With both teams surviving the first round, the Baylor Bears and Kansas Jayhawks meet up in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournamnet tonight. To prepare us for the matchup, I reached out to Michael Nichols (aka PocketChange) once again to talk about all things Baylor.
RCT: Baylor was able to tough out a first round win against a Staten-less West Virginia squad in large part due to the inability of the Mountaineers to really figure out the 1-3-1 zone that Baylor uses. I'm not a big fan of the 1-3-1, but it seems to work well for you guys. What can you tell me about why?
ODB: Scott Drew decided to go to the 1-3-1 in lieu of his usual 2-3 for two reasons, in my estimation. The first is that Baylor’s roster lacks a true rim protector for the first time in 6 years. In the past, it’s been part of the plan (whether it was always effective or not) to funnel ball-handlers into the middle to the shot blocker. Rico Gathers, for all his merits, is no shot blocker. So, adding the defender at the res throw line and moving the wing defenders up adds a little extra protection for him.
The second reason is that the athletic advantage for this season’s roster is on the perimeter rather than the front line. Kenny Chery, Lester Medford, Royce O’Neale, and Taurean Prince are all either quick, long, or both. By lifting the wings, Drew puts them in a position to disrupt more passing lanes, pester bigs at the elbows, and pressure shooters, which was the biggest defensive weakness of last season’s team. In conference, Baylor allowed teams to shoot 37% from three (10th in Big 12) in 2014. This season, Big 12 teams are shooting 31% from deep (1st in Big 12). The amped up aggressiveness and the lifted wings have been a big part of that improvement.
RCT: Even though they have been out a few games, how do you think the loss of Cliff Alexander and likely Perry Ellis will affect the outcome of the game? Attacking down low has to be the main strategy for the game, right?
ODB: Offensively, I think the absence of those two players (particularly Alexander), will make offensive rebounds a bit more available. Jamari Traylor and Landon Lucas are both quality players, but the lack of depth will hurt, especially late if their energy drops and they can’t keep track of all the Baylor bodies flying to the glass.
Defensively, Ellis’ absence would be very welcome for the Bears. He’s got a license to kill a zone. He’s got some midrange game, post moves to beat Gathers or Johnathan Motley if he gets good position, and he’s a good passer from the elbow. I’m not sure Kansas has anyone to roll out who can dissect a zone quite like him.
RCT: So Rico Gathers had quite the year, being in the race for Big 12 POY and landing both a First Team and All-Defensive Team selection. Kenny Chery and Taurean Prince both made the Second Team, meaning that Baylor actually tied with Iowa State for the most players on those top three teams. Are you happy with those awards for those guys, or is there someone else you thought was more/equally deserving?
ODB: Don’t forget, Prince won the Big 12’s 6th Man of the Year award as well!
I think those awards are all well earned. The only one I might question is Gather’s place on the All-Defensive Team. On the one hand, rebounds to end defensive possessions are important. On the other hand, Gathers is one of the easier centers to score over in the league. If a post player with any size can get deep possession on Gathers in the post, it’s almost an automatic make. He’s an adequate weak-side shot blocker, but certainly not someone other players have to be aware of at all times.
Otherwise, I think the impact those players have had is equal to the recognition they received.
RCT: Can you make a convincing case for Scott Drew for Big 12 Coach of the Year? Or do you think that Bob Huggins deserved it?
ODB: Let’s just compare team resumes:
Record against AP Top 25: Baylor 7-4, WVU 4-8.
Record against RPI top 25: Baylor 5-3, WVU 2-6.
Baylor and WVU were picked in the Big 12 preseason poll to tie for 6th, but WVU also had the preseason player of the year in Juwan Staten. Baylor finished 4th in the Big 12, West WVU finished 5th.
Head-to-head, Baylor is 3-0, all three games decided by double digit margins.
KenPom Rankings: Baylor 11, WVU 26
Baylor has 3 double-digit losses on the season (10 @ OU, 11 @ OSU, and 10 @ KU). WVU has 6 (25 @ UT, 19 @ OU, 18 vs BU, 20 @ ISU, 12 @ BU, and 10 neutral BU.).
Baylor has the edge in each of those categories. If WVU has anything to tout, it’s a win over Kansas on their home floor. Bob Huggins’ team probably has less overall talent on the roster, but the disparity is hardly enough to make Scott Drew’s job appreciably “easier”. I think Drew had a more successful team and achieved more with respect to preseason expectations. Those things should be enough to make him more deserving than Huggins, who had a great coaching season in his own right.
Of course, I’m of the opinion that Bill Self should just win the award every year until someone can take the Big 12 title away from him. If not Self, though, I think Drew’s resume is as deserving as anyone’s.
RCT: With both teams solidly in the field and receiving top 5 seeds, how do you think this game goes tomorrow? There really isn't a team that needs it more, although I'd like to see KU have a good game against another strong opponent. Will the depth issues of the Jayhawks spell their doom in this game?
ODB: I think depth probably catches up to KU in this game. Baylor loves to win in the conference tournament, and Kansas, well, it’s just not as important to them. Without Alexander and Ellis, Baylor’s front line should be able to clean up the glass. Now, if Frank Mason, Kelly Oubre, and the rest of KU’s perimeter shooters are locked in, all bets are off, But I think Baylor will take this one. It just means more to them. Baylor 72 - KU 70.
RCT: BONUS - So we all know that Kansas City has the best barbecue, but say we are having an NCAA potluck. What would the Baylor Bears bring to represent their regional tastes?
ODB: If we’re talking Waco BBQ, I think Vitek’s has the most iconic item to offer. The Gut Pak is a styrofoam container filled with brisket, house-made sausage, beans, cheese, peppers, onions, and Fritos. Sure, it’s not “pure” BBQ, but it’s damn good.
As always, it was great to talk to my counterpart over at Our Daily Bears. Be sure to check out the questions I answered for him as well.