Note: This game was originally on ESPN2, was then moved to ESPN3 as stated in a brief tirade below. But ESPN has woken up and this game is back on ESPN2.
What’s the wordie birdie – the Bears are still a wagon! “Wait, what sport?” you ask. Great question, we will be talking about your buzzsaw of a men’s basketball program yet again. But before we jump in let’s air out the laundry. I am expecting that we are all on the same page here, so let me level set on where my soul is right now. I am still buzzing from our Baylor Football team having its best season ever, and a ton of dudes saying, “thank you sir may I have another” and committing to run it back in 2022. Like you, I have been consuming as much Baylor Football content as humanly possible.
All that to say, it is time to turn the page. I am now fully focused on our aforementioned buzzsaw men’s basketball team, and you should be too. You know the game two truths and a lie? Allow me to play the game five truths and no lies about your Baylor Men’s Basketball team: undefeated, unanimous #1 team, talented as all get out, gelling, and just flat out exciting to watch. All these are reasons to be gassed up about this matchup with Texas Tech – and if possible, get off work early and fill the Ferrell Tuesday at 6PM CT. Sorry to one of my best friends who is also leading my project at work, but as they said in the ‘90s, “I’m outtie 5000,” and going to the game.
I am happily back in the US of A and can’t wait to eat my own words on James Akinjo, pen my overreactions to watching the Red Raiders play, and of course provide a 100% accurate prediction. Let’s ride.
Setting the Scene
The Who: #19 Texas Tech MBB x #1 Baylor MBB
The What: First Ranked Home Big 12 Game
The Where: God’s Country (Waco, Texas)
The When: Tuesday 1/11 6:00 PM CT on ESPN3 (how in the world has the #1 team in the country been on ESPN+ and ESPN3 in back to back matchups?? i’m pissed y’all)
The Why: Baylor looks to continue their dominant start to the season, and Texas Tech out to prove their win over Kansas wasn’t a fluke. This is appointment TV my g’s.
How We Got Here
Baylor is coming off some closer wins than we would’ve liked or anticipated. The Iowa State win on the road was impressive, but Baylor let Iowa State hang around when the boys probably could’ve buried the Cyclones. The Oklahoma win at home was low key silly. Oklahoma was blazing hot from the field to open the game, but Baylor weathered the storm. In the second half Baylor’s sloppy play allowed the Sooners to play us tight. Pretty wild stuff that a 10-point victory never felt comfortable.
Against TCU, the Bears looked borderline bad in the first half, and if not for a rally fueled by the infernos of Flagler and Akinjo we may be having a different conversation. But, the Bears got it done on the road and still haven’t played a complete game. This sounds ridiculous because Baylor is the #1 team in the country.
Texas Tech has had a perplexing start to the year. In games against lesser competition the Red Raiders are waxing teams, but then in games against tougher teams (Top 50 KenPom), Texas Tech looks like a disjointed ball club. The exception is the recent clash with Kansas, but we will get there. Tech has a lot of talent on their roster, and in the Big 12 anyone can beat anyone, as we’ve seen this past weekend. Pretty much every game from here on out Baylor will be playing teams that will make the tourney.
This is what makes this matchup so intriguing. Texas Tech has a high ceiling, they were ranked 4th in the Big 12 Preseason Poll, behind Kansas, Texas, and Baylor. I fully expect the Red Raiders to come out hungry and for this to be a dog fight.
Here’s what I see from this Texas Tech team.
Texas Tech Eye Test
The key departure this offseason for Texas Tech was Chris Beard. Beard showed he is sort of a sneak trick and took a job at Texas where he has vastly underperformed; we will pick apart the Longhorns in a later article. Tech hired from within, appointing longtime assistant coach Mark Adams to take over for Beard. This is Adams’ first real NCAAM DI head coaching gig, and he has done a good job so far.
Some notable speed bumps in the Tech program this year have revolved around their best player Terrence Shannon Jr. He goes by TJ Shannon, so that’s what we will stick with. Shannon was a great player for Tech last season and declared for the NBA Draft. After withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft there was a NCAA review to see if Shannon would be eligible to play for the Red Raiders early in the season. He was deemed eligible and came back efficiently leading Tech in scoring. However, since mid-December Shannon Jr. has been dealing with a nagging back injury. TBD if he is available against Baylor.
