Unfortunately we were unable to touch base with the Mountain West blog about our last game, but we are back with a vengeance and ready to get up close and personal with the rest of the Big 12. To help liven these things up, I've thrown in a bonus question at the end that each site will get to answer, and we'll see what the final consensus is at the end of the first go-around. I'm still looking for a second question to ask when we have the rematch, so let me know if you have any good ideas in the same vein.
Today, we were joined by David Fankhauser (AKA dfank_BU) from the SBNation site Our Daily Bears, which covers the Baylor Bears. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us today.
RCT: It seems that for the last few years Baylor has looked really good in the nonconference only to stumble often and early in Big 12 play. Then somehow they surprise everyone in the postseason. Has this been as maddening for Bears fans as I imagine it to be?
ODB: There is a reason that I keep a bottle of Maker's in close range whenever a Baylor basketball game is on. We've certainly had our share of ups and downs over the past few years but every season seems to provide its own unique set of challenges. I think at times there have been some parts of the team that weren't perfect fits and it just took a while to mesh as a unit. For the faults that he does have, Scott Drew has always done a great job of having his team playing its best basketball in March and is a big reason why Baylor tends to be a tough out in the NCAA tournament (8-3 in the last 3 NCAA appearances). As frustrating as they can be at times, Baylor has averaged over 23 wins per season since 2006-07, the first year that Drew wasn't dealing with major restrictions from the Dave Bliss era. I don't think you'll find many Baylor fans complaining about that.
RCT: What will be the key to staying hot through the early part of the Big 12 schedule? What is the one thing that could unravel the season quickly all by itself?
ODB: I think finding some consistency on the offensive end is what is going to make or break this team. The good thing is that they don't rely on 1 or 2 guys to do a majority of the scoring. Taurean Prince leads the team at 12.0 PPG but there are 5 other guys averaging at least 8. However, this team doesn't feature a true alpha dog that it can lean on when the offense bogs down. Prince and Jonathan Motley each had solid performances against Oklahoma, but the top four guards shot a combined 5-28. If Kenny Chery and Royce O'Neale can provide consistent scoring, which they did not do against OU, then this is a completely different team as evidenced by their roles in Baylor's Sweet Sixteen run last season. If the long offensive lulls can be kept to a minimum, this team should perform well in Big 12 play.
RCT: How has the 1-3-1 zone been working out? It looks to have been a big strength in the nonconference, but Oklahoma looked to completely destroy it with their big men. How do you expect it to hold up against the meat of the Big 12 schedule?
ODB: It's obviously a different look than the standard 2-3 zone that Baylor has ran as its base defense since 2009. This year's Baylor team is much more guard oriented than some of the past years where guys like Ekpe Udoh or Isaiah Austin were anchoring the zone as a shot blocking threat in the paint. At times in prior years, the zone got a bit lazy in getting out to 3 point shooters and defending the top of the key. That's not the case this season. The Bears have proven to be a solid unit thus far in defending the perimeter with opponents shooting just 27% from 3 point range. Oklahoma was able to do damage against the Baylor zone with great ball movement and the versatility of TaShawn Thomas.
I think the biggest thing to watch going forward in conference play is how Baylor matches up against teams that are bigger than they are. Gone are the days when Scott Drew can just roll out a bunch of athletic 6'10 guys. Rico Gathers is a monster on the glass but he only goes 6'8. There are definitely signs that Jonathan Motley could eventually fill that role but I think that will come in time as he fills out in the weight room. I think the Baylor defense will hold its own over the next few months but I'm concerned about matchup problems with skilled big men.
RCT: Which player/matchup is going to have the biggest effect on the game?
ODB: I think it will be key how Baylor's guards handle Frank Mason. Admittedly, I haven't seen a ton of KU thus far this year but it seems that as Mason goes, so go the Jayhawks. Baylor looks to be deeper at the guard position this season so I will be curious to see if Drew throws some token pressure at Mason just to try to wear him down as the game goes along. I don't think the Bears have seen a guard yet this season with Mason's ability to get into the lane and create. Baylor will need to stay disciplined on the wings to not allow a lot of open perimeter looks to a really good 3 point shooting team in Kansas.
The other big key in this game is which team can control the boards. Both Kansas and Baylor have been solid rebounding teams in 2015. Baylor has been effective in rebounding to close possessions out of the 1-3-1 so far, but does that change against a team with athletic wing players and forwards that KU has? It remains to be seen.
RCT: What's your prediction for the game? Does Kansas come into Waco and steal one on the road, or can the Baylor zone stifle the Kansas offense and end their losing streak at 1?
ODB: If you're a believer in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, this should be an incredibly competitive game. Both teams are almost identical in adjusted offensive and defensive ratings with KU having a slight edge on offense and BU on defense. So given that information, I expect this will be a back and forth game that is close throughout. As a Baylor fan, I'm a little bummed that this game is happening just a few days before students return from semester break. As you guys would know better than anybody, having a strong home court advantage can make a big difference in this conference. My heart says to go with my Bears at home but I don't trust us to make critical free throws in the final minutes of a close game. Also, I've got 20 years of Big 12 basketball watching experience to know better than to pick against the Jayhawks. I think Kansas wins somewhere in the 67-65 range. However, I really do think this is a game that could go either way.
BONUS: Sonic the Hedgehog or Link from The Legend of Zelda? Explain.
In my younger days, I played a lot more Sonic than Zelda but Link was a beast in Super Smash Bros. And plus, Sonic always had a sidekick. Link didn't need no sidekick. Link just came to kick some ass and eat cake, and we're all out of cake.
A special thanks to David for joining us today. And don't forget to check out the questions I answered for Our Daily Bears.