Who: Texas Tech (14-5, 3-4) vs. Baylor (18-1, 6-1)
Where: Waco, Texas, Ferrell Center
When: Wednesday, January 25, 7:05 p.m. (CT)
Radio: Texas Tech Sports Network
Notable: During the last two seasons Baylor is 40-4 when it takes a lead at any point in the second half of games.
Quotable: “I respect Oklahoma State. I know they’re a 0-6 team, and I understood exactly what we were getting into tonight, but I don’t think the players quite got it. It’s not calling them out in a negative way, because ultimately it’s my job to get them ready. We are a team that’s won one and lost one. Frankly, we have a great fan base here that thinks we are having a good season – a .500 season is not a good season to me. I didn’t come here to win one, lose one. Tonight, we had an opportunity to win a couple games in a row and really make a stand, and we didn’t get it done. Give Oklahoma State a lot of credit. They changed their defense tonight. They had a low-turnover game. They obviously made 68 percent of their three-point shots. At the end of the day, it’s not about what we didn’t do; it’s what they did. But to me, there is no excuse ever to get outplayed on our home floor like we did tonight. Ultimately, I take the responsibility for that.”—Chris Beard
The Baylor Bears have a fearsome won/loss record, and the list of their victims reads like the social register of college basketball: Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville, Xavier, Oklahoma and Iowa State. But when one examines the stat lines for individual players, there’s not a whole lot outside of Jo Lual-Acuil’s shot blocking and maybe Jake Lindsey’s assist/turnover ratio that awes you.
In fact, there are particular numbers that make certain Bears look fairly pedestrian. Johnathan Motley, for all his acclaim, has seven more turnovers than assists. Manu Lacomte’s assist/turnover ratio is a modest two-to-one. Shooting guard Al Freeman has one more turnover than assist. Lual-Acuil’s free throw percentage is 49. Guard Ishmail Wainright shoots only 28 percent from beyond the arc. And average home attendance for what appears certain to be the best men’s basketball team in school history is only 6,300.
But then one looks at the team numbers and sees the oppressive defense that Baylor plays. Opposing teams shoot only 38 percent from the floor (No. 7 nationally). They shoot 31 percent from 3-point territory (No. 21 nationally). Baylor blocks 5.2 shots per game (No. 33 nationally). And the Bears are No. 10 in rebounding margin.
In other words, Baylor has bludgeoned their way to a No. 5 national ranking and the nation’s best RPI rating by doing it the old fashioned way—by playing stifling defense and crashing the boards.
Texas Tech head coach Christ Beard noted after his team’s most recent loss to Oklahoma State that the Red Raiders are up and down. In league play, he couldn’t be more correct. Beginning with the opening loss at Iowa State and continuing to the loss to the Cowboys, Texas Tech has alternated losses and wins. If this regular fluctuation is an iron rule for the Red Raiders, of course, they will spring a huge upset in Waco against the Bears.
And it could happen. But it’s the farthest thing from a surety.
For Texas Tech to heist a W in Nineveh-on-the-Brazos, they will have to improve in certain areas. Perimeter defense is one. Opposing teams now connect on 37 percent of their 3-pointers, which is No. 275 nationally. Baylor is not a great deep shooting team, but they are good enough to take advantage of this weakness.
Texas Tech is still plus-six in rebounding margin, but have been outrebounded in six straight games. Baylor has skilled big men in 6-foot-10 Johnathan Motley and 7-foot Jo Lual-Acuil, not to mention 6-foot-5 235-pound guard Ishmail Wainwright who boards it well. If the Red Raiders cannot do a respectable job on the defensive glass, they’ve got no shot.
And needless to say, Texas Tech’s prime talent has to play up to its potential.
Keenan Evans, who leads the Red Raiders in scoring with 14 points per game, needs to play with poise, and to score going to the hoop and knocking down whatever open jumpers come his way.
Zach Smith, who leads Tech in rebounding with eight per contest, needs to board it like a mad man and record a double-double.
Anthony Livingston and Aaron Ross, two 6-foot-8 seniors who have great strokes, need to come out on fire and stay that way.
Justin Gray and Shadell Millinghaus, the two energy guys, need to bring the amperage, and the latter must exhibit poise against a tough opponent on the road.
And finally, point guard Devon Thomas, who had an uncharacteristically poor floor game against Oklahoma State, needs to return to form. He must be a great distributor of the ball, and he must score opportunistically.
If that sounds like a tall order, it is. But that’s life in the Big 12.