Let me say this right off the top: if Wisconsin prevails again Thursday night against sixth-seeded Baylor, I believe the Badgers will have earned its most impressive NCAA Tournament win since Dick Bennett's Final Four run in 2000.
Statistically, Baylor (26-11) plays at a slower pace than UW, yet the Bears are stocked with big athletes across the board that score efficiently and eat offensive boards for breakfast. For example, 6'8, 270-pound sophomore Rico Gathers -- a reserve -- is one of the top five offensive rebounding opportunists in the country who averages 6.5 rebounds in under 18 minutes per game. In this context, Sam Dekker's renewed aggressiveness against Oregon might be the most important development heading into the Sweet 16.
As you'll find out below from Ted Harrison, lead basketball editor at SB Nation's Our Daily Bears, Baylor's zone defense is just one of the pieces that snapped into place about a month ago to bring the Bears to where they are today. However, Wisconsin (28-7) might have an advantage at the point guard position if Good Trae comes back for an encore performance. Traevon Jackson dominated his individual matchup with Oregon's Johnathan Loyd, particularly in the second half. He will have the same opportunity to use his strength against Baylor's 5'11 point man, Kenny Chery.
The Badgers are a slim three-point favorite over Baylor heading into Thursday night's 6:47 p.m. CT showcase on ... *cough* TBS.
B5Q: The Bears have been one of the most impressive teams in the tournament so far. Baylor has now won 12 of their last 14 games heading into this matchup with Wisconsin. The season really seemed to turn around for Baylor in the second overtime of a huge home win over Kansas State in mid-February when the Beats outscored the Wildcats 19-5. Tell us about that game and what Baylor has been doing right since then that they weren't doing well previously.
Baylor at a glance: Offense/Defense
A team doesn't make the kind of run Baylor has by doing just one thing well. Both sides of the ball deserve credit.
Our Daily Bears (Ted): First of all thanks for having me answer a few questions! That Kansas State game was nuts, if you have a couple of minutes I suggest you read our breakdown of "the play that changed our season" but the TL;DR version is this: the team found a moment to gel around and ever since have looked downright lethal.
A lot of people remember that Marcus Smart got suspended this year at Oklahoma State, and that it affected the Cowboys for a stretch. What a lot of people do not know is that Baylor's one true point guard, Kenny Chery (yes, just the one "R" I promise), was battling turf toe during that 2-8 slump and even sat out for a couple of games. Between that, and the team getting punched in the mouth a bit with a tough Big 12 conference schedule it seemed that we were going to completely collapse after a non-conference slate that included going toe-to-toe with Syracuse in Maui, beating Dayton, Kentucky and Colorado (When Spencer Dinwiddie was still healthy) on a neutral floor. The biggest tangible differences are: 1) The energy on defense. The intensity in the zone has changed drastically. 2) Baylor stopped turning the ball over at a ridiculous clip. 3) Our
JUCOtransfers (Chery and Royce O'Neale) figured out Big 12 level basketball.
B5Q: Baylor's zone defense hassled Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge into 22% shooting from 3-point land in a 30-point spanking of Creighton Sunday. The duo's Creighton teammates shot even worse. On the season, however, the Bears are barely average containing opponents from long distance. Do you think the Badgers might pose a greater threat to the zone than the Bluejays because of the ability of all five starters to hit threes? Does Baylor prefer the 1-3-1 zone or a 2-3?
ODB: It depends on the moment as it is a pretty fluid zone that almost always starts as a 1-3-1 but morphs into a 2-3 zone for the majority of the shot clock.
And yes, I would definitely say that Wisconsin definitely poses a greater threat than Creighton in this respect. I think this is the issue with which most of us Bears fans are concerned. While on the one hand, I can safely say at this point that Wisconsin has not had to play a zone like ours this year, on the other Baylor has not met an opponent who might be uniquely skilled to take it down. The most comparable team Baylor has played would probably be Iowa State and Baylor went 1-2 against them this year. On the flip side, prior to playing Baylor, Creighton was the most efficient offensive team in the country and as you pointed out, got thoroughly shut down (dropping from 124.7 in KenPom's ratings to 122.9 - a fairly sizable drop for just one game, but probably surprises no one who watched it).
B5Q: Length is one attribute that springs to mind when you look at the Bears. Baylor features two 7-foot-plus wingspans on the front line, in sophomore Isaiah Austin and 6'9 senior Cory Jefferson. This length plays a role in extending their zone, but also in their rebounding. How can the Bears be so good at hitting the offensive glass (40.6 Off. Reb%) yet so mediocre rebounding on defense?
