the season as the best team too.