The Red Raiders most recent matchup came against Kansas in Lubbock, and oh buddy did that game make our matchup with Tech a lot more interesting. Texas Tech knocked off Kansas without their two leading scorers, TJ Shannon and Kevin McCullar. Tech played stifling defense and incredibly efficient offense to beat Kansas 75-67. Tech showed that they can run with literally anyone, and that is a problem.
As always, I have entered the lab on Texas Tech’s Top 50 KenPom matchups (Providence, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Kansas) and watched some tape. Here’s my overreaction from the Red Raiders in those matchups.
Let’s start this eye test with Texas Tech defensively. The first thing that pops when you watch Texas Tech is these boys are long. Most rotation players are above 6’ 5”. This creates problems for Tech opponents because the Red Raiders length can shrink a half court offense and eliminate passing lanes. Defensively Tech plays man and switches everything. Teams like Baylor with quick guards can take advantage of this if they are able to turn the corner, but again the Tech length makes this difficult. Tech will often pick up full court, so Baylor will need to be ready to break the press.
Occasionally, Tech relies a bit too much on their length and athleticism and can get caught ball watching. There were times on the tape where the Red Raiders were beat on back door cuts because of ball watching, and assuming they could get to the passing lane. This also allows good offensive rebounding teams to take advantage of Tech on the boards, psst the Bears crash the offensive glass and cut for lobs like maniacs.
Plain and simple, Texas Tech defends the three ball well. Tech’s length and strong close outs are key contributors to the Red Raiders holding their opponents to 31.4% from behind the arc. This could cause issues for the Bears, as Baylor’s offense runs much better when the team is shooting well from deep.
Tech has a tendency to over crash on drivers when the man on ball gets beat, looking to either help or draw the charge. This is a strength for the Red Raiders when the driving player isn’t poised with the ball, but a real backbreaker when the ball handler is able to find the open man. Guess who are poised ball handlers, James Akinjo, Adam Flagler, LJ Cryer, and company.
Pivoting to offense, Texas Tech’s offense is streaky. There are stretches where they are a well-oiled machine, and then stretches where they look like they’ve never played together. The Red Raiders have solid long guards, and the offense is heavily a drive and kick scheme, especially to the corners. More often than not, the primary ball handler drives looking to pass first if there isn’t a clear lane to the basket.
The Red Raiders run much of their offense through their bigs. Tech’s half court offensive sets often begin with two bigs setting screens at either elbow for guards to curl or cut. The Tech big men are not just bruisers used to set screens, but capable offense threats on the block. Tech is ultra-efficient in the paint and can do a lot of damage to opponents when smaller players switch on to them.
A downside of the Red Raiders on offense is they are not a good three point shooting team. At the time of penning this masterpiece, Tech ranks 192nd in the country in 3FG% shooting 33.44%. They make up for it with their incredible two point offense, but if Tech gets behind, it is really difficult for them to shoot their way back into the game.
Quick fun nugget, for any of my Last Chance U Basketball fans on Netflix, KJ Allen is on this Tech team and may or may not play.
Texas Tech Players to Watch
Texas Tech has had a revolving door in their lineup due to injuries, COVID, etc. and Coach Adams has instilled a next man up mentality. This makes the Red Raider players a bit difficult to break down because so many guys have played big minutes and it is a bit TBD on who will be available against Baylor on Tuesday. All that to say, I am going to take a SWAG at who the key players to watch will be because we really don’t know who is going to suit up for these fellas in Waco.
#1 Terrence Shannon Jr. – Guard
TJ Shannon is a 6’ 6” Junior combo guard for the Red Raiders. As we discussed Shannon explored the draft, and was a projected first round pick; but likely returned to Tech to try and solidify himself as a lottery pick. In limited action this year Shannon leads the Red Raiders in scoring at 14.3 PPG.
Shannon has a quick first step, and loves to go to the rim with his dominant left hand. He has great bounce and is looking to poster anyone who jumps with him. Shannon is also a solid shooter and can knock down mid range jumpers and three balls.
An active defender, Shannon can give ball handlers fits with his length and athleticism. It will be interesting to see if he can go against Baylor, if so we could be in for a long game.
#15 Kevin McCullar – Guard
Kevin McCullar is a 6’ 6” Junior guard, and has stepped in as the number one option for Tech on offense while Shannon has been out. McCullar is second on the Red Raiders in scoring at 13.5 PPG, first in rebounding at 6.1 RPG, and first in assists at 3.5 APG. McCullar is second on the team in 3FG%, shooting 37.2% from deep.
