"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Baylor Preview, 2022-23

Baylor Bears

November 29, 2022, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Scott Drew (399-222 at Baylor, 419-233 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 4.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 3.0

2022-23 T-Rank Projection: 2

Projected Starters: PG Adam Flagler (6'3" Sr), SG L.J. Cryer (6'1" Jr), SF Keyontae George (6'5" Fr), PF Jalen Bridges (6'7" Jr), C Flo Thamba (6'10" RS Sr)

Adam Flagler helped Baylor to the 2021 National Championship

Photo by Jamie Schwaberow | Getty Images

After winning the National Championship behind a loaded back court of Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, and MaCio Teague, the expectation was that Baylor would take a step back in 2021-22. Instead, they opened the season 15-0, working their way up to the #1 AP ranking in January. They lost a handful of games, but still managed to share the Big 12 title with eventual National Champions Kansas and earned a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. In the second round, they fell behind by 25 to North Carolina before rallying to force overtime, but ultimately lost the game. While they lost four of the top six scorers from that team, what they return coupled with their new additions have most people expecting them to be a national title contender once again.

Baylor's attack starts with their excellent back court. Flagler and Cryer both averaged over 13 points per game last year, though neither is a true point guard. Freshman Keyontae George is a potential lottery pick with electric scoring ability and top-notch athleticism on the wing. Up front, West Virginia transfer Jalen Bridges is a versatile defender whose length gives opponents problems and whose shot-making allows Baylor to regularly play four-out. In the middle, Flo Thamba won't be much of an offensive threat, but he eats space, cleans the glass, and is a solid rim protector. The Bears also boast depth, with Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua serving as a defensive ace while former five-star guard Langston Love provides talent in the back court, though both are coming off injuries and may not be at full strength to start the season.

Scott Drew has transformed Baylor. There's simply no other way to describe what Baylor was before he arrived and the absolute juggernaut they are today. How do they do it? On offense, they surround their bigs with a plethora of shooters that spread opponents out and exploit ball screens. When they miss, they relentlessly attack the offensive glass, ranking in the top-10 each of the past nine years. On defense, they have shifted away from a zone/man mix and adopted much of the No-Middle Defense popularized by Texas Tech. The Bears have numerous switchable defenders that are elite at forcing attacking players away from screens and keeping them out of the middle of the court. They rely on their athletic wing defenders to stay in front of their man. They switch less than a team like Texas Tech, which makes them less vulnerable to open threes, but the early shot clock three is still one of the best ways to attack them. This will be one of the biggest tests of the year for Marquette's shooters and the pick and roll effectiveness of Tyler Kolek particularly.

So will Baylor be a monster once again? It likely comes down to staying healthy. They have the right mix of talent and experience, but Cryer, Love, and Flagler are coming off injuries while Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Love may not be ready to go when they come to Milwaukee in late November. They will certainly be a good team, but last year it was injuries that likely cost them that game against North Carolina and it remains to be seen how strongly everyone comes back. It's possible this is a team that will be more vulnerable in November and becomes a contender if they can get healthy as the year goes on, but even optimistic Marquette fans won't want to put this one in the win column until not just the final buzzer, but until you sleep on it and double-check the morning box score. Drew has turned Baylor into one of the best teams in the county year-in and year-out, and there's no reason to expect this year will be different.

What We've Learned: The offense is ready to go. Flagler, Cryer, and George are all averaging over 14 ppg on over 110 offensive rating. The Bears are #3 nationally in offensive eFG%, largely because they are taking a ton of threes (more than half of their field goals have been from deep) and making them at a great clip (38.5%) while continuing their rebounding tenacity (#20). Defense, on the other hand, has been less positive. The two main reasons seem to be a team that is foul prone and opponents that are making threes at a high rate. That second may be largely luck, as Virginia' 9/14 against Baylor is responsible for a 4% jump over the other 5 games they played. Neither Tchamwa Tchatchoua nor Love have played yet, so this is a bit of a short-handed team. This should be an entertaining, high-octane game between two teams that go fast on offense and are tenacious on defense.

Marquette Connection: The good news for Marquette fans is that head coach Shaka Smart has twice as many wins against Baylor in his career as Marquette does in its history. The bad news is that Marquette is just 1-1 against Baylor from a 1997-1998 home-and-home series while Shaka was a woeful 2-10 against Baylor in his six years at Texas. Smart won his first matchup with Drew in 2016, then didn't tally another victory until 2019. Suffice to say Drew has had his number and it would be satisfying to get a win against his old cross-state rival.

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