For the first time this season, the Baylor Bears are on a losing streak. After a week full of losses to Kansas schools (at Kansas on Wednesday, home against Kansas State on Saturday), the Bears hit the road north to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Led by sophomore guard Jawun Evans, the Cowboys have won 5-straight games, with a win on the road against West Virginia this past weekend. They have beaten Texas Tech and Oklahoma away from home, along with victories over Arkansas and Oklahoma. First year coach Brad Underwood has the Cowboys playing their best basketball of the season, one that started Big 12 play with an 0-6 record.
Evans is the spark plug for this team, averaging a team high 18.3 points per game along with 5.4 assists and 2 steals. At 6-foot-1, Evans is one of the premier guards in the Big 12, hitting 43% of his 3-point shots and just under 80% from the free throw line.He gets to the rim with ease, as 50% of his shots this season have come at the rim, making 51.6% of them.
The one weak spot is pull up 2-point shots, which me makes 31.2% of the time. These are primarily pull up shots, ones that he has created off the dribble. In fact, out of 96 2-point jump shots, only 4 of his 30 makes have been assisted.
He is the leader of possibly the best offense in the Big 12, ranking 2nd in the nation behind only UCLA in KenPom. They are 7th in the nation in points per game at 87.2, 12th in 3-point $ (40.4%) and have attempted the 11th most free throws in the nation. This is a well-rounded offense that gets a ton of offensive rebounds when they miss, and hits their free throws.
Mitchell Solomon is one of the best rebounders in the Big 12, in terms of efficiency, ranking 6th in the nation in offensive rebound rate. With Solomon, fellow junior Jeffrey Carroll and Leyton Hammons anchoring the paint, the Cowboys have three solid post men, all around 6-8 or 6-9. What they lack in pure height, they makeup for with the brute strength of Solomon.
While their offensive rebounding is elite, they are on the other end of the spectrum at the defensive end. They are looking to press the action and tempo consistently, and sometimes are beaten on their defensive glass. They allow 33% of misses to be rebounded by the opposition, something that Baylor happens to do very well (9th in nation at 38.2% offensive rebound rate).
The key for the Cowboys is turnovers, which they get on 21.7% of possessions (26th in the nation). If you can get a shot off, it usually ends up as a foul or a 3-pointer. In fact, the Cowboys are 339th in free throws allowed. They are 331st in fouls. Over 25% of their opponents points have come at the free throw line (12th highest in the nation).
This played out as a big key in the first game as starting posts Leyton Hammonds and Mitchell Solomon both fouled out, with Solomon limited to 20 minutes of game time. Jawun Evans also only played 24 minutes due to foul trouble as well, as the Cowboys lost a halftime lead, and a lead with 10 or so minutes to go to a Baylor rally.
In the end, this is a game between the best offense and defense in the Big 12, two teams that play very different styles of play and tempo. The Cowboys want to get up and run, push the tempo and live at 3-point arc. The Bears slow the game down, take their time, and do a better job of getting inside to their post players.
The contrast of styles will be the key to this game, one the Bears need to avoid a third straight loss, and a chance to end the Cowboy winning streak at 5.