ODB: The length makes the zone tick, but when you play man-to-man the rebounding process is easier/quicker. When you have a man, your block out responsibility is set in stone. But when you are playing zone, there is a couple of additional things to consider: 1) Find a man 2) Find a man that someone else is not already blocking out. This is an area that Baylor has improved upon as of late, but we are guaranteed to give up a few second chance points simply because both Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers decided to block out the same guy.
Offensive rebounds though sheesh - we get buckets.
B5Q: Is this a group that can fall into the trap of relying on its athleticism too much?
ODB: I think that is a little bit of what you saw at the beginning of Big 12 play. When Chery was hobbled everything became decidedly forced. What you see now is a team that utilizes its athleticism, but is extremely mechanical on offense. If you had asked me this question in February you would have gotten a totally different response by the way. I do think that they could fall in this trap if Wisconsin goes on a run, but at the same time - you play your way into the Sweet Sixteen by overcoming some of your bad habits.
B5Q: Though he's had some great stretches in his young career, Austin hasn't been a consistent all-world beast as the hype suggested coming into college. Even in my own opinion, the future NBAer just didn't seem to have that "it" that other one-and-dones possessed. Only recently did I find out that Austin has a prosthetic right eye, the end result of an adolescent injury. To be playing blind in one eye at this level is incredible to me. Has the knowledge of his situation helped temper the wild expectations for Austin around Waco? Does his condition have any visible effect on his game or is it a non-issue?
ODB: I would say that it definitely has put hi play in perspective. Austin has never been bad, and definitely flashes an ability to absolutely control a game on both ends of the floor, but that is not enough when you come in expected to be one and done. The story about his setback, also coinciding with his more consistently good play, has made him a bit of a hero in and around Waco -- though to be honest, as a 7-footer who can knock it down from outside, you do not really notice any impact.
B5Q: There are so many weapons on Baylor's roster. Like Wisconsin, many of the guys can sink treys, led by the Canadian Cannon, senior Brady Heslip (109-for-235, 46.4%). Jefferson and Royce O'Neale can step back and hit at a very good rate. But I get the sense that the all-around play of O'Neale and point guard Kenny Chery is pretty important, too. Which weapon is most critical to the Baylor attack?
ODB: I have been saying for a while now that Kenny Chery's mid-range jumper is the best play we run, but in all seriousness - it has to be him and O'Neale. Win or lose on Thursday night, you will look at the box score and see O'Neale's stat line that will read 8, 8, 8 and you will ask yourself, "When did that happen?" It does not matter though because it did. Chery is our only true point guard and you can talk all day about getting our bigs in foul trouble and that is fine, we have depth there. Get Chery in foul trouble and you get Baylor in foul trouble.
B5Q: Right or wrong, Baylor head coach Scott Drew often gets mentioned in a negative way when it comes to discussions about college coaches. Comments range from being a suspect in-game tactician to whispers of recruiting improprieties (strengthened by the program's current probation). There's no denying Baylor has experienced unparalleled success compared to its past history, but I'm curious as to your thoughts on Drew as a recruiter and as an Xs-and-Os guy.
ODB: As a recruiter, I would really like to hear a good case for someone being better than him at it. You might give the nod to John Calipari, but when you consider that Scott Drew took over a program after a player had murdered another amidst a load of other scandals and now he has four guys getting significant playing time in the NBA as well as other highly-regarded recruits continuing to stream into the program? It is kind of nuts. You have to be an excellent salesman, but more than that, relatable to players and parents alike. He is a bit goofy, but is seemingly always happy and in a good mood and is exactly what Baylor needs.
The criticism of his in-game coaching and Xs-and-Os has largely stemmed from people not realizing that while he has had teams with a lot of talent, he has never had a team with as much talent as a Kansas or a Duke. Meaning that the stigma is that our whole team is made up of Perry Jones III five-stars when the reality is that Baylor only ever has one or two of those guys at a time. Now, there are a few things Drew does that make you slap your forehead, but he is still relatively young for his profession and even just this year has matured in his decisions and game-plans. After all, he is about to play for his third Elite Eight in five years -- that is not too shabby.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Frank Kaminsky, Jr.||C||Isaiah Austin, So.|
|Sam Dekker, So.||F||Cory Jefferson, Sr.|
|Josh Gasser, Jr.||G / F||Royce O'Neale, Jr.|
|Ben Brust, Sr.||G||Brady Heslip, Sr.|
|Traevon Jackson, Jr.||G||Kenny Chery, Jr.|
KenPom win probability: 58 percent (70-68 W) 60 possessions
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