McCullar was out against Kansas, but should be back against the Bears. Tech relies heavily on McCullar when he is on the floor to facilitate and run their offense. He often is the primary ball handler and makes the decisions on what sets Tech will run.
McCullar is a big body guard and has a filled out frame. He uses his body well to get offensive boards and also to defend. McCullar is difficult to move off his spot if he gets his defender in the post, and is a great post passer and scorer.
#2 Davion Warren – Guard
Davion Warren is a 6’ 6” Senior guard. These aren’t typos, like I said all of Tech’s guards are borderline forwards with ball skills, and Warren fits that mold. This season is Warren’s first in Lubbock, after spending his first two college seasons with the Hampton Pirates.
Warren is Tech’s fourth leading scorer at 11 PPG, but most makes his presence felt at the defensive end. Warren has stepped into the ball stopper role for the Red Raiders. Warren leads the team in steals at 1.6 SPG, and is a serious disrupter. Against Kansas, Warren answered the bell and was matched up as the primary defender on Ochai Agbaji. Knowing Tech switches everything, Kansas did a good job screening Warren off Agbaji and I think that is something Baylor can do as well.
#11 Bryson Williams – Forward
Bryson Williams is a 6’ 8” Senior forward. Williams is a cut, strong, prototypical stretch big in today’s college basketball scheme. Williams is third on the Red Raiders in scoring at 11.9 PPG. He primarily does his work on the block but is also a capable shooter. Williams leads the Red Raiders in 3FG% at 41.4%, but only on 29 attempts.
Williams is one of the key bigs that sets elbow screens to start the Tech offensive sets. After screening, Williams usually dives to the basket or pops out to rotate the ball. Typically Williams’ three point attempts come late in the shot clock and are spot up shots in the corner.
Defensively, Williams reminds me a little bit of a lesser Everyday John. Williams can pop out and contain guards beyond the arc, and use his big frame to be a stopper in the paint. I think the matchup of Williams and EJ will be fascinating to watch.
#0 Kevin Obanor – Forward
Kevin Obanor is a 6’ 8” Senior forward. Obanor spent his first three college seasons at Oral Roberts and was a part of the ORU team that upset Ohio State and Florida in the tournament last season. Against Ohio State Obanor had 30 points, and against Florida he had 28 points. This man can score the ball, and has never seen a three ball he didn’t like. Like seriously, this man pulls all the time.
Obanor averages 8.6 PPG this season and 5.4 RPG. He leads the Red Raiders in three point attempts, but is only shooting 32.3% from deep. Obanor often takes some head scratcher threes, but if he gets to the corners he is lethal.
Obanor reminds me a ton of the Houston Rockets version of PJ Tucker. Total grinder and super high motor, frustrates his opponents, but will give you one or two “what are you doing” plays every game.
#25 Adonis Arms – Guard
Adonis Arms is a 6’ 5” Senior guard, in his first season at Texas Tech. Arms transferred to Tech after spending last season with the Winthrop Eagles. Arms’ minutes have been increasing with all of the injuries and COVID issues for the Red Raiders.
He is a capable scorer and solid defender, but isn’t a focal point of the Tech offense if Shannon and McCullar are playing. Without these two guys, Arms is pushed into more minutes and a bigger role. Arms is athletic and will often pick up his man full court.
#14 Marcus Santos-Silva – Forward
Marcus Santos-Silva is a 6’ 7” Senior forward, and is typically the first forward off the bench for the red raiders. Santos-Silva is a big body, checking in at 250lbs. He is primarily a screener, and will do most of his damage in the post, averaging 5.4 PPG on an efficient 62.7% from the field.
Santos-Silva is really physical, and when smaller players switch on to him he plays a ton of bully ball. He is efficient at drawing fouls and knows how to use his body well.
#3 Clarence Nadolny – Guard
Clarence Nadolny is a 6’ 3” Junior from France. Nadolny had played limited minutes throughout much of the season, but due to player absences his minutes have increased.
Nadolny played great against Kansas, filling in as the primary point guard for the Red Raiders. Against Kansas Nadolny played 35 minutes, scored 17 points, and had 3 steals. He is dangerous and will need to be contained, but his play is dependent on the availability of Shannon and McCullar.
Texas Tech is a well coached, hungry, gritty team. The Red Raiders are coming off a huge win at home against Kansas that is giving them all the confidence they need to think they can come to Waco and take care of business. Baylor will always have a target on their backs, and Tech is finna take aim.
