When Opportunity Knocks...

When Opportunity Knocks...

Coach Drew and his Bears have a great opportunity ahead of them Saturday, to knock off a highly ranked team in a hostile environment. Will they answer the door and take advantage?

You only get so many chances to get a marquee win. There are only a few on the calendar each year. There are even fewer that are on the road. Going to Kansas and maybe Texas have qualified as this big of an opportunity as the Bears have this Saturday. They travel to Lexington, Kentucky to face off against the defending champion Wildcats of Kentucky. Rarely has defending champion meant so little though when describing Kentucky. It is cliché to say that each team is different, and this is not the same team as last year. However, in this case, it is almost 100% accurate.

The coach is the same. The uniforms are the same. The fans are probably the same. The players though? Not so much. The only player that faced the Bears last year in the Elite Eight played a grand total of 7 minutes and scored 3 points. The 5 starters for the Wildcats all are playing in the NBA now, along with their 6th man. This is a brand new team the Bears are facing.

The Wildcats are one of the youngest teams in the country, and probably one of its most talented. In fact, they rank 337th in experience out of 347 Division I programs according to Kenpom.com. But its youth has let it down in its two losses this year, against Duke and Thursday night against Notre Dame. Kentucky's roster is filled with 4 and 5 star recruits. They have special talent and one of the best coaches in the nation. You know that they will be playing their best basketball later in the season.

But the Bears don't care about this team later in the year, at least right now. They care about what Kentucky is on December 1st at 11am. They care because they have a chance to get a rare marquee road win. They have a chance to go into one of the most historic arenas in the nation and come out happy. So, what do the Bears need to do to get the win?

Kentucky has been terrible defensively this year, especially rebounding the ball on the defensive glass. They allow an offensive rebound on 34.9% of their defensive possessions, the 244th worst rate in the country. They also do not force very many turnovers, with just 18.2% of their defensive possessions resulting in a turnover by the opposition (277th worst).

Luckily, these two areas align with two relative strengths for the Bears. They are the 38th best offensive rebounding team in the country, and they commit the 54th fewest turnovers per possession. Along with that, the Bears have much more experience than the Wildcats do, especially in the back court. With seniors A.J. Walton and Pierre Jackson leading the way, as well as veterans Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin, the Bears have the luxury of experienced depth across the guard positions.

NCAA Basketball Stats

The Wildcats are really depending on 3 freshmen and a sophomore to be their key guys, with Julius Mays being their only senior getting any minutes. They are a young team that is still learning to play together.

Another area that is a good matchup for the Bears is in regards to the two teams score.

FT

2-Pt FG

3-Pt FG

Kentucky Offense

19.70%

58.80%

21.40%

Rank

200

58

275

Baylor Defense

12.50%

53.60%

33.80%

Rank

342

139

37

FT

2-Pt FG

3-Pt FG

Baylor Offense

16.80%

58.50%

24.60%

Rank

290

61

226

Kentucky Defense

17.70%

56.20%

26.10%

Rank

265

75

195

The one area the Bears really struggle defensively is guarding the 3-point line. They allow the 37th highest percentage of points from the 3-point line. Opponents make 40.9% of their 3-point shots. Kentucky actually shoots the 3-point shots well, making 43% of their attempts; they just don't attempt them very often. In fact, only two Wildcats have attempted more than 10 3-point shots this year, Julias Mays and Kyle Wiltjer. They have made a combined 25 of 55 shots from 3-point range. Outside of them, they are 9 of 20. To compare, the Bears have attempted 38 more three-point attempts on the year than Kentucky. So, Baylor will have to keep an eye on their starting power forward Wiltjer and make sure he doesn't hit a few 3-pointers while the post players are not paying attention.

Get to Know Kentucky

They are led by a bunch of freshman, including all-Americans Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin. Goodwin is currently their primary ball handler with Ryan Harrow struggling to come back from a concussion. Goodwin is really miscast in this role, and is not a true facilitator. They are a balanced team offensively, with 5 players averaging more than 10 points per game, led by Goodwin at 16.33 and Alex Poythress at 15.833. The athletic 3-guard is a tough matchup for the Bears, as they don't have anyone that can match his size and strength at the wing spot.

The Wildcats are a long and athletic team that should be much better defensively than they have shown so far. Their back court is 6-5, and 6-2, with a 6-7, 6-10 and 6-10 frontcourt behind them. Noel has shown the ability to be a sensational rim defender, though he has struggled in his first 6 games with staying down and not falling for pump fakes.

Season Rankings

2012-2013

Baylor

Kentucky

Sagarin

19

10

KenPom

25

9

Massey

45

14

TeamRankings.com

38

25

AP Poll

43

8

Coaches Poll

45

8

PREDICTIONS

KenPom.com – 76-67 Kentucky (23% chance for Baylor win)

Massey.com – 77-69 Kentucky (23% chance for Baylor win)

BearsIllustrated.com – 72-69 Kentucky

I think the Wildcats will be pretty mad and focused after the big loss they had against Notre Dame. They were physically pounded on the glass, something that the Bears can do. However, I think that defense is the key to beating Kentucky. We just are not a good defensive team yet. We are still learning some of the fundamentals of man defense after playing primarily a zone defense the past few years. Heslip will be able to make a few shots, and our interior players will fare well against the size of Kentucky, but they will have just enough in front of their home crowd to hold off the Bears.

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