For those who have already dove into basketball head first like me and have watched every second of Baylor basketball, you might have noticed some changes to the Baylor defense. The past few years, and really most of this era of success for Scott Drew, have been defined by a zone defense.
It is a hybrid 2/3 or 1/3/1 zone that is quite adjustable. Before last year, there were gripes about the Bears defensive performance, due to the gaps in the zone. Baylor was a below average defensive rebounding team (expected in the zone), despite great height on the frontline. They would give up too many corner 3-pointers to stretch power forwards, and had little ability to trap and generate turnovers.
Then 2014-15 saw a seismic shift in the Bears defensive ability. They improved from an average defense, to a very good or even great one. The Bears haven't allowed a team to break 75 points on them since February 22nd of 2014. That is almost two full years. They were ranked a respectable 75th in defense in 2014, but shot up to 38th last year (according to KenPom). This year they are even better, ranked 20th so far. It is still early, but the Bears are still dominant on the glass, and forcing a significantly higher amount of turnovers in 2015. They are 7th nationally in turnovers forced per 100 possessions.
How are the Bears doing this? Well, they are using their man defense quite a bit more in 2015. With strong defenders in Lester Medford, Taurean Prince and Ish Wainright, the Bears have the quickness, athleticism and ability to play lock-down man-to-man defense. Wainright is a key to this, playing the SF positoin. He is just 6-foot-5, but his strength and length allow him to guard players MUCH taller. That allows for switching between him and power forward Taurean Prince.
The Bears have not been great at man-defense at times, particularly on screens. This is something that should get better with more reps and experience. Baylor left shooters open against Vanderbilt too often this weekend on fairly simple ball screens. Here is a great look by Rush The Court on the Bears "New wrinkle".
I would disagree that this is actually a wrinkle. This is a change in the Bears defense for this year, but not a change in their overall philosophy. Baylor's personnel in 2015-16 is more effective in a man defense than it has been in the past. Lester Medford is an aggressive defender, ranking 15th in the nation with a 5.1% steal percentage.
Taurean Prince and Ish Wainright on the wings brings two athletic players that can play both inside and outside, and both rebound at a very high level. One key for the Bears defensive turn-around the past two seasons has been their defensive rebounding, in a zone or man defense. In 2013 and 2014, the Bears ranked 214th in defensive rebounding percentage. Last year, they improved to 189th. This year, they are all the way up to 56th.
The simple fact is, the Bears have not allowed a team to score 75 points or more on them since the 2014 season. It is a stretch of 53 games, and with their man-to-man defense taking on a larger part of their scheme, we can expect that to continue for a while.