The Horns (14-5, 4-1) look to remain tied for the Big 12 lead on Saturday afternoon when they hook up with Baylor (11-8, 1-5). Tip time is 5 PM on ESPN2. Texas finally returns to the Erwin Center after two weeks away from home and three road games. The Horns survived on Wednesday night, 62-61, in Lincoln to finish their road trip at just 1-2. Conference opponents have not been kind to the Baylor Bears. Scott Drew's club has lost five of their last six and has been blown out in their last two.
The Horns have played the Bears more than any other team in history. Texas is currently riding a 17-game winning streak over Baylor, and Coach Rick Barnes has never lost to Baylor.
The NCAA did not allow Baylor to play a single non-conference game last season as part of their punishment from the Dave Bliss era. Baylor capitalized on their opportunity this season going 10-3 in non-conference play. The Bears started 6-1. Their only loss came against Gonzaga in Spokane. Their other non-conference losses were to South Carolina at home and at Syracuse.
While Baylor is improved and has already won more games this season than in any of Scott Drew's previous three years, there are far from an elite team. Baylor has been hammered since the beginning of Big 12 play. Their only win came over Texas Tech at home. They have losses at Oklahoma State, at Kansas State, at Oklahoma and to Kansas and A&M at home. Their last two losses have been embarrassing. The Bears lost by 40 points at OU last Saturday and by 26 points to Kansas at home on Wednesday in a game in which they scored only three points in the first ten minutes of play. Needless to say, Baylor is not coming to Austin with an abundance of confidence.
Scott Drew has proven to be a solid recruiter over the last few years, by snagging top 20 classes in each of the last two years. Last year he even signed a McDonald's All American, Tweety Carter. This year's team is stacked with talented guards but mostly projects up front.
They are led by junior Aaron Bruce (6'3" 190) and Del Valle product, Curtis Jerrells (6'1" 195). Bruce is an outstanding passer who leads the team in assists at 3.6 per game. He can also knock down the open three pointer. Jerrells is second on the team in points, 12 ppg, and also rebounds well from his guard spot. Like Texas, Baylor starts a third guard, Henry Dugat (6'0" 170).
Forward Kevin Rogers (6'9" 235) leads the Bears in scoring for the season, 12.3 ppg, and is fourth in the Big 12 in conference games with nine rebounds per game. The fifth starter is Mamadou Diene (7'0 255). Diene is not a skilled basketball player but can block and alter shots in the low post. Ankle and knee injuries have bothered Diene recently.
Baylor uses senior Tim Bush (6'6" 245) and freshman center Josh Lomers (7'0" 265) off the bench for help in the frontcourt and freshman Carter off the bench for help at guard.
Baylor By the Numbers
The Bears haven't been doing much right since the level of competition stepped up with the start of Big 12 play. On offense, Baylor is last in the conference in scoring (61 ppg), last in field goal percentage (36.5%), last in three point field goal percentage (27%), and last in assists during Big 12 games. Their defense hasn't been much better. The Bears rank 11th in field goal percentage defense (46%), last in three point field goal percentage defense (38%), and ninth in rebounding margin (-4 rpg). Basically, Baylor is not scoring or shooting the ball well, nor are they playing solid defense. They are also not a great rebounding team and turn the ball over and create turnovers at almost an equal rate. This is a near perfect recipe for losing.
Prediction / Horns' Objectives
Play sharp. The Horns haven't played at home in two weeks and Baylor is exactly the type of team that could be easily overlooked. Texas needs to come out focused and put away the Bears early. The Horns should have a double-digit lead at halftime.
Push the pace. I have seen just about enough of the stand around and dribble around the perimeter offense. It's time to get out and run, no matter who is on the floor. Durant, James, and Mason are all solid finishers in the open court and Abrams is always a threat to knock down the three pointer (on the catch only). Augustin should be pushing the basketball as much as possible.
Defend the three pointer. Baylor is far from prolific from behind the arc. However, Bruce, Jerrells, and Carter can all knock down the open jumper. Baylor doesn't have the ability to score enough in the post to hurt Texas. The only way they hang with the Horns is off three pointers or easy points off turnovers.
Bench production. This is a great opportunity for our bench to get significant playing time. Dexter Pittman was the star in Lincoln. Barnes should have no trouble working Big Dex, Connor Atchley, and Matt Hill (if healthy) into the game. Somewhere down the line in conference play or during the post season tournaments, the Horns are going to need solid minutes for these three. There is no better game to build their confidence than Baylor at home.
There is no reason for this one to be close. Even after two solid recruiting classes, Baylor doesn't have the athletes to stay with the Horns, and they really don't have anyone who can matchup with Kevin Durant. KD should be able to put on another show. Durant goes for 32 points and 14 rebound as Texas cruises 87-64.