With the first month of conference play all but over, the teams of the Big 12 are preparing for the dog days of February -- a point in the season when strange results are almost guaranteed.
But first, there is one last January game. Today, Texas heads to Waco to take on Baylor in a contest between two AP top 20 teams with 3-4 conference records.
Baylor lacks the star power of previous seasons, but the Bears have still been winning games and playing pretty good basketball. For Baylor, it doesn't hurt that Baylor has done OK defensively. So far this season, the Bears have allowed opponents to score only 0.92 points per possession, which is a solid total.
But in Big 12 play, the defense so far has not been as good. During conference play, the Baylor defense is ranked eighth out of ten teams, allowing 1.03 points per possession.
So which number is real? Well, they both are real -- they both happened. But in non-conference play, the Bears benefited a significant amount from poor opponent free throw shooting (62 percent; worth 2.2 points per 100 possessions compared with an average result) and poor opponent three point shooting (27 percent; worth 4.2 points per 100 possessions compared with an average result). You can argue that Baylor's defense was responsible for some of that opponent shooting from beyond the arc, but some of that is just catching good breaks. And you can't make any credible argument that Baylor has an ability to defend opponents while they attempt free throws.
While less than great defense has played a pretty significant role in generating the 3-4 conference record so far accumulated by Scott Drew's squad, the offense has still been reasonably effective.
While Baylor lacks the NBA-caliber stars of previous seasons, this team still has some pretty good players. Perhaps the most interesting is wing Royce O'Neale, who is an analytics darling. Yea, O'Neale doesn't shoot a bunch, but he has been highly efficient when he does, and as a result is Baylor's most important offensive player from an opponent scouting perspective. O'Neale is the sort of player who can put up 15 or 20 points on eight or nine shots. He is both an effective three point shooter and is good at scoring around the basket. For a team with the rim protection of Texas, I worry more about his outside shooting. I hope that Texas makes O'Neale bounce the ball, and then lives with the consequences.
Beyond O'Neale, Baylor's most effective offense comes on the offensive glass. The Bears lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, tracking down 43 percent of their misses. Rico Gathers, Taurean Prince, and Johnathan Motley all demand attention on the boards.
The minutes in the Baylor backcourt are dominated by point guard Kenny Chery and his running mate Lester Medford. Chery and Medford are both listed under six feet tall, can both shoot the ball from the perimeter, and both struggle to finish around the rim.
For Texas, the defensive game plan should be simple. Play as little zone defense as possible and make Baylor's perimeter players win off the bounce. Baylor is a team that does two things well on offense: it shoots threes and crashes the glass. These are the two activities that zone encourages. Playing zone against Baylor will be counterproductive.
At the other end of the floor, Baylor frequently plays zone defense itself, which makes them vulnerable to second chance shots by Texas.
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