Welcome to the Plus/Minus, your regular evaluation of Baylor men’s basketball. Each week we consider two pluses, two minuses, and one net neutral.
This week, we examine the rise and fall of various players on the roster, note the declining minutes of the junior college transfers, and propose a new nickname for Makai Mason.
Let’s dive in.
This week, Baylor had two freshman go off to lead the team in scoring. On Monday night against Prairie View A&M, Jared Butler went scorched earth against the Panthers and dropped 22 points on 10 shots. His shooting splits of .70/.60/.83 and he was second on the team in minutes played despite coming off the bench. Butler provided the second half boost the Bears needed to put away another lesser opponent who managed to close the gap. He did it on catch-and-shoot opportunities, secondary drives on the basket, and in transition. He’s a player who thrives in space. Scott Drew needs to find more ways to get him the ball with a head of steam.
Matthew Mayer had his turn Friday morning (weird) when Baylor took on Nicholls State. He was not quite as efficient as Butler, taking 12 attempts to score 18 points, but he effective nonetheless. He earned KenPom’s game MVP, shooting 3-6 from beyond the arc and leading the team in points despite only playing 18 minutes. I did not get to watch this game, only highlights, so I am not fully informed of when and how he scored all these points. Still, it’s encouraging that he can find his shot. It’d be nice if he didn’t have to take total control of the offense to do it, but this is how players grow.
Makai Makes a Comeback
Firstly, in the spirit of Yale’s mascot Handsome Dan and as an homage to Sexy Al Freeman, I propose to the good people of ODB that Makai Mason be dubbed “Handsome Kai”. Please, debate this nickname or variants thereof in the comments.
Having another competent back court player should help to steady parts of the rotation. At the very least, Baylor should have another shooter dotting the perimeter. Mason hit 3 of 5 three-point attempts and 4 of 7 overall from the floor. He won’t be 100% for a bit, still (if he ever is), but it’s good that he was able to contribute positively for 21 minutes.
You can’t have too many shot makers. If Mason can be one for even a handful of Big XII games, he’ll be valuable.
Two Halves for a Whole
Before its game against Nicholls State, Baylor outscored its opponent by double digits in only one half each game. That’s not great when those opponents rank 269th, 338th, and 277th in KenPom, respectively. When facing teams of that caliber, you’d like Baylor to demonstrate its superiority for a full game, rather than letting a lesser team hang around for a half.
Baylor is a team still trying to find itself in a lot of ways. The first three games are evidence of that. Being blown out for a half at home by Southern Texas cost the season opener, and slow halves against Southern and Prairie View don’t give much reason to feel great as Baylor goes into a game against Ole Miss. The Bears have to find a way to keep energy and focus as the season continues. The difficulty level is about to bump up a level.
Flat Vital Signs on Offense
Is four games too early to start worrying about Mark Vital’s offense? He has shooting splits of .28/.38/.49 and an effective field goal percentage of 34%. Compare that to the 43% eFG of the shot happy Mayer, and you start to see reason for concern. Perhaps the most troubling will be that free throw percentage. He managed to get rid of that hitch in his shot from last season, but he still isn’t having much luck getting the ball to go down.
That will be a problem for him as the season continues. As Baylor’s best rebounder, he is bound to get fouled on attempted put backs, and his strength forces the small players guarding him to reach, shove, and grab. That means he’s going to get to the line a lot. Thus far, he has attempted 24 free throws against 25 field goals. When he’s hitting fewer than half of them, though, it’s tough to call that valuable.
Vital is so good in so many other areas that he can justify time on the floor, but it’s going to get harder to keep him in at the end of close games. Opposing teams will foul the heck out of him to force him off the floor if he can’t improve even marginally.
Scott Drew is playing around with plenty of rotation schemes. Take Freddie Gillespie and Darius Allen, for instance. The minute logs for them are as follows:
Gillespie — 18, 22 (starter), 16 (starter), 8
Allen — 26 (starter), 19, 16, 11
Neither has been especially effective in those minutes, either. Allen has the lowest offensive rating on the team among rotation players at 78.6, and Gillespie is not far behind with a rating of 91.8. The main problem is that neither has been very good from the spots they’re supposed to be. Gillespie is 3-7 on two-point attempts, and Allen is 2-14 from three. That’s bad news for the transfers, especially with freshmen who play their positions showing out this past week.
Their rotation spots are in serious danger of being usurped, especially with Mason’s return and the impending return of Mario Kegler. And hey, if Allen and Gillespie end up at the bottom of their respective positions, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the team as a whole. It’s worth watching, though, to see whether these junior college players can figure it out at the high-major level.