Know Your Unpredictable Rival: Baylor

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We tend to typically look at things in terms of "Mizzou versus Mizzou," but a good portion of this game will be decided by "Baylor versus Baylor.  Baylor is a team with a handful of distinct, well-defined advantages in this game ... but they've had distinct, well-defined advantages against just about every opponent on their schedule, and right now they're 17-9 against a semi-weak schedule and on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA Tournament bubble.  They are scary in that they are athletic and interesting enough to turn it on randomly (they did win at Texas A&M a couple of weeks ago and throw a late scare into Texas in Austin), but they are as or more likely to lay an egg (they lost at home to Texas Tech on Saturday).  The standard deviation here is huge, and it's a little frightening.

Baylor (17-9)


BU
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
66.3
Points Per Minute
1.78 1.57
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.08 0.95
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.37 1.17
2-PT FG% 52.7% 44.9%
3-PT FG% 35.6% 35.0%
FT% 69.4% 68.1%
True Shooting % 57.2% 51.3%




BU Opp.
Assists/Gm 12.3 12.2
Steals/Gm 7.4 8.3
Turnovers/Gm 15.9 15.2
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.24 1.34




BU Opp.
Expected Off. Reb./Gm 10.8 12.0
Offensive Reb./Gm
11.7 10.2
Difference +0.9 -1.8

All or Nothing

Baylor shoots well, rebounds very well, and has some incredible length ... they also turn the ball over a crippling amount, they can't win the ball control battle, they have little to no bench, and they are extremely inexperienced outside of LaceDarius Dunn.  In very few categories are they average in any way.  As would be expected, this results in some impressive variance from game to game.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

BU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

BU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 66 45 MU
Effective FG% 35 127 BU
Turnover % 315 14 MU Big
Off. Reb. % 32 278 BU Big
FTA/FGA 39 213 BU Big
MU Offense vs BU Defense Ranks

MU Offense BU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 17 64 MU
Effective FG% 33 111 MU
Turnover % 12 75 MU
Off. Reb. % 136 62 BU
FTA/FGA 273 87 BU Big

Where the Bears are weakest:

Where to start?  Well, for starters, they can't hold onto the ball.  They are the second-worst major-conference team in the country in terms of both Off. TO% and Off. Steal% (only South Florida is worse).  Their point guard situation is a debacle.  They rank 286th in terms of Off. A/FGM, meaning all of their points come off of one-on-one situations or putbacks.  They rank 332nd in Pomeroy's Bench Minutes measure and 238th in Experience.  In other words, their stats suggest they are potentially the least-equipped team in the conference when it comes to handling a swarming Mizzou team at Mizzou Arena.

In all, Baylor's a decent defensive team, though they give up a few too many 3-pointers (185th in Def. 3PT%), mostly via crisp passing (198th in Def. A/FGM).  If Mizzou is handling the ball with much more focus than they did against Iowa State, they should dominate the BCI battle and get some open looks from outside, forcing Baylor to completely manhandle Mizzou on the glass to have a chance.

Where they are strongest:

Make no mistake, Baylor could manhandle Mizzou on the glass.  They rank third in the conference in offensive rebounding, fourth in defensive rebounding.  The silver lining, of course, is that Mizzou matched wits with the two teams ranked above Baylor on the offensive glass (Kansas State, Texas A&M) ... but neither of those teams have as much pure height as the Bears.  Mizzou has fared well against some solid rebounding teams, but the ones with pure height (Illinois, Nebraska) have given them more trouble.  As a whole, Mizzou's system fares perfectly well without a 7-footer (they did, after all, beat both Illinois and Nebraska ... kind of an important point), but it does force them to win the ball control battle.

...which they should do against Baylor.

Other Baylor strengths: they get good looks on offense (25th in Off. 2PT%, 87th in Off. 3PT%), never get shots blocked (sixth in Off. Block%), force some turnovers (12th in Def. TO%, 76th in Def. Steal%), and obstruct a lot of shots (53rd in Def. Block%, 69th in Def. 2PT%).  You can get good looks against them, particularly on the outside, but you have to pass well to do it.

