SCOUTING THE BEARS
The view from here was that Baylor was a bit underrated in the preseason, but no one foresaw it running off 15 consecutive victories to start the season. The Bears own wins over Oregon, Michigan State, VCU, Louisville and Xavier, and have fended off strong challenges from Iowa State and Oklahoma State in the league to post an early 3-0 mark.
One of Baylor's chief physical attributes is its length – a continuation of a theme from previous Bear squads who have posted very successful campaigns. The team is loaded with players that have great wingspans and reach – combine that with a bounciness that few foes can match, and you have a team primed to succeed in rebounding and on defense.
Junior Johnathan Motley (6-10 230 lbs.) has been the leader of this group, earning back-to-back Big 12 player of the week honors. He's averaging 15.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, and is an across the board contributor. He's second on the team in blocked shots, third in shooting percentage and fourth in assists. Juco transfer Jo Lual-Acuil (7-0, 220 lbs.) has been an impenetrable lane defender, rejecting 52 shots while adding 10.7 points and 7.1 rebounds. Senior guard Ismail Wanwright, a stalwart from past Bear teams, has seen his scoring productivity dip to 5.5 points per game, but his offensive direction has been stellar in piling up 57 assists against just 13 turnovers. WVU must not overreact to Wainwright drives, and instead make shooting his first option rather than driving and dishing.
Another transfer, junior Manu Lecomte, has been a huge boost on the perimeter. Lecomte (5-11, 175 lbs.) hit a game-winning shot against Oklahoma State, and stands second on the squad with 11.8 points per game. He has also effectively teamed with Wainwright in running the offense, as he has 74 assists against just 30 turnovers. Familar face Al Freeman (Jr., 6-3, 200 lbs.) rounds out the starting lineup, and brings even more experience along with 11.1 points per game.
Off the bench, the Bears get significant contributions and even more court coverage from Terry Maston 6-8, 230 lbs.), who adds 8.2 points per game, and Jake Lindsay (6-5, 200 lbs.), who averages more than 20 minuter per game. In all nine different Bears can be expected to see significant action.
Baylor is hitting on all cylinders now, with every move that head coach Scott Drew makes seeming to bring positive results. Baylor can put a very tall lineup on the floor, or it can add in athletic wings that are as tall or taller than many foes. It is making almost 50% of its shots on the year, and has five legitimate 3-point shooting threats – making for a very tough defensive match-up.
|WVU (13-2 / 2-1) vs. Baylor (15-0 / 3-0)||Tue Jan 10||7:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: BU 7-3|
|RPI: WVU - 39 BU - 2||TV: ESPN2||Sirius/XM: 83/199|
Against some teams, West Virginia can make its press effective by denying the ball to one or two players. This tactic likely won't be effective against the Bears, as they have two ballhandlers to lean on, plus several tall targets who can go up high to get passes over the press. Look for WVU to try to trap in some situations against Lecomte, who hasn't seen the Mountaineer press before, and also to try to force Lual-Acuil and Matson to dribble the ball. Also key will be West Virginia's rallying to defend the three. With so many players capable of hitting shots, WVU must get back quickly and identify shooters as they spot up – Baylor will be looking to take advantage of the press for some open shots from distance. Watch BU as it gets the ball across the midcourt line – if the numbers are even, shooters will be spotting up.
The rebounding battle will also be critical. Even boxing out isn't always effective, as the Bears can reach over (usually without fouling) to tip balls and keep them alive or control them off the glass. WVU guards can't leak out early – this game will take a full team effort to win the fight for missed shots. While the comparison of the big man rebounding totals is an obvious marker, a look at the nubmers from the guards and wings might be more telling. WVU's Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip, Daxter Miles and Teyvon Myers must at least equal the number of boards frabed by Freeman, Wainwright, Lindasy and Lecomte.
A win here would also be a monster boost for WVU's RPI, and would go a long way in negating any lingering issues with the strength of West Virginia's schedule. While the RPI's impact has lessened a bit in recent years (incredibly, the committee also uses ESPN's BPI), there's no doubt that wins over Top Five teams will go a long way in helping with seeding decisions in the NCAA tournament. WVU's home wins over Kansas the last three seasons are Exhibit A in that regard.
Over the past three seasons, Baylor is 16-13 on the road in the Big 12, the second best mark in the league behind Kansas. WVU (14-15) is third over the same span.
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WVU has a quite respectable 4-8 record all-time against #1 teams. The last victory in that category came less than a year ago, when the Mountaineers knocked off Kansas on Jan. 12, 2016 at the Coliseum.
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Baylor's defense isn't just limited to shot blocking. The Bears are disrupting opposing offenses, and forcing them to work the ball repeatedly for shots. BU foes are averaging 18.6 seconds per possession, which was in the top five nationally last week.
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WVU is, expectedly, a perfect 12-0 when it scores 80 or more points. Oddly, it is 0-2 when it scores in the 70-79 range, but 1-0 when held below 70.
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Did Baylor's Johnathn Motley improve that much during the offseason, or was he just waiting his turn behind Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince, who had very high usage rates? Motley managed just three points in 31 minutes against the Mountaineers last year.