Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns have experienced something of an up and down season this year. Beat Kansas and North Carolina, lose to Radford. And so it goes.
But in the erratic results category, Texas has nothing on Baylor. For those of us who are philosophically inclined to view the world as nothing more than a giant soulless weighted random number generator where God does indeed play dice, the Baylor Bears support our priors.
There might not be a single team in D-I basketball that has had a stranger ride this season than Baylor. Consider that Scott Drew’s team lost four seniors from last season’s rotation and its putative starting point guard Jake Lindsey to a season-ending injury prior to the start of the season, and was picked by pretty much everyone to finish near or at the bottom of the Big 12.
After scuffling through some mixed play during the non-conference season (Baylor won at Arizona, but dropped home games to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin), the Bears lost their best player (sophomore big man Tristan Clark) to a season-ending injury in early January and dropped a home game to Kansas.
But since that low moment, the Bears have won six consecutive games, including an impressive 30-point dismantling of the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman. So what in the hell is going on?
Glad you asked. Since losing Clark, a team that looked pretty average (at best) from the perimeter decided that it was never going to miss another damn three-pointer again. The Bears have hit 40 percent of their threes in conference play, with senior Yale transfer Makai Mason, freshman Jared Butler, and JuCo transfer Devonte Bandoo all connecting on greater than 40 percent of their long-range shots during conference play. Junior King McClure has also been stroking it, with his comparatively pedestrian 38 percent three-point shooting in conference games.
In addition to leading the league in three-point shooting, the Bears also lead the conference in offensive rebounding percentage, making this team look a lot like many other Scott Drew coached squads. Drew’s top frontcourt player on the glass since Clark went down is 6’5 sophomore Mark Vital, an explosive leaper (and that is putting things mildly). Mario Kegler, Freddie Gillespie, and Flo Thamba also rotate through the front court.
In conference play, the Bears are scoring 1.15 points per possession, the highest rate in the league by a significant margin. Making just under half of your threes and gathering just under half of your misses is a pretty good way to score a lot of points.
The Longhorns will have to find Baylor’s shooters and put a body on Vital when those shooters miss. The game tips in Austin at 7 p.m. Central, and airs on the Longhorn Network.