Results

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    No. 42 Nebraska, 74-70
    at No. 44 Texas A&M, 76-74 (OT)
    No. 63 Colorado, 70-66
    No. 83 Oklahoma State, 76-57
    No. 120 Arizona State, 68-54
    at No. 123 Texas Tech, 71-59
    No. 133 Oklahoma, 74-61
    No. 157 Lipscomb, 72-60
    No. 188 La Salle, 74-64
    No. 246 Morgan State, 89-72
    No. 259 Texas Southern, 68-60
    No. 274 Jackson State, 63-49
    No. 287 Bethune Cookman, 83-39
    vs No. 291 San Diego, 83-50
    No. 338 Grambling, 87-52
    No. 340 Prairie View A&M, 90-45
    Wayland Baptist 64-50
  • Losses
    No. 3 Kansas, 65-85
    at No. 4 Texas, 60-69
    at No. 38 Kansas State, 61-69
    vs No. 40 Florida State, 61-68
    vs No. 49 Gonzaga, 64-68
    vs No. 54 Washington State, 71-77
    at No. 78 Iowa State, 57-72
    No. 123 Texas Tech, 69-78
    at No. 133 Oklahoma, 66-73

By my count, Baylor is 1-5 playing more than 350 miles from Waco.  So we've got THAT going for us.

It's been a 'two steps forward, two steps back' conference season for the Bears.  Beat Tech and Oklahoma, lose to Iowa State and get whipped by Kansas.  Beat Oklahoma State and Colorado, lose at Oklahoma.  Beat Texas A&M and Nebraska and play well against Texas ... lose to Tech at home.  Hopefully the 'second' step backwards following the Tech loss is a loss at Mizzou Arena.

Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
LaceDarius Dunn (6'4, 200, Sr.) 17.1 0.49 35.1 MPG, 20.8 PPG (47.2% 2PT, 39.2% 3PT, 83.2% FT), 4.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 3.5 TOPG
Perry Jones III (6'11, 235, Fr.) 14.9 0.44 33.8 MPG, 14.3 PPG (58.7% 2PT, 64.2% FT), 7.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, 2.1 TOPG
Quincy Acy (6'7, 225, Jr.) 14.0 0.45 31.2 MPG, 12.4 PPG (53.5% 2PT, 69.2% FT), 7.5 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 2.1 TOPG
Anthony Jones (6'10, 190, Jr.) 9.8 0.33 29.7 MPG, 8.5 PPG (61.9% 2PT, 36.1% 3PT, 82.3% FT), 5.5 RPG, 1.6 TOPG
A.J. Walton (6'1, 185, So.) 8.9 0.27 32.9 MPG, 8.2 PPG (44.1% 2PT, 20.6% 3PT, 63.0% FT), 5.0 APG, 3.2 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 3.6 TOPG
Fred Ellis (6'6, 215, Jr.) 3.3 0.20 16.4 MPG, 3.8 PPG (48.2% 2PT, 25.9% 3PT, 78.1% FT), 2.4 RPG, 1.1 TOPG
J'mison Morgan (6'11, 265, Jr.) 2.9 0.25 11.8 MPG, 2.8 PPG (50.0% 2PT, 38.5% FT), 2.2 RPG, 1.1 BPG
Nolan Dennis (6'6, 175, So.) 1.5 0.18 8.3 MPG, 2.4 PPG (56.3% 2PT, 23.1% 3PT, 50.0% FT)
Stargell Love (6'3, 175, Fr.) 0.8 0.07 11.9 MPG, 1.9 PPG, 1.6 APG, 1.5 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls.  It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Dunn (31%), P. Jones III (21%), Acy (21%)
  • Highest Floor%: P. Jones III (45%), Acy (42%), A. Jones (41%)
  • Highest %Pass: Walton (71%), Love (71%), Ellis (47%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Acy (43%), P. Jones III (42%), Morgan (42%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Morgan (24%), Acy (22%), Dennis (20%)
  • Highest %TO: Morgan (13%), Dennis (13%), Acy (11%), A. Jones (11%)
  • LaceDarius Dunn is the best and worst thing Baylor's got going.  He's one of the most high-usage players in the country, and he takes 33.1% of his team's shots (26th most in the country), but while his efficiency numbers are solid, they're not that good.  When you've got Perry Jones III on your side, you probably don't need somebody else eating up one-third of your possessions.
  • Let's put it another way: Clarence Gilbert's Usage rate oscillated between about 25-26% his junior and senior seasons.  Dunn shoots more (and a little better) and passes less than Gilbert.  How annoyed do you think Mizzou fans would have gotten at times if Gilbert was taking shots instead of a Perry Jones-style talent?
  • P. Jones III & Quincy Acy an interesting combination -- they both draw fouls and represent well (but not amazing) on the glass.  Jones is not much of a shot blocker for his size, but he's an efficient shooter and is decent away from the basket.  A few times per game, he shows all of the athleticism and upside that make people think he might be the No. 1 player in the NBA Draft.  Typically, it's just a few times in a game (10 & 7 versus Texas Tech, 13 & 6 versus Texas, 11 & 8 versus Kansas State), but occasionally, he goes crazy -- 27 & 7 versus Texas A&M, 24 & 8 versus Oklahoma State, 25 & 7 versus Oklahoma.  In some ways, he plays like a longer Laurence Bowers -- good on the offensive glass, effective-if-awkward-looking jumper -- which could make for some interesting matchups.
  • Anthony Jones is an underrated player; awkward matchup, reasonably efficient shooter.  He roams perimeter too much (6% OR rate), but considering he'll be 4-5 inches taller than the player often matched up against him (Kim English)
  • Extremely thin backcourt, extremely deep frontcourt.  Foul trouble could be interesting.  Baylor's backcourt (Walton averages 3.2 fouls) vs Mizzou's frontcourt.  Both teams have distinct depth advantages and disadvantages, and the way the game is called (and which teams are more offensively aggressive) could determine who has their preferred lineup on the court late.
  • That's right, Dunn and A.J. Walton combine for 7.1 turnovers per game.

