The Texas Longhorns are playing with house money today in a game that would be nice to win but isn't absolutely essential. The Baylor Bears are gambling at a sad Indiana riverboat casino with the government assistance check that they use to pay the heating bill.
After a solid non-conference season that saw victories over Colorado and Kentucky the Baylor Bears are currently 1-4 in the Big 12. In that context, our fearless leader Peter Bean wrote this in his game preview:
There's still a ways to go yet in the season, but it's hard not to conclude that Baylor's season is on the line this Saturday against Texas. It's just hard to see this Baylor team putting in the concentration and hard work it would take to rally from a fourth-straight loss that sent them to 1-5 in the Big 12 standings. By contrast, it's easy to imagine a win over Texas this weekend energizing this team, which unquestionably has enough talent to get hot and turn things around.
Baylor has been struggling over the last few weeks against tough competition, but the Bears are still a team that can score. The matchup between the Bear offense and the Texas D will be critical. Here is what I will be watching for:
Baylor thrives on the offensive glass, with the second highest offensive rebounding rate in the country; a full 10 percent of Bear shot attempts are putbacks of offensive rebounds. This is where Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, and Rico Gathers do their real damage. The Longhorns will have to hold down the defensive glass, as they have been doing most of the season. If Austin and Jefferson want to jack up jump shots, Rick Barnes should just let them do it -- the laws of probability are working in the Horns' favor.
Beyond the offensive glass, Scott Drew's offense relies heavily on his players being able to hit jump shots. The Bears had success early in the season by making a lot of difficult shots. But in recent weeks, the shot making of Kenny Chery in particular has cooled off. I wrote about this prior to the start of the Big 12 season:
Chery has been rather efficient on offense, with a true shooting percentage 0.598, in spite of the fact that nearly half of his shot attempts are two point jumpers. So far this season, Chery has made 60 percent of his two point jump shots, which is the fifth highest percentage nationally among players with more than 100 total field goal attempts.
I just don't think that is likely to hold up. A lot of those shots that Chery has made are tough shots off the dribble, the sort of shots that the defense probably wants him to take. While it is possible that Chery is among the best mid-range players in recent basketball history, I think it is far more likely that he won't continue to hit these shots at his present pace.
So the question is, how many of these mid-range shots will Chery take, and how many will go down?
And then there is Brady Heslip. Heslip cannot be left open, even for a second. Heslip's three point shooting is the single most efficient way that Baylor has to score. Part of the reason that Baylor has lost in recent weeks is that teams like Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Iowa State have limited Heslip's clean looks from three. If Texas lets Heslip get off eight or ten three point shots, four to six of them are going down.
For me, the recipe to contain the Baylor offense is conceptually simple, if not exactly easy to pull off. Hold down the defensive glass, take Heslip out of the game, and make Chery, Austin, and Jefferson beat you with jump shots.
We will see how it goes for Texas. This is your game thread.