Thank you to guest writer Justin Carter! Excited to have him on board regularly this season!
Justin Carter covers women’s basketball for Dave Campbell’s Texas Basketball, Her Hoop Stats and D Magazine. He currently lives in Iowa.
Baylor opened its season last week with an 85-53 win over Southern, but things get a lot tougher on Tuesday night when the team plays host to No. 4 Utah. This will be the biggest non-conference test for the Bears.
Ahead of this game (and the rest of November), let’s take a look at some questions that we hope to have answered for the Bears.
What will Baylor’s big rotation look like?
I was interested to see how things shook out at the four and five for the Bears. The game against Southern gave us an answer—a fairly unsurprising one. Baylor wants its best players on the floor, so Dre’Una Edwards started at the five and Darianna Littlepage-Buggs at the four, with Aijha Blackwell at the other forward spot.
That makes a lot of sense. Littlepage-Buggs is a hard-nosed player who can succeed at multiple positions, so even though she might be slightly out of position at the four, it works.
I’m much more interested, though, to see how the backup big stuff shakes out. And the answer there was…also what I was expecting, with Madison Bartley playing as the backup five. She came in for Edwards at the 3:58 mark of the first quarter. Bartley provides some really nice shooting from the five spot. It remains to be seen if she can play as well against top competition as she did at the mid-major level at Belmont.
What interested me more was the parts of the game where boh Edwards and Littlepage-Buggs were off the floor. I think it’s safe to say the rotation against Southern was a little more expansive than it’ll be against top competition, but there were some times when Baylor got really small in this game with Bella Fontleroy at the four while Bartley was at the five. That’s something to watch—how those two play when out there together.
Lety Vasconcelos, who at 6-foot-7 might be the most interesting player on the team, played just over four minutes. If Baylor can get her up to speed, she could provide a really unique look, but right now she appears to be the fifth big.
How will the Jada Walker/Sarah Andrews pairing work?
Jada Walker and Sarah Andrews co-existing will be fun. Both are players who can excel with the ball in their hands, but one has to take more of an off-ball role this year. I think people expected that player would be Andrews, but she had seven assists in the opener to Walker’s four.
Really, this just feels like a good problem to have. Both can handle the ball, plus both can shoot the ball. Operating with both on the floor forces the defense into some tough situations.
Now, I don’t want to read a ton into a one-game sample, but Baylor did perform better in the stints where only one was on the floor than when both were against Southern. This is the SMALLEST OF SAMPLE SIZES ALERT because it’s one game against a low-major team, but the team had a +99.0 net rating with Andrews on the floor, a +87.2 net rating with Walker on the floor, and a +17.1 net rating with both on. That’s obviously incredibly noisy, but I think it does speak to how there’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment period as they learn to play together.
(Also, in the seven minutes that neither played, the team had a -17.7 net rating, so…that’s something I might worry about at some point? Though I imagine Nicki Collen will stagger the minutes to ensure one of the two is always on the floor in close games.)
How does Baylor match up with Utah?
Tuesday night we’ve got the big matchup as Baylor welcomes Utah to the Ferrell Center.
Utah’s good. The Utes have averaged 106.0 points per game, though they’ve faced Mississippi Valley State and South Carolina State, so this is really going to be the first real game for Utah as well.
Utah is the pretty heavy favorite here, with Her Hoop Stats giving the Utes an 84.1% chance of winning. And while the Utes faced two weak teams to start the year, this offense is still extremely tough to stop. The team shoots the ball well from all over the floor and currently leads Division I in three-point rate. Last season, they were also fourth in the country in two-point field goal percentage, so the answer isn’t as easy here as “limit the threes.” Baylor’s got to get in their faces and make them work for every shot while on the other end, the Bears have to find some shotmakers who can go toe to toe with them. I think the big key here is getting Walker and Andrews going from deep. Maybe shrink the big rotation down to just Edwards/Littlepage-Buggs/Bartley, with a little extra Bartley than we saw in the opener.
I don’t know. It’s going to be tough. Utah’s a title-contending team. But the Bears have the talent to keep this one close, even if that talent hasn’t gelled enough to get the W.
Here’s a quick run down of the remainder of the month for the Bears.
Nov. 14 - vs. #4 Utah
Nov. 19 - vs. Harvard
Nov. 24 - vs. McNeese
Nov. 6 - vs. Alcorn
Nov. 30 - at SMU
Just one road game for Baylor this month, which will come to close the month when the team heads up to Dallas to face a talented SMU squad at Moody Coliseum.
Baylor should anticipate going 4-0 in the non-Utah games. Anything less than that is a bad sign for this team. The schedule gets a little tougher in December, so for Baylor to be the title-contending team that I think they can be, I need to see them enter the Dec. 3 game against Oregon at either 5-1 or 6-0.