We live in a world where over reaction, instant reaction, and information overload is the norm. Leading people to have polarizing thoughts and opinions on things immediately after they happen. When this reality is applied to sports, these opinions and thoughts are often pointed directly at individuals as people, not players. This can be a vicious cycle.
It is so important to have perspective when engaging with stretches of what we as armchair basketball “experts” would call underperformance. We must be mindful of these young men, coaches, and staff as people first; full stop.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what we have seen from the Baylor Men’s Basketball team so far this season following the TCU loss. I have been blessed to visit with multiple men that make up this team and none of my thoughts are indictments on them as people, quite the opposite. Each player and coach I have talked to have been incredible individuals with hearts that outshine their impact on a basketball court. Thank you Coach Drew for building this program.
If we are in agreement here, we can fairly discuss what we have seen thus far from the team. Last season I wrote an “Eye Test” for each of the big opponents Baylor MBB faced. I am going to do this for the Bears we all love through the first 14 games to explain why we can all take a deep breath, the season isn’t over.
I know the saying is “the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” but we are going to go in reverse order to end on a positive note. We have seen some ugly play, some bad play, and plenty of good play from this team so far. Without further ado, let’s jump in.
It feels fitting to headline “The Ugly” section with a photo from the game at Marquette. This was an evening most fans would like to forget, as Baylor got blitzed on the road in Milwaukee, 96-70. Anytime you give up close to a buck in college basketball in regulation it is likely an ugly game. So let’s talk about some of what went wrong in this game against Marquette, that are have expanded into unfortunate themes thus far.
In Baylor’s four losses turnovers have been a HUGE issue, with double digit turnovers in each game. The Bears are averaging just over 15 turnovers per contest. In the infuriating game against Marquette this number ballooned to 20 turnovers. And to top it off, turnovers usually exacerbate droughts that a jump-shot heavy team like the Bears are just more likely to go through.
Getting To The Rim
We can’t mix words here, the Bears have done a poor job getting to the rim this year and rely on a 4-out, three point-heavy offense. This is great when shots are falling, see the first half of the TCU game as an example. But when cold stretches come, giving away the ball pours diesel fuel on an already raging fire.
The second ugly part of the season for the Bears so far has been the front court play. I am not saying the back court has been without blemish, we will get there, but the issues in the paint are alarming on both sides of the ball.
Let’s start with team rebounding. Baylor ranks 141st in the country in Total Team Rebounding, securing just 36 RPG. This partly to be expected playing guard heavy rotations, but the big men have to box out on both ends of the floor.
Rebounding does come down to scheme and execution, but it is also an effort statistic. I hate living in the past and drawing memories from a once in a generation player, but how many times did we see Mark Vital grab rebounds he had no business securing based solely on effort? Hear me well, I am not saying the team isn’t trying, but what if we secured 3 more rebounds per game, do we end up beating UVA, ISU, and TCU...maybe?
Front Court Offensive Output
The last point I want to make about the front court play is a general lack of offensive production. Again, to play devil’s advocate, we feature our guards so heavily that this number may be skewed, but track with me here.
The big men that play meaningful minutes are Thamba, Ojianwuna, Lohner, and Bridges (although Bridges in my opinion is being asked to play a bit out of position). This combination is giving Baylor a combined 77 minutes per game played. In those 77 minutes, the front court is giving Baylor 24 points per game, some of these higher scoring outputs are also inflated by poor opponents. So let’s look at the production games against quality opponents.
This sample size will include UVA, UCLA, Marquette (F’s), Gonzaga, ISU, and TCU. In these six games the same four primary front court contributors are averaging a similar 78 minutes per game, while only scoring 19 points per game. The 5 points may not seem like much, but two of Baylor’s four losses are by single digits.
Feeling completely dejected yet? Good. Let’s get a little better and graduate from ugly to bad play.
I headlined The Bad section with a photo including Scotty D giving a zebra an earful. Which also seems fitting, because Baylor has played in some downright abysmally officiated games. Now the play we just discussed above doesn’t help, but the whistle clowns have been BAD this season.
Let’s now look inward, we can blame the refs all we want - it is one of my favorite pastimes, but there has been some bad play by the fellas in green and gold. To me it starts with periods of stagnant offensive production.
EvanMiya talks about the “kill shot” in college basketball. This is when a team goes on a 10-0 run and effectively puts their opponent in the dust. Unfortunately I think we have seen Baylor take some self inflicted “kill shots” by allowing their opponents to go on massive runs when jumpers aren’t falling.
I am not the stats guy, I’m the eye test guy, so I am going off feeling here. Candidly I didn’t look up exact statistics of runs our opponents have gone on, I have a day job that takes up way too much time unfortunately. But, doesn’t it feel like there is at least one stretch per game where Baylor just goes cold?
