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The Bounce: Welcome to the Big Time

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Baylor is flashing a rare balance in their nascent season

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Baylor Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor basketball is floating in rarified air.

We’ve had only a brief glimpse of the capabilities of the Baylor Bears so far in the 2020-2021 season, but all indications point to a season of unrivaled success in program history. If you glance back over the last 19 seasons, these small sample size Bears would be a top 5 KenPom team in all but two of those years. In this season, the margin between Baylor and the third ranked KenPom team (currently Villanova) is as great as third to ninth (Iowa). If you look just at the last 19 seasons of Big XII play, Baylor’s current efficiency ranking would have been the best in all but 5 of those seasons.

Essentially, KenPom is attempting to measure how much better a team is than a statistically average opponent in any given year. KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin measures how much more efficient a team is than an average D-I opponent. Baylor currently possesses an adjusted efficiency margin of +28.72. That means Baylor would be expected to outscore an average D-I team by about 28 points over 100 possessions on a neutral court. At Baylor’s pace so far this season of 70 possessions per game, that comes out to a 20 point win against the perfectly average team. For perspective, a rough equivalent of the average D-I team would this season be Kansas State, whom Baylor is currently projected to wallop in Manhattan by 17 points.

Now, small sample size has something to do with this. For example: Baylor’s not likely to shoot 47.3% from three all season. That number is currently doing some funny things to the Bears’ overall offensive efficiency. Some expected regression won’t all go against Baylor’s favor, though. The Bears also are not likely to average 56.2% from the free throw line, and they’ll probably rank better than 265th nationally at getting to the free throw line. Even as statistics settle with the procession of the season, Baylor is slated to maintain a high level of offense, which currently sits at third behind Gonzaga and Iowa.

If you’re looking for the real reason to bet on the Bears this season, though, it’s the balance between offense and defense. As things stand, Baylor is the only team in the nation that ranks in the top 10 in both offense and defense. Scott Drew’s team is third and eighth on offense and defense, respectively. The only other team who is particularly close to being top 10 in both categories is Duke, resting at 11th and 9th in each. In fact, only seven teams in the last five years have managed to be where the Bears are at right now.

None of this, of course, guarantees Baylor anything. Baylor still has a tough road to hoe in the Big XII, and playing big time opponents has a tendency to push your efficiency numbers down a bit. That doesn’t change the fact that the Bears are currently playing like the nations most balanced squad, and they made a good Illinois team look downright pedestrian last week. We were all robbed perhaps the best game of the season by the rescheduling of the Gonzaga game last Saturday. Hopefully the teams will find a suitable window to make that happen.

In the meantime, Baylor hosts the No. 4 KenPom team in Texas this coming Sunday. The real tests are soon to come.

Pickup game

All I really want to say here is one thought on Coach Dave Aranda. He is, undoubtedly, going through a lot right now. His team has only won two games, the internet is demanding he change out a quarterback who seems all but fated to use his COVID-shirt to play a fifth season, and he can’t even hold back the dark tide by two-stepping at Wild West anymore. I imagine he’s undergoing the kind of stress a first year teacher feels, except that thousands of people are tweeting about him and he has to justify a multi-million dollar contract. As someone who has been a first year teacher (still waiting on the multi-million dollar contract), I can’t help but root for the guy and offer him this advice: writing out those detailed lesson plans isn’t as important as getting comfortable with your voice.