Baylor is looking for another 20-win season, and K-State is looking for a semblance of positivity in this season. Nonetheless, we sit down with five quick questions for PocketChange over at Our Daily Bears to see dish the latest dirt on our basketball teams, and see how we think the game will play out today.
BOTC: I'm going to admit, I have a man-crush on Rico Gathers. I love the way the dude plays ball. He's the only player in the Big 12 averaging a double-double, and his 12.2rpg is a full FOUR BOARDS ahead of #2 Devin Williams (WVU). Gathers has 115 more rebounds on the season than Williams. 115! Bets say he'll eventually break Brian Skinner's career rebounding record of 915, as Rico has 870 right now as a junior with at least 5 games left in this season. Good chance he does it this year yet. Where does he stand amongst the all-time best at Baylor?
ODB: Everyone has a crush one way or the other on Gathers. Where does he stand among the all-time great Bears? I’ll admit up front that I’m not much of an historian of Baylor basketball, but excepting the 1950s when Baylor played in two championship games, there isn’t much to boast of in Baylor’s history. The top tier of Bears in the Scott Drew era, though, would include LaceDarius Dunn, the best shooter in school history, Ekpe Udoh, the highest draft selection, Curtis Jerrells, one of Drew’s first truly impactful players, and Quincy Acy, the leader of the winningest team and class in school history. Dunn, Udoh, and Acy were all on the Baylor team that came very close to beating eventual-national-champion Duke in the 2010 Elite Eight. That was probably the best Baylor team ever in terms of success and talent. I’m not going to try to rank those guys, and I’m not even sure how to determine who is number one, but that’s the group that Gathers is trying to get into.
Right now, Gathers has a Sweet Sixteen under his belt, which would be the third best Tourney run for Baylor in the modern era. Gathers was, however, a backup last season, not a starter. What he’s done on the glass is, as you point out, historic. He’s improving offensively, and not all his points are coming from second-chance opportunities or the free throw line, which used to be the only way he could score. I don’t think Gathers is quite in the tier of players I listed above, but he has one more year to get there. He’s still another deep Tourney run and a senior season away from having the resume to equal those of Baylor’s best.
BOTC: This question isn't necessarily about Baylor, but anyway...54-49 at Texas Tech the other night, and an OT win at TCU earlier this year. Is it just me, or is Texas Tech and TCU legitimately better this year than in the past?
ODB: I would say TCU is certainly better than last season. TCU has won multiple Big 12 games for the first time in its history, after all. While they’ve been feisty, Tech actually has a much worse conference record (they won 6 Big 12 games last year), and had one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the country. Tech does have a couple of freshman that could develop into solid program players, though, and they gave Baylor all they could handle. Gathers was sick on Tuesday’s game and so had a pretty low impact, but the Red Raiders scrapped and fought on defense to keep Baylor from getting any easy points. Trent Johnson has TCU trending in the right direction, and Tubby Smith has a couple of intriguing pieces. We’ll see how those programs continue to grow.
BOTC: Baylor is the #1 offensive rebounding team (percentage-basis) in the country. Outside of shooting beyond the arc, though, the Bears are futile at best, and horrendous at worst, shooting the basketball. Is the offensive board the crux of the Baylor offense? Is it really as simple as "keep the Bears off the glass, and you keep them off the scoreboard?”
ODB: Almost, but not quite. In the three games in which Baylor has recorded single-digit offensive rebounds (which is sort of a crazy stat in itself), Baylor has come away the winner. Those games were on the road against South Carolina and Tech and at home against Oklahoma. In all three of those games Baylor scored under 70 points, scoring 69 twice and 54 the third time. Keeping Baylor off the boards wasn’t quite enough for those teams, although in the Tech game the lack of offensive rebounding certainly depressed Baylor’s offensive output.
However, if you look at the correlations provided by KenPom, effective field goal percentage has a correlation of +68, and offensive rebounding rate +63, where a 100 means that offensive efficiency correlates exactly with that stat (Or something like that. My statistics knowledge is second-hand and pretty rudimentary). In other words, offensive rebounding is almost as important to Baylor’s offense as making shots. If a team can keep Baylor off the offensive glass, it’s got a good chance they’ll keep the Bears under 70 and a moderate chance to keep them at or under 60.
BOTC: How has this Bears team improved since the first meeting in Manhattan? How has it regressed?
ODB: In the big picture ways, not a lot has changed about Baylor over the course of the season, which I suppose is probably expected for a blue-collar team. They sort of are what they are: an aggressive zone defense and a physical, grind-it-out offense.
Individually, Taurean Prince continues to grow into a go-to scorer. He can get his own shot off the dribble against the right matchup, and his success from outside has continued. Against Tech, Prince was the only Bear who could do anything offensively, scoring 18 points in the first half and 22 on the game. Lester Medford and Kenny Chery have both improved the consistency of their jump shots, and Gathers has found a semblance of an offensive move with a right-handed running hook shot.
Where there has been some slippage since going to Manhattan is in energy. There have been a couple of games, including both against OK-State, where the defense has become too passive. Consistency with energy is a struggle for any college basketball team, but for a team that wins games in large part because of energy, it’s particularly devastating for Baylor when they lack it.
BOTC: Prediction? What does K-State need to do - besides not go AWOL mentally - to come away with a win in Waco?
ODB: Oklahoma State beat Baylor at home by quickly swinging the ball side-to-side on into the high post and short corner to Le’Bryan Nash. And by making an obnoxious amount of threes, as is their wont. Defensively, the Cowboys pressured Baylor’s guards at the top of the key, and that really hindered the Bears in running their offense. Kansas State will probably have to do something similar. Nino Williams will have to have a big game inside, Thomas Gipson will have to limit Gathers on the glass, and Marcus Foster will have to hit a couple of big shots from deep.
Baylor’s been good at home, especially from three. Cher was the only Bear to shoot a decent percentage from three last time these teams played, and I expect that to change. If Gathers has recovered from his sickness and returned to full strength, I foresee a Baylor victory. K-State 59 - Baylor 68.