Take the TCU game in the second half for example. At the 17:55 mark in the second half, Flagler made a jumper. After this bucket, Baylor did not make another field goal until a Bridges three with 8:50 left in the second half. Sure there were some free throws sprinkled in there, but Baylor went 9:05 without a field goal.
It feels like this has happened often this year, and I can really only attribute it to the live and die by the three/jumper mentality. This is why I feel like Baylor HAS to get to the rim when shots aren’t falling. Good things always happen when you drive the paint, and all of our guards are great finishers in the paint.
In Game Adjustments
The last piece of bad play we will touch on is what appears to be a lack of in game adjustments. Let me be very clear, the guys that throw matching fits on the sidelines know more about basketball than me or you, sorry if that offends you. But unless you are a Baylor staffer reading this (appreciate you fam), you don’t know ball like the guys that get paid to coach.
HOWEVER, I am going to put my own foot squarely in the back of my esophagus here, it seems like we aren’t adjusting to the flow of the game like we have in the past. Let me throw out some examples: why did we never double Mike Miles, why did we let Marquette continue to destroy us from kick out jumpers to the corner, why is Caleb Grill a relevant basketball player, why are we playing iso ball when we have such great passers and the offense is stagnant, WHY ARE WE NOT GETTING KEYONTE DOWN HILL?
The seeming lack of in game adjustments has me concerned that our historically best in game coach may currently be in Manhattan, Kansas.
There are plenty more things that could be brought up but these are the examples I think could have genuinely changed game outcomes. I literally just took a deep sigh while frantically typing this. Let’s end the bad section there, because there is plenty to be encouraged by and excited about with this team.
It is the first week of January and the Baylor Men’s Basketball team has 10 wins. That is good for 95% of the teams in America, unfortunately two years removed from a National Championship expectations have redefined what “Good” is to Baylor Nation.
If you told me at the start of the season we would have multiple losses right now I wouldn’t have been surprised. Coach Drew scheduled an absolute gauntlet of a non-conference schedule, and literally every team in the Big 12 is ranked in the top 64 teams in the nation. That means every Big 12 game will be equivalent to a NCAA Tournament game.
This is why I am potentially more optimistic than most Baylor fans out there. We haven’t had a cupcake schedule so far, we have the 10th ranked strength of schedule in the country. Throughout these tough times, and a disappointing start to the season, we have seen a ton of good, if not great things from this team. Let’s cheer up family.
Each player on this team that is playing meaningful minutes has shown us some good things as a fan. Depending on opportunity some more than others, but in fairness I want to take a look at the positives and upside each of the key rotation guys brings to this roster. Just a warning this is 9 guys deep so if you want the TLDR: “these guys are great with high upside, it is still early in the season, don’t be surprised if they all put it together and we peak in February/March.”
George is a soon to be professional bucket getter and we are lucky to have him at Baylor. We have seen some typical Freshman plays out of him; turnovers, poor close outs, pressing on offense, BUT the pros far outweigh the cons.
When George committed to Baylor we all knew we were going to get 15+ points per game. But what I don’t think we realized is how much better George makes the players around him. He has been an ELITE passer, with upside shown to be one of the best point guards in the country. I mean look at this...
Keyonte George finds Jalen Bridges on the 'grab-and-go' fast break here with the smooth chest pass.— Ersin Demir (@EDemirNBA) November 16, 2022
I was told he'd struggle with his playmaking in college: 20 assists to only 6 turnovers in 3 games so far. pic.twitter.com/iHRVIIcp84
I could go on and on about George but I have already typed close to 2000 words so thanks for keeping with me here. I will finish my thoughts on George with this...he plays his best in the biggest games, which is great news for March. I think this video from the Gonzaga game highlights all aspects of his game, enjoy.
Keyonte George played a good overall game of basketball against Gonzaga— Pistons Draft talk (@happypistonfan) December 3, 2022
The 6’4 guard showcased high level shotmaking skills and playmaking for a freshman
I do not know this for sure, but I can only assume from the change in his play that the NBA scouts told Flagler they need to see him as more than just a spot up three-point assassin to play at the next level. We have seen that on full display this year.
Flagler is averaging 5.1 APG and 1.5 SPG. He has been incredibly efficient, leading the Bears in MPG at 31 and shooting 46.5% from the field, 48.1% from deep, and 80% from the stripe. Quite simply, this Baylor team goes as Flagler goes.
He has shown a true veteran presence all year long, and is the clear cut leader of this team. Why does this matter long term? Flagler was a key contributor on that National Championship team. If we hope to make another run in March, everything he brings to the table is pivotal to inspire, lead, and help his teammates grow.
Flagler has shown a calmness in the clutch, singlehandedly bringing us back against Gonzaga. Oh he also averages 16.2 PPG...he embodies Baylor basketball from start to finish.
