1. With a 0-3 start to Big 12 play staring the Baylor Bears in the face, a 13-6 run in overtime to get a win in Fort Worth might prove to be a big point of the 2014-15 season. It was an ugly win, one in which the Bears made under 30% of their shots. The Bears offense has been awful the past three games. They have made just 41 of their last 121 shots inside of the 3-point arc (33.89%) and have not shot over 40% in Big 12 play yet. 3-point shooting kept them in the game against Oklahoma (7-21) and almost got them a win over Kansas (8-15) but fully disappeared against TCU (1-12). The Bears offense has been bad, ever since halftime of the Oklahoma game. For 5 quarters, Baylor has been stagnant and missing way too many shots close to the basket.
Rico Gathers is shooting a horrible 51.7% on field goal attempts at the rim, converting just 45 of 87 shots. The Bears as a whole are making just 54.8% of their shots at the rim. On the flip side, they are allowing a 58.2% conversion rate defensively. Last season, the Bears shot 58.1% at the rim. That roughly 4% difference might not seem like a big deal, but that has been the difference between winning over Kansas and easily winning against TCU.
2. Why the struggles on the inside? This is the one area where I think the Bears have been hurt the most by their lack of height. Gone are the days of the 7-footer for the Bears. Rico Gathers is generously listed at 6-8. In addition to his height being an issue for a center, his jumping ability is not a strength either. He is what I could a “slow-jumper”, meaning he can get up there, but it takes him a while. He is the opposite of Quincy Acy, a guy that could explode off of the floor, and could jump a second time before most players could get up and down once. Rico struggles when he is caught deep in the paint, having to finish against taller players. His best hope is to force contact and go to the foul line, where he converts less than 60% of the time.
The Bears other post has better height and jumping ability, but Jonathan Motley’s strength and ability to finish through contact is still in the developmental stages. Motley is also quite wild with his post moves at times, especially when he forces the action in difficult situations. We saw that quite a bit against TCU, where he made just 2 of 10 shots in the game. The Bears have not been finishing tough contested shots this year close to the rim at the level they need to.
3. The other area of concern for the Bears has been their lack of ball movement and player movement the past few games. The offense has gotten stagnant, and the ball has been stuck either down low in the post or being dribbled too much outside of the 3-point arc. You can count the number of times the ball has been dumped down into the post and kicked back out for an open shot on a single hand. Jonathan Motley is probably the guiltiest of this, as you would expect from a young post player. Motley gets the ball and looks to score first, second and third.
Another factor has been dribble-drive penetration. The Bears simply have not gotten enough off the dribble benefits from their 2-poing guards, Kenny Chery and Lester Medford. Chery’s sublime mid-range game has taken a step back, as teams have pressed up on him in those areas and forced him deeper into the lane, which his 42.1% conversion rate on 19 attempts shows is not a strength. Medford is even more curious of a case. The junior college transfer profiles as a guy that should be able to get deep into the paint, as his explosive speed and above average handles and athleticism should allow him to attack the paint. He has 36 shots at the rim so far, but has been tentative the past few games, with little to no action. This might be a symptom of the lack of team movement and ball movement in recent games.
The Bears only had 5 assists against TCU, a staggeringly low total for a motion offense. Yes, the Bears missed a lot of shots, making only 17 field goals does not leave a ton of room for assists, but too many of the Bears looks were simply isolation or post-up plays with no assist to be found. Baylor only had 1- assists against Kansas, compared to 19 for the Jayhawks. When the ball starts moving again, and the Bears are doing a much better job of sharing the ball and making that extra pass, the offense should start to click.
4. Another aspect of the Bears offensive struggles has been the lack of success in the transition game. Many expected, myself included, the Bears to be a more up-tempo team this year. With a smaller and quicker lineup, the hope was that the Bears would press and trap more and get out into the open court. That has not been the case this year. Part of that is due to the slow tempo the Bears defense has forced this year. The zone defense slows teams down, unless you press with it. Teams will take their time and setup the offensive attack. In recent years, the Bears inactivity in their zone defense has led to an inactive or stale offense. I think we are starting to see that happen again this year.
Also, the Bears have not been very successful when they push the tempo in recent games. Baylor had just 5 points off of turnovers against Oklahoma, 11 against Kansas and 10 against TCU. They have scored just 6 fastbreak points combined in the past 3 games, with a startling zero scored against Kansas. You can look back to several failed transition opportunities in each of the past three games, as posts have tried to lead the break, or over-penetration has led to contested layups that are not falling.
5. Are all of the struggles the Bears have seen offensively just on them though? No. The Bears have opened up conference play with three of the best defensive teams in the nation. Oklahoma is ranked 5th in the nation by KenPom in terms of defensive efficiency, and have the 12th best 2-point field goal defense in the nation. TCU is ranked 39th by KenPom, but is even tougher against 2-point shots, allowing the 3rd lowest field goal rate in the nation. The worst of the three teams defensively has been Kansas, normally the best defense in the Big 12. The Jayhawks are starting to put together their defense, especially with freshman Kelly Oubre putting it together.
In Big 12 play only, the Bears have played against each of the Top-3 teams in effective Field Goal % allowed and 2-point field goal % allowed. Yes, it is a very small sample and might be carried by the Bears low number, but those three teams have seen trends indicating they are very good to even great defenses on the inside.
With Kansas State (2nd worst Big 12 team against 2-point shots, 2nd lowest block rate) and Iowa State (4th overall in defense, 5th against 2-point shots) coming up this week, the Bears should see two easier defensive matchups than they have seen so far in Big 12 play. With the run of suffocating interior defenses behind them, we might see a return of the Bears offense to at least average levels.