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GAME THREAD: Baylor Bears at West Virginia Mountaineers

It’s must-win in Morgantown tonight on ESPN+

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in 65 weeks of play, the Baylor Bears (10-5, 0-3) will play as an unranked team in a must-win game against the West Virginia Mountaineers (10-5, 0-3). WVU will be equally as desperate for a victory, though, and games in Morgantown are always difficult for the Bears.

And since it’s the Big 12, even a game between two teams at the bottom of the conference standings is a matchup between the 28th and 24th ranked KenPom teams, with West Virginia the higher ranked team.

Key to this slump has been the Bears poor defense. Baylor has allowed 25% of opponents shots at the rim, where teams are shooting 72%. The only team with worse rim defense is Iowa State. That’s in the country, mind you, not the conference. When opponents get passed the perimeter defense, there’s just no one on the back line providing deterrence. Then there’s transition defense, where Baylor is allowing an eFG% of 55.5%. That ranks 258th in the country, per Hoop-Math. The Bears allow over 26% of opponent shots to come in transition (207th, per Hoop-Math). That is a bad, bad combination. West Virginia is a team that likes to create turnovers, so this will be a test - again - to see if Baylor can improve it’s transition defense.

In Baylor’s favor tonight is the limited production of WVU’s two lead guards, South Carolina transfer Erik Stevenson and Iowa transfer Joe Toussaint. Neither is just lighting the world on fire, at the moment. Baylor’s trio of Keyonte George, Adam Flagler, and LJ Cryer should have a big advantage here.

It will be interesting to see how much play Langston Love and Dale Bonner get tonight, as Cryer has recently struggled to even get good shots off in conference play. Drew might opt to increase minutes from Donner to up the defense at the top. And who knows, maybe we’ll even see some zone defense to pack the paint and dare WVU to shoot, where they’re just 35% on the season. The bigger question: can Jalen Bridges and Caleb Lohner contain Tre Mitchell on the wing? Big wings have been the big problem for Baylor this season and last. Will Baylor’s transfer wings be able to step into the defensive roles they’ve been expected to fill?

Let’s watch on ESPN+ tonight at 6PM to find out.