I’m not sure if there is a player with more freak injuries in the history of college basketball than LJ Cryer. Fresh off both of his feet being broken, Cryer misses a stretch of games with a concussion that nobody knew about? Still when Cryer is on the court and healthy he brings a completely different dimension to this Baylor team.
Cryer spaces the floor with a deadly three ball that gets up in a hurry. He is a great defender, albeit a bit undersized, but plays on the defensive end with a ton of heart. Cryer may just be the key piece to Baylor getting right offensively and he can be a drought stopper.
In March, free throws are incredibly important. Cryer has missed just ONE free throw all year, shooting an absurd 94.4% from the stripe. I guarantee he will make a huge free throw when it matters most down the stretch of this season.
Bridges came to Waco with a single goal in mind, win. He didn’t want to do anything except change the trajectory of his college career and win ball games. That isn’t something that can be taught, it is in a player’s DNA.
Bridges came to Baylor and we knew he was going to step into the role that many Bears before him flourished in, a big athletic wing. Bridges fits that mold to a T. Admittedly, he has struggled offensively for a large stretch this year, but it didn’t diminish his hustle on defense.
Bridges leads the Bears in blocks with 1.2 BPG and is second on the team in rebounds. He is 6’7” and doesn’t have the biggest build in the world, but his heart and desire to make winning plays is what will shine through as the season rolls on.
Bridges is starting to find his jumper again, if that corner three ball is falling consistently, watch out.
Thamba will continue to be the heart of this team, not matter how frustrated the casual fan may be with some of his offensive struggles. He is the self proclaimed old head of the team and is committed to investing in the guys around him. Don’t underestimate Thamba’s part in getting Ojianwuna to where he is today, but we will get there.
Thamba leads the team in rebounding, and is still the defensive anchor of this roster. The things that he does aren’t necessarily seen in the stat sheet, but are felt by his teammates and his opponents.
Thamba consistently plays his best in big moments. In the game against Gonzaga he once again locked up Drew Timme. Thamba will continue to be a staple of this team’s success and if history is an indicator, will play his highest level of basketball when it matters most.
They call him BIG DALE for a reason. Bonner has been playing like a First Team All Big 12 Defender this season and leads the Bears with 2.1 SPG. Bonner’s commitment to the defensive end of the floor is nothing short of inspiring knowing his background.
Bonner has also shown an ability to make the most of his opportunities when they come his way on offense. He is shooting 45% from the field and 78% from the free throw line, showing he can be relied on if another guard isn’t filling it up.
As the season continues and Bonner continues to get more run, don’t be surprised if Coach Drew has him assigned to clamp up a team’s primary scorer. I would have loved to see him matched up one on one with Mike Miles in a box and one zone, but I digress.
Three weeks ago if I told you Josh Ojianwuna was playing like a top tier freshman in the conference you would have had me drug tested. Ojianwuna started the season a little slow and certainly looked like he was a year away from being a true Big 12 caliber forward.
Time travel to now, Ojianwuna has been Baylor’s best front court asset. He is an incredible defender, great finisher, and decent free throw shooter. If this trajectory continues, he will be the reason we win games in Big 12 play.
All aboard the Josh O train, there’s plenty of room.
It isn’t hyperbole to say that Love looks like a completely different player without the knee brace right? Since the brace came off Love has looked more comfortable, confident, and the production has followed.
Love is the biggest guard on the Baylor roster at 6’5” 210 lbs. He gives us the defensive flexibility going forward to use him in 4 out situations alongside George, Flagler, and Cryer. The offensive production in that lineup with Love being able to guard bigger players is INSANE.
Love is just going to keep getting better, he’s a “Freshman” after all.
Lohner may be the most positive person I have ever talked to and seen play basketball. He is coming from a situation at BYU where he was asked to bulk up and play the 5. If we are honest that isn’t his true position.
Lohner is a freakishly athletic stretch 4 and I think is still settling back in to playing that position while finding his place in the Baylor rotation. Lohner has a high upside on offense and defense to be a quasi Mark Vital type player. I trust the coaching staff and his commitment to his craft to get him there.
So What Now?
This is all being written before the Kansas State game, which is a must win. Winning cures everything. However, say the unspeakable happens and we lose to Coach Tang in his homecoming. The sky is NOT falling.
The good that each player brings to this team far outweighs the ugly and bad play we have seen so far. This team hasn’t even seen its ceiling within arm’s reach. We have so much more potential and I am highly optimistic because we haven’t peaked yet.
Losing sucks, but we have the talent and men in the locker room to turn this around. It comes down to the coaches to scheme it up and bring that out of them.
What do we do now? As fans of this team we have reason to be optimistic. But most importantly win or lose, we support these players, coaches, and staff with passion and respect.
This is just one man’s longwinded opinion. Either way, it’s Sic ‘Em forever.