In the run up to the biggest game of the season (so far) for both of these teams, SBN Dallas's Jonathan Tjarks and I exchanged scouting reports on the teams that we cover so that our respective readerships could have the inside scoop on what to expect at tip off Friday. (In the interest of full disclosure, I think it's only fair to note that he initiated contact.) My report on the Xavier Musketeers can be found here. The following is what he told me about the Baylor Bears.
In the last 50 years, only one Baylor team (the 2009 Elite Eight squad) has advanced farther in the NCAA Tournament than the 2012 team. Yet, despite a 29-7 record, the best in school history, the Bears have undeniably had a disappointing season so far.
Somewhat improbably, Scott Drew has turned Waco into one of the premier programs on the national recruiting scene. Baylor has more length, athleticism and skill-level along the front-line than most NBA teams: Perry Jones III (6'11 235 w/ a 7'2 wingspan) has as much pure talent as Kentucky's Anthony Davis, Quincy Miller (6'9 200 w/ a 7'4 wingspan) will be a lottery pick while Quincy Acy (6'7 235 w/ a 7'3 wingspan) has played his way into NBA draft discussion as a senior. Off the bench, Cory Jefferson (6'9 230 w/ a 7' wingspan) and Anthony Jones (6'10 195 w/a 7'2 wingspan) have NBA-caliber athleticism as well. The Bears are so deep that UCLA transfer J'Mison "Bobo" Morgan, a 6'10 former McDonald's All-American, is red-shirting this season.
With a soft non-conference schedule that featured only two games over eventual NCAA Tournament teams (West Virginia, San Diego State), Baylor rolled to a 17-0 start and a No. 3 ranking in the country. However, once Big 12 play began, their conference foes easily exploited the Bears two Achilles heels -- an inability to get their front-court the ball on offense and their 1-3-1 zone on defense. Despite having by far the most talent of any team in the Big 12, Baylor finished in third with a 12-6 record, including an 0-4 mark against Kansas and Missouri.
There's a reason the 1-3-1 is such a rare defense on the college level. While the 2-3 stations four players around the perimeter to defend the three-point line and sacrifices the top of the key, which few college big men can exploit, the 1-3-1 leaves the corner 3 wide open while placing almost no ball pressure on opposing guards. Baylor's length can confuse teams who have never seen it live at first, but a well-coached team with size and shooting can easily dissect the zone.
More importantly, zones are typically used by teams to minimize athletic deficiencies. It makes zero sense for Baylor, one of the most athletic teams in the country, to bail teams out by sitting back in a zone that can't put pressure on them defensively.
Combine Drew's bizarre fascination with a gimmick defense that lets teams with far less talent stick around and his apparent inability to design an offense that features two players with All-NBA ability and you have the most frustrating coaching performance I've ever witnessed. You've got to give him credit for bringing so much talent to Waco, but if coaching is about getting the most out of your players, Drew has gotten the very least out of his team this year.
If most coaches had Perry Jones III, who can pretty much score at will on alley-oops at the rim, and Quincy Miller, who has a surprisingly advanced low-post game that pretty much no wing player in college basketball can defend, they would make sure they had enough touches to score 15-20 points a game.
Instead, Drew has decided to ride with 5'10 junior college transfer Pierre Jackson. Jackson has great handles, lightning-quick speed and an excellent pull-up J, and he can shoot Baylor in and out of games at the drop of a hat. He can make all the passes in the book, as his 5.8 assist average attests too, but he also turns it over 3.5 times a game and frequently sabotages the offense with wild one-on-one attacks at the basket.
Brady Heislip, a transfer from Boston College, is the token 6'3 white shooter and he can flat out stroke the ball as Colorado found out in the second-round. He shoots 45% from the 3 on the season and Xavier's defenders will have to mark him at all times.
Acy doesn't have the skill-set of his lottery bound teammates, but he's the toughest and most physical of the bunch. While over half of his career field goal attempts have come on dunks, he's added a mid-range jumper to his game this season. He's only 6'7, but he's Baylor's emotional leader, best rebounder and toughest low-post defender. At some point in the game, I expect he will try to summit Kenny Frease.
Baylor primarily plays four guys off the bench: Anthony Jones and Cory Jefferson, who are seldom used offensively but provide good defensive activity in the front-court, as well as AJ Walton and Deuce Bello on the perimeter.
Walton is one of the most athletic PG's in the country and he can ball-hawk anyone from 94 feet, but he's of very little use at the top of a 1-3-1 zone and he has Jackson's penchant for over-dribbling and jacking up foolish shots.
Bello, who was Quincy Miller's teammate in high school, is a 6'4 guard who can change the game with his athleticism but hasn't been trusted with any real role offensively this season.
Three keys (for Xavier):
1) Be patient against the 1-3-1: If you move the ball around the perimeter and don't rush your offense, you will get a great shot, as I'm sure the Xavier coaches noticed from Big 12 film. There's no reason to let Baylor speed up the game as the 1-3-1 will invariably collapse if probed for 25-30 seconds. Unfortunately for the Bears, they've spent so much time on the zone in practice that their rotations on man defense aren't where they should be. If Baylor is forced to go man, pick-and-rolls can be really effective since defending them requires all 5 players on the court to move in unison.
2) Don't let Miller and Jones get going early: Both players can easily explode for 25+ a night, so the last thing you want to do is make Scott Drew and his PG's aware of this by letting them get into a groove in the game's first five minutes.
3) Let Pierre Jackson try to beat you: All three of Baylor's front-court players have decided individual advantages while Heislip is one of the best shooters in the country. "Lucky Pierre" Jackson might go off for 25+, but he'll most likely do it very inefficiently. If Xavier gets lucky, Drew will pull Miller fairly early and let Dezmine Wells swing over to Jackson on the perimeter.
Baylor is as talented as Kentucky and UNC, but the way they are constructed on both sides of the ball makes them ripe for an upset. They beat South Dakota State and Colorado on talent alone, but Xavier has the horses to run with them. I expect the game to come down to the last few minutes, with the Tu Holloway/Pierre Jackson match-up being the difference one way or the other. If you look at the preposterous amount of talent Baylor has on hand, that should tell you all you need to know about Scott Drew's coaching performance this season.
As Jonathan noted to me in his last email, it should be a heck of a game. We'll have our preview up this evening and coverage from tip to buzzer and everything that follows beginning 7:15pm Friday.