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NCAA Basketball: Championship-Baylor at Michigan State

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Matthew Mayer’s Subtle Reinvention

Mayer has found a way to channel his wild energy into defensive intensity

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Since his first appearance in a Baylor Bears uniform, it has been evident that Matthew Mayer has talent. He looked to be on the same sort of path as Taurean Prince — a madman without a plan as a freshman become a seasoned veteran leader. So far in his senior campaign, some of that has come to fruition for Mayer, but he’s forging his own path. It’s worthwhile to take a look at what has made Mayer a surprisingly quiet, subtle key to this season’s great start.

Offense

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Baylor
Matthew Mayer is working himself into rhythm on offense
Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Mayer hasn’t quite met expectations yet on the offensive side of the ball. He’s a mere 9-31 from three, and he still has 2-3 possessions a game where he drives the ball into traffic only to put up a tough jumper. Last season, Mayer was 30-76 from three, a tick under 40%. He and Baylor both hope that he finds his jump shot as he continues to adjust to being a primary focus of the defense.

To the credit, he is still finding ways to be effective on offense. Against Michigan State on Friday, Mayer several times attacked open space off the dribble with a handle belied by his wire 6’ 9” frame.

Mayer makes excellent use of his power and strength here, exploding into his dribble move ahead of the defender, then tucking the ball before going into a mid-range push shot. He’s utilizing his strength by bumping the defender off and flashes some impressive breaks. It’s not the optimal shot, for sure, but Mayer is demonstrating some maturity here in utilizing every advantage that has commentators discussing his NBA Draft potential.

An even better look at Mayer’s offensive maturity driving the ball.

He leads his defender towards the ball screen, then quickly crosses back over, extends the ball low away from the swipe, and lays it off the glass for an easy basket. It’s the type of drive that takes awareness of opponent. He knew the scouting report to attack Hauser off the dribble, and he knew the help defender was a step too far from the paint to be a real threat. All this set up by the trickeration of going away from the screen.

He’s still developing into a more reliable scorer, but’s he demonstrating good growth that will keep defenses honest until he finds his shot.

Defense

NCAA Basketball: Incarnate Word at Baylor
Matthew Mayer has taken his defense to the next level
Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Defense is where Mayer is shining at the moment, not something one might expect for a guy who could be a bit of a ball-watching space cadet as recently as last season. Clearly, coaching and film work transformed Mayer’s mindset this offseason, and it’s been spectacular to watch.

First, just check out these moments where Mayer is simply active:

That last one, in particular, tells you something about Mayer’s intensity. The game is long past decided. Tom Izzo and the Spartans have had scrubs in for nearly four minutes, but Mayer will have none of getting posted as the clock winds down. In the other clips, too, Mayer is showing great energy, as well as some decent awareness of where his man is.

In this clip, Mayer does an excellent job of stringing out the ball handler so the backside defense can recover, then runs back in to contest the shot:

Again, it’s effort and awareness. He’s engaged through the end of the play. Another play was similar, where Mayer is able to track both the ball and his defender. He gets in position to disrupt the play, then dives on the floor for the ball, clearly pumped up by the end as he sits on the floor:

This type of intensity and engagement is infections. He and Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua have been true leaders on the floor defensively and are setting the tone for the younger wings Jeremy Sochan and Kendall Brown (who will both get another quick shout out at the end of the article).

It’s this play, though, that really makes you drop your jaw and wonder if this is even the same guy as seasons previous:

Mayer essentially ends a fast break opportunity all on his own with three quick moves. The first two are pure savvy as Mayer cuts of the pass to the corner, then anticipates the corner shooter will cut the the basket. Realizing the shooter stayed put, Mayer uses that NBA quickness to close back out and block the shot.

At last, we get to see Mayer clapping this season, and he’s not calling for the ball.

Mayer still has a ways to go to be the clear best player on the team, but his play is demonstrating a new level of maturity that we’ve not seen from his before, and it’s been a delight to see.

Call Back

I just wanted to quickly call back to my previous article on Sochan and Brown as corner threats, because their cutting featured in the two highlight plays of the game:

It’s just more evidence that this is the plan for the two of them all season. The passes from Adam Flagler and James Akinjo are worth admiring, as well. Those guys are aware of the anti-gravity weapons waiting to be unleashed from the corners, and they’re inventing nifty ways to find them.

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