Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Baylor Bears
Baylor is one of those teams that is better than its record appears. Four losses mar BU’s dossier to date, but all of those are to Top 25 teams, making it a dangerous squad that can certainly compete for a top tier Big 12 finish and a spot in the NCAA tournament.
SCOUTING THE BEARS
At 11-4, Baylor is just outside the Top 25, but it can make a case to be in. BU’s losses are to Xavier, Wichita State, TCU and Texas Tech — all teams in the Top 16 in the nation, and that have a combined record of 55-7. Wins over Wisconsin, Creighton and Texas are the most impressive on the current resume, but the rest of the wins don’t move the RPI needle as much, as none of them have come in true road venues.The Bears have the opportunity to change that with the West Virginia contest.
The Bears have a veteran lineup, with ten players over the age of 20 and five who are older than 22, but they have had that leadership and experience tested in the face of several injuries. Forward Terry Maston missed six games due to a broken hand, and Manu Lecomte, Jo Lual-Acuil, Tyson Jolly and Mark Vital have also missed contests. The Bears had their first practices and games last week with their entire roster available — another harbinger of greater success during the league season.
Lecomte (Sr., 5-11, 175 lbs.) and Lual-Acuil (Sr., 7-0, 225 lbs.) lead the Baylor scoring attack with 16.8 and 16.1 points per contest. Lecomte directs the offense and is deadly from the free throw line, making 91.4% of his attempts, while Lual-Acuil is a bouncy, athletic shooter and offensive rebounder who converts second chances into points. He has more than a quarter of Baylor’s offensive rebounding output, and must be checked every time a shot goes up.
Junior guard King McClure (6-3, 215 lbs.) and senior forward Nuni Omot (6-9, 205 lbs.) also add double-digit scoring at 10.4 and 10.3 points, respectively. The wildcard here is Maston another senior who has returned from injury in a backup role and provided a huge boost with 10.4 points and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes per outing. He’s lengthened Baylor’s effective rotation to eight players and provided support across the board.
True freshman Tristan Clark (6-9, 240 lbs.) has benefited from the attention paid to the experienced players around him, and is averaging 8.1 points and 5.5 boards per game, while Vital (G, 6-5, 230 lbs.) is a swingman who also returned from some missed time to provide BU with 7.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest.
Baylor’s athleticism, height and reach has always paid dividends on the boards, and for this year’s team its no different. That clash with WVU, which also prides itself on board work, will be a key element to track in Tuesday night’s game. That’s a battle the Bears won handily last year, and 0ne that has certainly been a focus of Bob Huggins’ preparation of his team.
|WVU (14-1) vs. BU (11-4)||Tue Jan 9||7:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: BU 8-4|
|RPI: WVU – 14 BU- 88||TV: ESPN2||Sirius/XM: 83 / 83|
The Bears average nearly eight more rebounds per game than their opponents, and are in the top-third nationally in offensive rebounding (9.6 per game). WVU is even higher, standing third in the country with 13.3, but some of that advantage has to be attributed to more chances for offensive boards. Baylor shoots the ball better than WVU — with an effective FG% of 55.3%, the Bears are 39th nationally — but the upshot of this match-up is an easy one to watch. Which team can continue its success on the offensive glass, and which team can put a dent in the numbers racked up by its opponent?
Baylor presents a tough task in this area for WVU. Its lineup is filled with players who jump very well and have excellent reach. There will almost always be two or three players on the court for head coach Scott Drew who can retrieve errant shots efficiently, and West Virginia must be diligent and consistent in checking those players when shots go up. Wesley Harris must have a solid game in this play phase, and both Lamont West and Teddy Allen also have to keep rim-runners like Maston and Clark from getting putbacks and dunks off missed shots. And while WVU’s guards are always looking (rightly so) to push the ball in transition, they also have to help on the defensive glass by picking off long rebounds or tipped balls before they can be gathered up by Baylor guards. Baylor shoots it so well that they are only 200th nationally in field goal attempts per game, and while a bit of that might be due to pace, it’s just as clear that the Bears are efficient on offense, making a good number of their tries and converting on a high percentage of their second chances.
A second item to consider for this contest is West Virginia’s handling of the notoriety it gained from its number two national ranking on Monday. A recurring notion held by many is that the Mountaineers, no matter the sport (well, excepting rifle) play better as underdogs and when competing somewhat under the radar. In one respect, this didn’t hold true in Saturday’s game, where West Virginia was ranked higher than visiting Oklahoma, but there was probably more buzz surrounding the Sooners’ Trae Young than with anything WVU was doing. That won’t be the case Tuesday night, where the high ranking will get all the pregame buildup.
This will be another lesson for West Virginia’s youngish team. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles have been through this before, and seen the highs and lows that accompany national notoriety. Will that pressure have an effect on the steadily improving group of sophomores and freshmen that make up the rest of the roster?
Of course, at some point this year, WVU will lose a game, and at that juncture the fingers will be pointed and the “West Virginia can’t handle success” tropes will come out. That doesn’t automatically make it true, but it also doesn’t mean it can’t be a factor. WVU’s approach to this game, and to the rest of this year, is critical, and head coach Bob Huggins wasted no time in making that clear after the new polls dropped on Monday.
Given a minimum of two postseason games, WVU is on track to attempt 895 3-pointers this year. That would be the third-highest total in school history, trailing only the 989 and 967 launches by two of John Beilein’s teams in the 2006-07 and 2005-06 seasons, respectively.
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Baylor’s 163-68 record since 2011-12 trails only Kansas (191-45) among Big 12 teams. Iowa State (156-68) is 3rd, West Virginia (142-78) is 4th, Oklahoma (135-80) is 5th, Kansas State (133-82) is 6th, Texas (122-97) is 7th, Oklahoma State (120-91) is 8th, TCU (102-112) is 9th and Texas Tech (97-108) is 10th.
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Does every team in the Big 12 block shots at a high rate? For the second consecutive game, WVU faces a team that sends back offerings just as it does. Baylor averages 5.2 rejections for contest (#32 nationally) while the Mountaineers are one tick higher at 5.3 (31st).
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Baylor does not foul much. The Bears are committing just 15.9 per game (30th nationally), and as a result hold down opponents in a couple of ways. First, opposing teams shoot fewer free throws than normal, and convert an average of 9.4 per contest. That in turn, makes scoring from the field much more important for Baylor foes, and puts pressure on them to hit initial shots, given their propensity to rebound. West Virginia can’t settle for too many 3-point attempts, and must continue to ride the talents of Konate and Allen inside, as well as get penetration and drives from others in order to get better shots.