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NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Baylor

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The Center of Baylor’s Defensive Success

How Tchatchoua and Thamba are impacting every play

Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve all seen the reactions and stats flying around Twitter at this point. We know Baylor made history on more fronts than you have fingers and toes.

But let’s take a little time to savor the moments when the Baylor Bears showed the country that they are serious about taking home another national title.

The Bears are an evolved version of last season’s defense. Coming in, it was a question whether Drew could scheme up a defense that could account for the departure of Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital. Adding length on the wing has certainly helped, but empowering Tchatchoua and Thamba to be aggressive and vocal is perhaps the biggest key of all.

Tchamwa-Tchatchoua, the Thrumming Heart of the Defense

In seasons past, Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua was largely highlighted for his effort rebounding and violent dunking. Starting Sunday, the highlight packages are going to be about the way Everyday Jon has become the most versatile defender in the country.

This moment was an early sign that Villanova was not going to find success with the high ball screen. Baylor would happily switch it, especially with Tchatchoua on the floor. Here’s Tchatchoua switching onto Justin Moore, Nova’s leading scorer for the game:

It all starts with his footwork. Tchatchoua keeps Moore in front of him, moves his feet, and keeps his hands up. Moore never has a chance to make anything happen on this play, and he wasn’t the only Nova guard to meet that wall.

Watch how Collin Gillespie tries to take advantage on Tchatchoua on an island but can only hoist a prayer off the iron in the end:

Most bigs would sink down in the lane for fear of getting blown by. Not Tchatchoua. He comes out hard on the guard to stop the initial drive, then keeps on his toes as he anticipates each move Gillespie tries to put on him. In the end, Gillespie has nowhere to go.

After the game, both coaches had praise for Baylor’s big men. Jay Wright mentioned the Baylor bigs several times in the postgame, but this particularly stood out: “Tchatchoua and Thamba, the guards were great, but those two especially…those three bigs (including Mayer) can guard anyone on the perimeter.” Scott Drew added on, complementing the way Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba have improved as leaders on the floor: “Jon and Flo are everything. Without them, it makes it harder on everybody. They’ve both gotten a lot more vocal, calling things out defensively.”

Calling out coverages and opponent movement is a massive piece the Baylor’s defense. With everyone flying around from side to side, communication is essential. Tchatchoua is calling out assignments the entire defensive possession:

Baylor does a number of good things on that possession, but none of it happens without Tchatchoua helping, recovering, and communicating. When you watch him in person, it really stands out that he never stops talking.

The Thamba Thump

You probably clicked into this article looking to watch this highlight:

It was the undeniable exclamation of the game. Villanova had already been disheartened. Here, Thamba took their soul.

That block is a testament to the strength that Thamba gained in the off season. He was liable to being bullied last season, and his rim contests weren’t ever this nasty. Most impressive: Thamba’s arm doesn’t move backwards at all.

Thamba’s contribution on defense was bigger than that signature moment, though. Here, Baylor forced Villanova into the first shot clock violation of the game. The entire team does things you love to see, but Thamba’s contributions are no small part:

Thamba first pushes his man out of the post. Then he stays aware and helps on the Gillespie drive. Finally, he seals the defensive possession closing back out to his man, who had drifted out to the perimeter. That’s a lot to ask of your 6-10 center. Closing out to the short corner is no joke. It doesn’t take much to misstep and find yourself on the wrong side of a rim run.

Baylor’s defense benefits from never having a bad defensive center on the floor at any point in the game. That’s very rare in college basketball. When the other team’s offense never has a chance to establish rhythm, games like Sunday’s happen.

The Mayer Moment

I already spent a whole article breaking down Mayer’s improvement this season, so I’ll just put this here and leave it at that.

*Ferrel Center roars*

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