This Saturday, Texas tries to pick up a conference road win at Baylor. Blogger David Fankhauser from SB Nation's Our Daily Bears was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the game.
BON: Let's say, hypothetically, that I have an extreme aversion to the color yellow, and as a result have not yet caught a Baylor game. What is the most important thing I should know about the Bears?
David Fankhauser: Well for one, Baylor has ridded itself of the neon. The first thing I would say is that this is not your typical Scott Drew team. There are no standout NBA talents among this Baylor group but they play consistently well as a unit, especially on the defensive end. Baylor is not always a pretty team to watch offensively, but they often do enough to get the job done. Baylor is the best offensive rebound percentage team in the country and it's a big part of the Bears' offense this season as they're not a team that shoots a high percentage from the field. Baylor has also played at a much more deliberate pace this season, a far cry from the fun and gun basketball of the early Drew years.
BON: How would you guard wing Royce O'Neale? Would you make him put the ball on the floor, or shoot from the outside? Because both seem to work out pretty well for him.
DF: O'Neale has been an interesting case on the offensive end as he's been extremely hit or miss in conference play. He's had some really nice games in some of Baylor's big wins against Iowa State and Oklahoma but he'll also have some clunkers like he had the other night against Oklahoma State, going scoreless in 32 minutes. When he's on his game, he's much more aggressive in attacking the basket and creating open shots for teammates. Part of the reason he shoots such a high percentage from 3 point range is that he typically only shoots from out there when he's wide open. So if I was game planning against Baylor, I would focus on keeping O'Neale out of the paint. Baylor tends to be a much better scoring team when he's fully engaged offensively.
BON: After a really good first season in Waco, point guard Kenny Chery seems to be struggling this year, having some difficulty finishing around the basket and turning the ball over more often. Why do you thing this is? Is it just bad luck? Is he homesick for poutine, wood-fired bagels, and kosher smoked meat? Or is something different about his game?
DF: Kenny Chery is being asked to do quite a bit more with the ball in his hands this season since the Bears don't have near the offensive weapons that they had a year ago with Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip. I think it's been a bit of an adjustment for him as he's not a guy that is great at creating his own shot a la Pierre Jackson. I don't quite understand the troubles finishing around the basket but he's struggled in his mid-range game as well, which was a huge part of his game last season. He's shooting 34.9% inside the arc this year as opposed to 47.7% last season. Obviously, that's troubling. And poutine is some seriously good stuff so that is a totally plausible explanation as well. One positive from Chery's offensive game is that he's been much more reliable from 3 point range than he was last season.
BON: Are there any plans in the works for a Rico Gathers-themed comic book? I can totally see him alternating between wrecking shop on the court and solving crimes.
DF: Between Rico and Shawn Oakman, there certainly is some comic book potential in the Baylor athletic department right now. We'll call them THE AMBIGUOUSLY BAY(lor) DUO. Okay I should probably stop because y'all didn't come here for SNL references. But in serious basketball talk, Gathers has been an absolute monster on the glass this season and is probably the biggest reason why Baylor is 15-5. I mentioned earlier that Baylor is an elite offensive rebounding team and Gathers is the main reason for that. Not only does he grab 5.5 offensive boards per game on his own, he opens up the glass for putbacks by teammates because of the attention that an opponent has to give him in keeping him away from the ball. A big item that has gone unnoticed with Gathers' play this year has been his lack of fouls committed this season, a problem for him in prior years. He's yet to foul out of a game this season while playing almost 30 minutes per game, and has only committed 4 fouls once in Baylor's first 7 conference games.
BON: So who wins Saturday, and why?
DF: I feel like I say this about every Big 12 game but this has the makings of a game that will go right down to the wire. Baylor has fared well against teams with more skill and talent but they haven't seen the size that Texas possesses. If Isaiah Taylor can get into the paint and finish with regularity, the Bears are probably in for a long afternoon. But Baylor has played extremely well at home in Big 12 play, a 1 point loss to Kansas away from going 3-0 against top 15 opponents. I think this has the makings of a low-scoring defensive slugfest, and I think Baylor forces Texas into one too many offensive droughts over the course of the game. This could just as easily go Texas' way though.
Baylor 62 Texas 59.
Thanks again to David for all his answers and his colleague Michael Nichols for the help with this Q and A.