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2013 NIT Championship: #2 Baylor Bears vs. #4 Providence Friars Preview

Having reached the 20-win plateau once again, the Baylor Bears are now just one game away from the NIT Final Four in Madison Square Garden. Standing in their way is the Friars of Providence, the #4 seed in Baylor's region.

No. 2 Baylor (20-14) vs. No. 4 Providence (19-14)
March 27, 2013 | 8:00 p.m. CT
Waco, Texas | Ferrell Center (10,284)

Radio: ESPN Central Texas 1660 AM
Watch | Listen | Gametracker Gametracker | Game Notes Notes | TicketsTickets

When Baylor takes the floor tonight, they will do so as the only Texas team still playing basketball at any level. They will also do it with our #1 remaining recruiting target, SG Desmond Lee, in attendance. There's a lot to be won both on the court and with a strong showing from our fanbase. Let's take a look at our opponent.

Conference: Big East (T-9th)
Record: 19-14 (9-9)
Game Previews:, Statsheet
Providence KenPom: Rank-- 68, AdjO-- 79, AdjD-- 70, AdjTempo-- 153, Luck-- 241, SOS-- 53
Baylor KenPom: Rank-- 37, AdjO-- 24, AdjD-- 76, AdjTempo-- 78, Luck-- 338, SOS-- 59
Spread: Baylor -9.0
RPI: 78 by latest update

4 Factors:

Team Stats:

Starting on the whole, Baylor has a much higher-ranked offense according to KenPom, a similar defense, and a higher tempo. Those things, combined with a home court advantage, such as it is, show why Baylor is favored to win tonight by 9.0 points as of the latest update. The tempo is particularly illuminating-- Baylor has taken 140 more shots this season than Providence and made 150 more. Our effective field goal percentage is 6 points higher, though Providence takes, and makes, a higher percentage of their free throws. Providence is also quite skilled on the offensive boards, probably as a result of missing so many shots the first time. The fact that they can get second chance opportunities is troublesome, however, and our bigs will have to be ready. This could be a game where Rico Gathers gets his opportunity to play more minutes to keep them off the glass.

The good news is that Providence doesn't take, or make, many 3s, so the zone defense Drew seems to love could work well against them. Keep guard Bryce Cotton, by far their best player as you can see from the last infographic above, from killing us and you can basically eliminate that part of their game entirely. I like the matchup of Cotton vs. A.J. Walton because Cotton relies primarily on his own speed to get open and not size. Hopefully A.J. responds to having fouled out so early in the last game with a strong defensive effort.

From what I can tell, Providence plays mostly a three-guard set with Cotton, Vincent Council, and Kris Dunn. Council runs the offense, averaging 7.0 assists per game, and Dunn was a 5* recruit in 2012 with a boatload of talent. We're probably lucky he's just a freshman at this point and still learning the game. None of them except Cotton can shoot 3s, so we might want to let them try. Josh Fortman comes off the bench for the Friars, and to be honest, doesn't seem to do anything particularly well. He doesn't score much, rarely rebounds, and doesn't seem to play very good defense according to the stats. His size (6-5) could make things difficult for our guards, but that's about it.

Providence's second-best player is LaDontae Henton, a 6-6 small forward they force to play bigger. He is by far the Friars' best defensive rebounder among rotation players. He's also second in offensive rebounding percentage. His size and speed makes him a matchup problem (See a trend here? Every larger 3 who can rebound is a problem for us.) if he plays where he should on the outside, but he doesn't shoot well at all and should have trouble against Cory Jefferson and Rico, whoever draws the most minutes against him. My hope is that we are able to marginalize his rebounding and take advantage of the Friars' poor shooting. The other forward, Kadeem Batts, is a much more traditional 4 that Providence plays at the 5, meaning Baylor should have a size advantage there, too. Batts is a big boy at 245 but plays a very similar game to our own Rico Gathers, if Rico had a 12-foot jump shot. Batts is also a fairly weak rebounder, and should he or Henton get into foul trouble, we'll see Lee Goldsbrough, another relatively undersized big take their place. He's not an offensive threat to speak of.

The Friars look to me like a team that should run because of their size but doesn't as a matter of course. I don't entirely know why. They rely heavily on offensive rebounding to get points through second-chance opportunities, so our bigs need to crash the boards on every miss and try to deny them those looks. We also need to put pressure on them in transition to try to speed up the game. Their offensive efficiency is such that they probably can't win a shootout, and the fact that we've scored 112 and 89 points (with 60 of those in the second half) in our last two games makes me believe that's where we're going. Our tempo ratings have increased significantly in each of the last two games, and I'd like to see that continue.

Cotton is the key. How he plays determines whether the Friars have a chance, so making him shoot as many off-balance, contested jumpers as possible has to be the goal. In that, and basically only that, I have confidence that a little bit of Bello and a lot of Walton, combined with making him defend on the other end, can limit his damage. He'll get his points, probably somewhere around twenty, but hopefully he doesn't kill us.