The Texas Longhorns host the 19-7 Baylor Bears tomorrow afternoon, looking to complete a the sweep of Scott Drew's team. A win for Shaka Smart's squad would provide the magic 18th win that would seemingly lock up an NCAA tournament bid for the Horns, making the remainder of the season an exercise in seed maximization. But Baylor is no pushover.
The Bears come into the game after winning Tuesday night at Iowa State without Rico Gathers in the lineup, and hardly missed a beat. Gathers missed the game with an illness, but Johnathan Motley filled in rather nicely for him, scoring 27 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and blocking 4 shots. This is no surprise -- Motley is an outstanding player -- and the Bears are good both with and without Gathers in the middle.
We did a preview of the Bears the last time these teams played. A brief recap -- Taurean Prince will be in the NBA next year, Lester Medford and Al Freeman can fill it up from the perimeter, and Motley and Gathers are both excellent inside in their own ways. Baylor crashes the glass and can just really score the damn ball. The Bears are not so great on defense.
So what have the Bears been up to lately?
Coach Drew's team is 2-2 since losing to Texas at home on the first of February. Probably the biggest surprise over that time was dropping a home game by 18 against Texas Tech. It was a game that maybe said more about the quality of the Red Raiders, who are currently sitting on the good side of the NCAA tournament bubble after beating Iowa State, Baylor, and Oklahoma in consecutive games. We should probably just give the Bears a mulligan for that one.
The win this week against Iowa State probably better reflects what Baylor is all about. It was a 100-91 overtime win that matched up two teams capable of putting up points, and not terribly capable of slowing down an opponent's attack. Those are the Bears we have come to know.
Since the start of February Scott Drew's team also has a road victory in the Octagon against Kansas State, and lost to West Virginia.
Cracking the zone
It is possible to play good defense against Baylor, but the truth is that Drew's team is so good offensively that it becomes essential that Texas scores enough to keep pace. Perhaps the single biggest key for teams playing Baylor is to make sure they score plenty of points against the zone. Baylor's zone tends to leave the back line somewhat exposed, and the last time these two teams met Shaka Smart's men made hay going at that back line, with various players taking turns creeping and hunting for space to catch the ball in a seam and attack.
Hitting shots also helps -- the Longhorns were 8-17 from three point range. Those shots will be there again. Baylor generally will mark good perimeter shooters, but players like Isaiah Taylor and Kerwin Roach, players for whom the scouting report will demand a cushion, will have open looks whenever they want them. Ideally these shots will come in rhythm, rather than be forced up off the dribble.
The Taurean Prince Problem
Let's be clear -- Taurean Prince is just a hell of a basketball player. He is 6'8, can attack from the wing off the dribble, can post up some, and can shoot. And not just open shots, he can use his size and terrific ability to get up and make tough shots with a man on him. Kendal Yancy and Demarcus Holland were the primary defenders on Prince the last time these teams played, but it will be a group effort on the Baylor star wing. There aren't easy answers when you play against a player with as well-rounded of a game as Prince, and things get particularly hard when he is paired with teammates who can also score and are worthy of defensive attention.
If Prince is again hitting tough and contested shots, then you probably just live with it and admit he is better. But the odds are good that if he is again forced to take these unpleasant attempts that it will again shave just enough off of his scoring efficiency that he won't do too much harm.
As the home team, the Longhorns are the favorite in this game, and are probably the marginally better team. But Baylor is super dangerous, with a number of guys who can put up big numbers on an opponent that fails to give them the proper attention.
If Prince or Medford (or Motley) goes crazy, Texas will be in a dogfight at home. Keep these guys somewhat in check, and score efficiently against Baylor's zone, and the afternoon should go pretty well for Texas.