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Keep The Faith: Baylor MBB Is Still Elite

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NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

This past week for our Baylor Men’s Basketball team was a tough one. I am as emotional of a fan as anyone, with a tendency to overreact and for that I apologize. I believe in and love this team. Two conference games do not make the season, so what can we look towards to bolster our resolve?

As we look forward to the next two weeks of the college basketball season, Baylor has a tough stretch of games ahead. The Bears play in Morgantown today, then travel to Norman Saturday, host an upward trending Kansas State team next Tuesday, and then go to Tuscaloosa to battle Alabama in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. All that to say, Baylor Nation will see more difficult, closely contested games in the coming days against quality opponents.

We should continue to have faith in this team, be supportive, and believe that this team will contend when it matters in March. But why?

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

1) This Coaching Staff

Coach Drew came to Baylor in the heart of some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable, as national broadcasts love to remind us. The reality is there is no coaching staff in the country that encourages, uplifts, challenges, and gets the most out of players quite like Coach Drew’s staff. I think Baylor Nation can agree on this.

It is clear on and off the court how much Coach Drew and this staff loves and cares for these players. The little things that Drew does, like texting out game clips (go watch Our Time on ESPN+) is only one example of how he will push this team to continue to grow.

The staff that Drew has put together will continue to generate success and a culture of JOY. Coach Tang, Brooks, Jakus, and company are all loved by this team.

Fran Frashchilla, on his ‘World of Basketball’ podcast, recently interviewed Jeremy Sochan. Sochan calls out his relationships with the staff and what ultimately led him to choose Baylor without even visiting. Sochan speaks to how the staff develops people, both as players and as men.

It’s perfectly okay to be concerned about the basketball, but there is no reason for concern about the health of the program.

2) The Roster / The Build

Baylor has some new faces on this team playing big minutes. When this is the case for any team, this usually means growing pains. But this roster is constructed to grow. Baylor has put together a mix of youth and experience, skill and athleticism, that can weather this storm.

Baylor’s new players have also shown great levels of leadership and composure. Youth and veterans alike have shown the ability to execute against quality opponents. But what is equally impressive is how this team carries itself on the sidelines. The newcomers are often some of the first guys off the bench celebrating their teammates’ success.

The way in which this team rallies around each other will be key as the Bears battle through the gauntlet that is the Big 12 conference this season. The Bears are an incredibly talented team, but the way they encourage, challenge, and root for each other will be a defining factor of this team’s success.

The young men on this roster can and will get the job done.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

3) Defense Wins

I usually lean on intangibles to make my points, but let’s pivot briefly and mix in some numbers.

In the two losses, Baylor played well defensively.

The loss to Tech was the first full game without Jeremy Sochan, who is one of Baylor’s best defenders and most efficient players. According to EvanMiya.com, an advanced basketball statistics database, Sochan is the 30th ranked player in the country, 4th ranked player in the Big 12, and Baylor’s 1st ranked player in efficiency rating. Sochan’s absence is a huge one for the Bears, but it isn’t permanent or long term. The Bears will grow while Sochan is out, and take a huge leap when he returns.

Tech came out with a great game plan, and Baylor played well enough to win that game. The defense by no means was great against Tech, but the Bears had the ball on the final possession with a chance to send the game to overtime. Baylor still held the Red Raiders to 50% from the field, 28% from three, and won the rebounding battle. There were 10 games last season where Baylor’s opponents shot around 50% from the field, 30% from three, and Baylor won the rebounding battle. Baylor’s record in those games…10-0. Most notably against Gonzaga to secure a natty.

Versus Oklahoma State, the Bears held the Cowboys to 44% from the field, 31% from three, and won the rebounding battle. Apologies for the redundancy there, but I needed to drive home a point. In both losses, Baylor has held their opponents at or below 65 points. If Baylor averaged this total all year, they would still rank in the top 25% of defenses in opponents points per game.

This season Baylor ranks in the top 20 in scoring defense, steals per game, and turnovers forced per game. According to KenPom Baylor is the 11th adjusted ranked defensive team, and according to EvanMiya Baylor is the 5th ranked defensive team.

Statistics are important, and tell a really powerful story, but what continued defensive success in the midst of tough games shows is heart and effort. Strong defenses do need a good scheme, but more than anything player’s have to buy in and put the team above themselves. The Bears do just that.

There have been games where the Bears have had opponents play better offensively and Baylor has still come out on top. Baylor’s defense hasn’t been the primary issue, and in March great defensive teams often defeat great offensive teams. There’s a banner hanging in the Ferrell Center that can speak to that if you have any questions.

Defense travels.

4) Offensive Droughts Happen

All year long teams will go through difficult offensive stretches. If you look back at previous year’s NCAA champions, you will see teams struggle at points in the season. In fact, Baylor’s team last year had a few games where the guys were just a bit off.

Let’s not make too much out of the offensive struggles over the last two games, and keep in mind the fantastic defenses we were matched up against. Texas Tech is KenPom’s 3rd ranked defense and EvanMiya’s 10th ranked defense. Oklahoma State is KenPom’s 8th ranked defense and EvanMiya’s 17th ranked defense. Something to note, when the offense looked stagnant against Oklahoma State down the stretch, remember the Bears were without James Akinjo for the last 10 minutes of the game due to injury.

To put the last two games into perspective, Baylor struggled on offense without a key player against two teams in the nation’s top 5% of defenses; it’s not time to press the panic button on this offense.

Some nights shots just aren’t falling, what was encouraging during these tough games offensively is that Baylor battled back down the stretch. This season Baylor is still a top 10 offensive team in the country, and has the talent to heat up in a hurry. The offensive outlook for this team hasn’t changed.

Keep the faith, cheer on the Bears, and Sic ‘Em.