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Texas and Baylor Face Off in the Big 12 Tournament

The Longhorns meet Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament. The game tips off on Thursday at 11:30 AM CST, and airs on ESPN2.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns start their Big 12 tournament with a rubber match against the Baylor Bears. The two teams split their regular season series, each winning on the road.

Since Texas and Baylor have already played each other twice, and we have already written two game previews focused on Scott Drew's team, it makes it difficult for me as a writer to find a new way to preview this game. But one advantage I do have going for me now is the perspective gained by a completed Big 12 regular season. So let's take a look back and the Baylor Bears, reviewing what they did well and what they did poorly in conference play.

Reviewing Baylor's Strengths and Weaknesses

For regular readers of this blog, you probably know by now that I am a fan of using a graphical construction known as a waterfall chart to look at a team's offense and defense and quickly surmise what it does well and what it does poorly. You can read more about them here, but for a quick summary this explanation should suffice.

In the waterfall chart, we start off on the far left with a typical team that scores and allows 1.04 points per possession. Then we move through each statistical category showing how it raises or lowers the points per possession total of a team when compared with this "typical" squad. When we add and subtract all of these things, eventually we should get to the team's point per possession total, but we don't quite make it there, because of small differences between the equation and reality that compound and require a correction. In the waterfall, this is the "correction" that I show, which bridges the gap between calculation and the team reality, which sits at the far right.

The waterfall charts below were constructed for the Baylor offense (ranked third in the Big 12) and the Baylor defense (ranked eighth in the Big 12) using data taken from Big 12 conference games. For the offense, big green bars (which denote things that increase scoring) indicate strengths, and big red bars reveal weaknesses.

This chart for the Baylor offense shows that over the course of conference play the Bears excelled in two different categories: offensive rebounding and three point shooting. For anyone who has watched them play this is not surprising; Scott Drew's team features Rico Gathers, Johnathan Motley, Taurean Prince, and Ishmail Wainright, who crash the glass about as well as anyone, and steady perimeter shooters Prince, Wainright, All Freeman, and Lester Medford. Baylor's biggest weakness on offense is that the Bears turn the ball over at a higher rate than normal in college basketball.

We can make a similar chart for what opponents did against the Baylor defense. The difference is that in this case big green bars are bad, because increased scoring is not the objective of the defense. Have a look below and see if you can tell what stands out.

Ah yes, the three point shooting. It seems that in Big 12 games the Bears were murdered from outside. Opponents over the course of the Big 12 season averaged 41 percent shooting from three point range.

I think it is also interesting to look at these numbers changed during wins and losses. The table below summarizes the key results for Baylor wins in Big 12 play. I have color-coded things to show what was good (green) and bad (red) for Drew's team.

Baylor in Big 12 Wins

During wins, the Bears were fantastic on offense, scoring 1.18 points per possession on average, and were effective scoring the ball from all over the court. Baylor averaged 55 percent shooting on two-point shot attempts and hit for better than 41 percent from long range. Meanwhile, opponents logged more or less average shooting statistics against the Bears.

These data are most interesting when compared with how Baylor did in conference losses. As in the previous table, things are color-coded to show the good (green) and bad (red) for Baylor.

Baylor in Big 12 Losses

A few things in that table really stand out. In Baylor losses, the Bears had a hard time shooting from two-point range, converting only 43 percent of their shots from inside the arc, compared with 55 percent shooting in wins. And in losses, the Bears were absolutely lit up from three-point range, with opponents making nearly half of their threes.

In a way, these two effects played out in the two games between Texas and Baylor. In the Longhorns' February 1 win in Waco, Shaka Smart's team was 8-17 from three-point range, and the Bears converted on less than 38 percent of their attempts inside the arc. Later in the month when Scott Drew's team romped Texas, Shaka Smart's men were 4-18 from three-point range and the Bears converted 65 percent of their two-point attempts.

As ugly as it may seem, let's revisit that second game against Baylor. Motley by himself was 12-13 from the floor. And the Bears murdered the Horns in transition, attempting 13 of their 51 attempts in transition, and managing an effective field goal percentage for these attempts of 96 percent.

With Baylor hurting Texas so much in transition in that game, I think it is worth going a bit deeper into the data. Of Baylor's 13 transition attempts, 5 came after defensive rebounds, 1 came after a Texas score, and 7 came on live ball steals. Texas was unusually turnover-prone in that game, coughing the ball up in 21 percent of its possessions (compared with a conference-leading rate of 15 percent), and all of those live ball turnovers and quick scores on the other end come with the territory when a team doesn't protect the rock.

I think it is also worthwhile to look at Motley's performance. Of his 12 made baskets, 5 came in transition, 2 off of putbacks on offensive rebounds, and 5 in the normal flow of the offense. 7 of his 12 makes came directly at the rim. He was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the Baylor transition game, and got himself some free buckets by working on the offensive glass.

What can we infer about the Texas-Baylor game in the Big 12 Tournament?

Based on everything I have written above, it is easy to come up with a view as to how this game may play out.

Assuming Texas plays less passively and passes the ball more carefully on offense then in the prior loss to Baylor, this game may very well come down to a simple question: Can the Longhorns hit some shot from beyond the arc?

A secondary question that is also worth considering: Can the Longhorns contain Baylor inside and on the glass, and limit the Bear transition game?

Every game of course has its own story. This game could be the day when Taurean Prince does Taurean Prince things and slaughters Texas. Or it could be a game where Baylor goes 1-17 from beyond the arc, and Kerwin Roach loses his mind scoring on drives into the paint. Or many other things.

But if I had to venture a guess, I would say that if Texas can hit some threes, and slow down the Bear offense inside somewhat, that the Longhorns have a pretty good chance to come away with a win.