SCOUTING THE BEARS
Long. Balanced. Athletic. Deep. Those are just some of the attributes of the sixth-ranked Baylor Bears, who play an uptempo game that produces 80 points per outing. There aren't many holes in head coach Bryce Drew's lineup, which features five players averaging in double figures and a ten-man rotation that provides plenty of pieces to mix and match.
The Bear frontcourt is a nightmare of match-ups for opponents. Inside force Quincy Acy (6-7) averages 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, and dominates at the rim. Fifty-one percent of his career field goals have come on dunks, according to Baylor's official basketball Twitter account, which helps explain his 63% field goal shooting percentage. He doesn't force shots (zero three-point attempts), is an outstanding defender (29 blocks and nine steals) and would be the go-to guy on most teams. That's not the case in Waco, however, as fellow frontcourter Perry Jones (6-11) leads the team with a 16.2 points per game average. Jones sat out the first five games of the season to complete an NCAA suspension, but has been excellent since his return. He's hitting almost 69% of his shots and snares 5.8 boards per outing.
As if that was't enough production, freshman Quincy Miller (6-9) has elbowed his way into the starting lineup and averages 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He's not quite as efficient from the field, but gives the front line a three-point threat and another defensive presence with 12 blocks. Primary backup Anthony "Ant" Jones (6-10) adds 8.3 points and 4.5 rebounds percontest, while Cory Jefferson (6-9) averages 6.6 points in 17 minutes per game off the bench, and also adds defensive support with 25 blocks. In all, this is likely the best front court West Virginia will face this season.
The guards are no slouches either. Brady Heslip provides scoring punch from the perimeter, hitting 45% of this threes on the way to a 10.0 ppg average. A.J. Watson is the distributor and playmaker, dishing out 4.2 assists per game, while Pierre Jackson comes off the bench to average 11.5 points per outing. Jackson gets more minutes than either of the starters, and is an excellent shooter, hitting 58% from the field and 90% from the free throw line. Also contributing is highly-regarded freshman Deuce Bello, who has been able to ease his transition to Division I in a backup role, contributing 5.4 points per game. And if all that weren't enough, Gary Franklin, who recently completed an eight game transfer sit-out period, has averaged 6.0 points in 14 minutes of action per contest.
While Baylor's schedule might not look impressive to some, these are no paper tigers (or Bears.) They don't have many apparent weaknesses, and are going to be a handful for a Mountaineer team that will struggle to match up defensively.
WVU 9-2, 0-0
BU 11-0, 0-0
WVU - 46
BU - 34
How will WVU battle the long, rangy Bear front line? Clearly, the individual match-ups go in Baylor's favor. If the Bears get the ball inside to Jones and Acy, West Virginia is in serious trouble. The Mountaineers will have to rely on defensive rebounding to limit second chances. Baylor's front court had 75 offensive boards through ten games, and they can't be allowed to play volleyball on the glass. Rebounding will have to be a team effort, as WVU's Kevins -- Jones and Noreen -- aren't high leapers that can simply soar above foes to get the ball. Wings will be important -- Keaton Miles and Aaron Brown will have to box out, and even the guards will have to get in on the act. Dominique Rutledge, who has played just 14 minutes all season, may also be a factor, and he will have to put forth his best performance to give the Mountaineers a chance.
Offensively, West Virginia will need to get some transition points, because Baylor might be better defensively than it is offensively -- and that's saying a lot. BU has yielded just 57 points per game to its opponents, and is allowing only a 34% success rate on opposing field goal tries. Without Kilicli, the Mountaineers aren't going to be able to post up and score consistently. Jones will get a few putbacks as usual, but the Mountaineers can't rely on a massive offensive rebounding edge as they did against last night's Bears.
That leaves perimeter shooting, where the pressure will fall on Jones, Truck Bryant and Brown. Jones has gotten good three-point looks in recent games, but hasn't been able to knock one down since Dec. 8, which has dropped his season percentage from distance to just 19.5%. He'll have to break out of that slump, and Bryant and Brown will have to add their own makes, if WVU is to have any chance in this contest. The one bright spot is that the latter duo combined for eight bombs against Missouri State, so they at least seem to have the range at Orleans Arena.
West Virginia overcame another poor assist-to-turnover ratio to knock off Missouri State, but a repeat performance against Baylor likely won't result in the same outcome. The Mountaineers turned the ball over 17 times on Thursday, and a number of those were simply bad decisions and giveaways. WVU will have to have every chance it can get on offense against Baylor, and will need to keep that number around ten or so in order to maximize offensive chances.
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Aaron Brown and Paul Williamson are a combined 21-38 from three-point range (55.3%) for WVU. The rest of the Mountaineers are 42-158 (26.5%).
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Baylor is the only Division I school in the nation with both men's and women's basketball teams undefeated -- a combined 23-0. Since Nov. 1, Baylor's big three sports are a combined 28-0, as the football team finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak.
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Missouri State was just the 23rd opponent of Bob Huggins' career at WVU to shoot higher than 50% from the field. The Bears made 53.8% of their shots in last night's overtime loss.
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Baylor is one of only six undefeated Division I teams remaining - Indiana, Louisville, Marquette, Missouri, Murray State and Syracuse are the others. WVU will play four of them by season's end. Baylor can match its all-time best start with a win against WVU. The Bears ran off 12 consecutive victories to start the 2000-01 season.