A lot has changed since Baylor walked out of Lubbock with a 68-60 victory back in January. For one- eight Baylor players had the Coronavirus within weeks of the game, and as such the program had to shut down for three weeks before finally returning against a horrible Iowa State game on February 23rd. Since then they finally lost for the first time all year, and their advanced metrics have taken a hit. With all that said- they are still Baylor, and their team is still loaded with talent.
On the other end, Texas Tech has seemingly found their stride in the last four games. Their offense is flowing better than ever, the defense is coming off their best four game stretch since December, and individuals like Kyler Edwards and Micah Peavy are playing their best basketball of the season. This game has all the makings of a March Madness preview, so let’s dive right in:
Baylor Bears (20-1) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (17-8)
Location: Ferrell Center (Waco, Texas)
Game time: 3:00 CST
Odds: Baylor -8
Kenpom Ranking: 3rd
Three things to know:
- Baylor has the best backcourt trio in the nation in my opinion. Jared Butler will get a lot of the hype, and deservedly so, as he was the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, but he does not lead the team in assists. That would be Davion Mitchell, who averages 5.6 per game while also shooting above 40% from three. MaCio Teague is more of an offball and secondary ball-handler threat, but he is still lethal as a scorer and is really physical for the role he plays. All three guys are positive defenders as well, with Mitchell being one of the best point of attack defenders nationally and probably the single best reactive defender that Tech will face this year.
- Baylor was top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency for most of the year, but they have fallen off on the defensive side of things as of late. Baylor is only 137th in defensive efficiency since February 1st, with an average rating (100) that is higher than what they allowed in any of their first eight individual conference games.
- Vital and Jonathan Tchama Tchatchoua are two of the highest energy guys in the league. JTT is elite at getting rebounds and dunks, while Vital is the best glue guy in the country. Neither are floor spacers, but both will have a huge influence in determining the outcome of this game.
Three stats to watch:
- Three-point shooting. Baylor is shooting 42% from three on the year, which leads the nation, and they still have five rotation guys shooting over 40% from deep. That is incredible. Continuing to play solid defense from the outside will be critical for the Red Raiders. In the last five games Tech has allowed opponents to shoot only 27% from three, which is much better than their efforts earlier in the year.
- Offensive rebounding. Baylor was really good on the glass early in the year, but has slowed down as of late. They had been top ten in OREB% entering the Tech game in January, but now they are only 33rd. Still, it is imperative that Tech controls the glass in this one to avoid giving Baylor’s lethal shooters more opportunities.
- Turnovers forced. Tech has been decent with not turning the ball over this year (44th lowest turnover percentage nationally), but Baylor is number three nationally in forcing turnovers for a reason. Mitchell, Mayer, and Butler are all great havoc defenders, and Vital is also a threat to force offball turnovers as well. This is a game where Tech really needs to share the ball without committing dumb turnovers. Tech had 20 turnovers to only five assists in the first matchup, which was probably the single biggest reason why they lost.
Kenpom Ranking: 20th
Three things to know:
- Kyler Edwards is playing the best basketball of his career in the last seven games. He’s made 14 of his last 23 threes, has 23 assists to only eight turnovers in that stretch, and has three separate games with three steals to boot. I wrote an article earlier in the year on the impact he makes outside of the box score, but lately his impact has been tremendous just by looking at the numbers. As Kyler continues to gain confidence, so will this team, and I am very curious if he can bring this newfound confidence into the tournament with him.
- Micah Peavy has looked really good as of late. The transition offense is still where he gets most of his points from, but his halfcourt playmaking has picked up tremendously since Tech came back from an 11 day break. This was encapsulated in his four assist game against Texas. He has ten assists in the last three games after having just nine in the first 13 conference matches, and the film indicates that he looks a lot more comfortable operating in the halfcourt.
- Mac McClung broke out of a month long slump vs. Iowa State. He had his first 20 point outing since the Kansas State game, and put up his highest Box Plus-Minus total since the thrilling win over LSU on January 30th. McClung will get his points in this one, but the efficiency that he operates with will be much more indicative of how he plays than the raw point total.
Three stats to watch:
- Three-point shooting. Tech has not shot the ball well from deep this year, but the first game against Baylor was abysmal in that sense. They shot 6-24 from deep, and a lot of the misses were on open catch-and-shoot looks. Tech does not need to be world beaters from beyond the arch to win this game, but at least shooting 30% or better would help quite a bit.
- Turnovers. Tech had 20 turnovers in the first matchup against Baylor. Those turnovers offset what was a phenomenal defensive showing by the Red Raiders, and unfortunately they bought Baylor enough time to develop some halfcourt offense. Committing another 20 turnovers and giving Baylor several easy transition opportunities would be a complete disaster in this one.
- Assists. Tech has put up at least 13 assists in three straight games, and the ball movement has picked up tremendously since the five assist showing vs. Baylor in Lubbock. Continuing to move the ball well in this one would do wonders in breaking down Baylor’s pesky defense.