The Red Raiders have the recipe that can take down Baylor. A long lineup that will give our guards issues on both sides of the ball. Tech has a never say die mentality and will do everything in their power to continue to prove themselves as a legitimate contender to win the Big 12.
If Tech gets back Shannon Jr. and McCullar I think this could be a tough game for Baylor, and a real nail biter. But as they showed against Kansas, they don’t need their star players to beat quality teams.
I still think Baylor gets it done, and the scare against TCU will have been the wake up call the boys needed. Here’s my thoughts on why the Bears will stay perfect.
Why Baylor Wins
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, Baylor hasn’t played a complete game. The Bears were reeling against TCU, and haven’t really looked that solid since we played Villanova. It will take a strong effort and great execution to knock off this Texas Tech team, but I think the Drew Crew gets it done.
If you are a dedicated reader of my takes, thank you; and if you’re new here we will take a look at each of Baylor’s rotation players and how they will help us get it done.
#0 Flo Thamba – @Flo_T3
Flo had a pretty tough game against TCU, scoring zero points and only grabbing three rebounds. Flo was exposed defensively when switched onto TCU’s guards.
Flo is most effective when matching up with big men, which is what he will be doing against the forwards that the Red Raiders rotate. Flo will need to move his feet quickly and be active defensively when Tech is running offensive actions through their bigs.
I think Flo will bounce back against Tech, as he often shows up in the biggest games (see the natty). This showdown against Tech has become a big game, and I expect Flo to be huge defensively containing Obanor, Williams, and Santos-Silva.
#1 Jeremy Sochan – @SochanJeremy
Sochan rolled his ankle nasty that resulted in a sprain against TCU. After the game Coach Drew said Sochan was day to day. It will be a huge lift if Sochan can go against the Red Raiders.
Baylor plays a lot of three or four guard sets, and against a longer team like Tech that can be a tough matchup. Sochan offers Baylor so much versatility that would be key in this game. Sochan’s length would benefit the Bears on both sides of the ball; offensively he would stretch the Tech defense and defensively he would be able to efficiently man up with their longer forwards and guards.
Let’s hope Sochan can go.
#2 Kendall Brown – @TheeKbrown
Brown was efficient again, scoring 9 points on 4-5 shooting from the field against TCU. Brown still ball watched a bit offensively against the Frogs and if he were to cut more actively I think he could help the offense flow, and increase his production…patience people he’s still a freshman.
Against Tech, the Bears will need Brown to be at his best. With Tech’s length Brown will need to be active on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Brown should be able to take advantage if Tech is flat-footed on defense. If Brown is cutting to the hoop and helping space the floor he should have a huge impact on the Bears offense Tuesday night.
Defensively, Brown will be instrumental in stopping the Tech offense. I believe Brown’s athleticism will be a major lift for Baylor defensively. He should be able to move his feet and limit driving lanes for Tech’s ball handlers, and play strong help defense. Brown will need to balance playing hard defense and staying out of foul trouble, especially if Sochan can’t run with the boys.
#4 LJ Cryer – @LjCryer
Cryer was one of Baylor’s spark plugs on Saturday against TCU. Cryer had 15 points against the Frogs, knocking down four shots from three. A buddy of mine texted me and I have to include his thoughts on Cryer.
“Cryer has turned into Mayer of last year. Pulling the trigger every time.” Let me not mix words - I HOPE HE DOES. Cryer’s quick release and confidence is exactly what Baylor needs in him off the bench against Tech. The Red Raiders defend their behinds off, and we will need a spark - Lieutenant LJ reporting for duty.
I expect LJ to be an X-Factor and break the Tech streak of shutting teams down from deep.
#10 Adam Flagler – @adamflagler
I love and trust this man. The silent killer just never looks phased, and his perfect shooting form is the chef’s kiss. To steal a take from our fearless leader, @Mattisbear, “Flagler has a flamethrower attached to his right wrist”. Flagler was lights out against TCU and if he didn’t do Flag Daddy things we probably would have an L in our record.
Baylor will need Flagler to be solid against Texas Tech. Not just offensively, but defensively as well. Flagler will likely be asked to guard bigger players, especially without Sochan in the rotation. Flagler will need to play defense with his feet, not his hands and stay on the court.