Keys to the Game

  1. Round Three.  For those who follow Rock M, you know how I love a good boxing analogy.  For Missouri games, Rounds 3 and 8 (the 12:00 to 8:00 minute marks of each half) are typically most important, as that is when the bench players are spelling the starters.  Mizzou tends to win these rounds at home and lose them on the road.

    Bench play is one of the things that separates Mizzou's home and road play -- at home, Justin Safford, Steve Moore, Ricky Kreklow and Matt Pressey average 15.3 points on 42% shooting, 5.0 assists and 10.0 rebounds per game; on the road: 13.7 points on 34% shooting, 2.7 assists and 8.5 rebounds (and this says nothing of the extreme difference in Mike Dixon's level of play in and away from Mizzou Arena).  Against a tall but thin Baylor squad, the Mizzou bench could soften up the Bears significantly with good performances in the middle of each half.  Without strong bench play, Mizzou can still win ... but they will have blown a huge opportunity.

  2. Ball Control and Boards.  Baylor has the size advantage, and I don't expect Missouri to win the rebounding battle.  But there's a difference between being minus-4 and minus-10 in terms of expected rebounds.  Mizzou is plus-0.5 exp. rebounds per game in wins, minus-6.5 in losses.  At minus-3 or better, I think Mizzou wins this game.  Worse, and things might get dicey.

    The reason Mizzou can lose the rebounding battle at least a bit and still potentially win comfortably is ball control.  In terms of assists, steals and turnovers, Mizzou holds a significant -- and at Mizzou Arena, potentially devastating -- advantage, especially if they avoid the sloppy, lack-of-focus turnovers that hurt them against Iowa State.  You neutralize a rebounding disadvantage by getting more easy looks than your opponent, and clearly turnovers are a direct route to that for Mizzou.

  3. The 3-Ball.  Mizzou has been making 2-pointers at a more and more effective rate in recent weeks, but against Baylor's zone there's a good chance that this game comes down to who makes their 3-pointers.  The Tigers should get some open looks, particularly on the wing.

Prediction

This is over-simplifying things a bit, but if you're looking for good or bad signs early in the game, try this: sometime early on, LaceDarius Dunn will take a semi ill-advised 3-pointer (or 3-pointers).  If it goes in, Missouri could be in trouble.  If it misses, and Baylor gets the putback, Mizzou might be in trouble.  If it misses and Missouri grabs the rebound, the Tigers are in good shape.

Meanwhile, on the other end, Kim English should get a couple of decent looks from long-range early on as well.  If he makes them, Mizzou's in business.

Bottom line: Mizzou could run away with this game if they make their open looks and settle into their press (therefore wearing Baylor down a bit), if they at least don't get dominated on the glass, and if the bench gives them something decent.  But at the same time, if Baylor is playing smart, managing their turnovers, and hitting the glass hard, they could win on Missouri's -- or anybody else's -- home court.

Just like there is danger in taking on the crazy guy in a fight, there is fear in playing Baylor.  At any moment, the Bears could wake up and remind everybody why they were so highly-touted in the pre-season.  That said, the odds are in Missouri's favor -- in fact, I'll go ahead and predict a 75-65 Missouri victory.  Survive this one, and you give yourself a puncher's chance at third in the conference.  Slip up -- or just get swarmed by an angry, poked bear -- and it could still be a struggle to get to 8-8 in conference.  Big game.

 

---

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