On offense I think Flagler should be able to get some clean looks off screens and aggressive cuts. Tech defends the paint and three really well, and Flagler’s old man mid-range game should shine on Tuesday night. It will just be a make or miss game, and let’s hope our boy is making his jumpers.
#11 James Akinjo – @akinjojames3 (Insta no Twitter for our boy)
Allow us to enter the trust tree. I WAS WRONG ABOUT JAMES AKINJO. Lead us to the promised land James. Akinjo was a huge reason Baylor got it done on the road against TCU, and like Flagler, also had a flamethrower attached to his right wrist.
This absolute gem of a human being played 37 minutes, and posted 20 points shooting 60% from the field. Handed out 8 assists, and only turned the ball over 3 times. Can someone please show this fellow the love he deserves. We will need this James Akinjo against the Red Raiders.
We simply do not height shame, but Akinjo stands at 6’ 1” and will be asked to guard all those 6’ 6” clowns we talked about earlier. All Akinjo has done since he stepped foot in Waco is answer the call, and I think he does against Tech as well.
Akinjo’s experience and leadership will be the differentiator and he will lead the boys to a dub, book it.
#23 Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (EJ/JTT) – @JonathanTchamwa
EJ had a really weird game against TCU. He didn’t stat stuff like he usually does, but still impacted the game in all the intangible ways. We will need him to be dominant on the glass against Tech.
We all know that EJ is an absolute banger, who’s off switch is nowhere to be found. This will be huge for the Bears on Tuesday night. With Tech’s length and ability to crash the glass on both ends, we will need EJ to box out with a purpose and grab rebounds to either create or limit second chance opportunities.
EJ will likely be put in scenarios where he will have to defend multiple positions on a given possession. This will challenge his stamina, but he is a physical specimen and I’m not too concerned. As always, the key will be staying out of foul trouble. I know I sound like a broken record, but with Sochan potentially sidelined, our rotation is limited and we will need EJ to play big minutes.
#24 Matthew Mayer – @MatthewMayer24
Mayer’s stats aren’t showing it, but he really is playing good ball. Matt is still finding his opportunities and creating space for his teammates. Some of the shots he was knocking down last year just simply aren’t falling, but I really think he turns it around. Mayer is just too talented for the offensive struggles to continue.
The good news is that Mayer hasn’t let his offensive issues impact his overall play. In the “Our Time: Baylor Basketball” ESPN+ series, Mayer mentioned his goal to improve his defensive play, and win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He is ranking near the top of the conference in many defensive metrics, and we will need Mayer to be a stopper against Tech.
This Tech game could be a huge breakout game for Mayer. If Mayer can stay out of foul trouble, and play north of 25 minutes, I think he could be a force in leading us to victory. Minding Tech’s length defensively, Mayer is one of the few guys on Baylor’s roster who should be able to take them to the rim off the dribble and finish or draw a foul.
We will need Matthew Mayer time in a big way to secure this win, and I think he will get a fresh lightning bolt etched into his dome and get it done for the culture.
I do this every article, but for real I appreciate you scrolling through 4000+ words of my nonsense, it means the world. We are still on a ripper and 100% on predicting game outcomes so let’s keep it rolling.
This game is going to be an absolute blood bath on both sides of the court. Two of the better defensive teams in the country are going at it, with a desire to prove that they’re legit. To be completely honest, I cannot wait to sweat this out.
I actually am expecting the Bears to come out hot at home and put their first half woes to bed. Look for Mayer and Brown to try and get to the basket early and often to get the Tech bigs in foul trouble. If the rim isn’t available I expect them to kick the ball out to Akinjo, Flagler, or Cryer to knock down open threes.
Tech will make a run in the first half. They will respond to Baylor’s opening punch and put together a series of stops and claw their way back into the game. Don’t hit the panic button if Baylor goes 5 or 6 minutes without a field goal, that is simply what Texas Tech does to teams. It will be tight at halftime.
Baylor will turn it up in the second half and one of those Drew Runs of Death will make an appearance. The Bears will capitalize on Texas Tech’s offensive difficulties and blitz them with a combination of threes and transition buckets.
Talent, coaching, and a dominant home court environment will lead the Bears to another victory extending the winning streak to 16 on the year. Please #FillTheFerrell.
Baylor 69 – Texas Tech 62
Again, I will quote tweet this article with the spread and over/under when it comes out on 1/11/22. If Baylor is favored by any less than 5, smack it and let’s put these Red Raider guns back in the holster. Sic ‘Em.