UWDP- Baylor was picked 9th in the Big-12 last season but outperformed projections to secure a #9 seed in the NCAA tournament (just like Washington) and 4th in the conference. This year they were picked 2nd in the Big-12 media poll. What were the keys to such a meteoric rise in expectations?
Kendall- Jared Butler transferred from Alabama and became one of the league’s best guards. He scored 31 points in Allen Fieldhouse, which was the most of any visiting player in 2019. The Bears were also the Big 12’s best 3-point shooting team, after ranking as the second worst 3-point shooting team among power seven conferences (counting the Big East and American) during non-conference play. The offense came together very well, and the Bears return a lot.
UWDP- The Bears defeated Syracuse in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last year. Washington coach Mike Hopkins comes from Syracuse and employs the same zone defense. What did Baylor do to defeat the zone last season and do you see them executing a similar strategy this year?
Kendall- The Bears attempted a 3-point shot on over 60% of their possessions. They worked the ball into the high-middle of the zone, then they fired any semi-open or long three. That version of the 2-3 zone gives up a decent number of threes in exchange for more turnovers than a traditional zone. Baylor figured shooting any semi-open shot is a good way to avoid turning it over, and man, did it work.
UWDP- Tristan Clark was one of the most dominant big men in the country last season before a knee injury ended his year shortly after conference play started. Is Clark fully healthy and what makes him such a crazy efficient scorer?
Kendall- He’s ready to go early in the season, but the question will be if he’s a little slow to the speed of the game. He led the nation in field goal percentage when he went out. I don’t know if he’ll be that dominant in the first week of the season.
UWDP- The biggest loss from last year’s team for Baylor appears to be Yale grad transfer Makai Mason who led the team in assists at 3.4 per game last season. Is a player like sophomore Jared Butler ready to serve as the primary point guard after playing a lot of shooting guard as a freshman or will someone else step up to fill the role?
Kendall- Butler should be ready to lead the team. He way outplayed Devon Dotson, a near unanimous selection on preseason All-American teams. Davion Mitchell, an Auburn transfer and former top 100 recruit, will also share point guard duties. It’s fair to wonder if Mason’s ability to get a bucket will be lost in close games, but the 2020 Bears figure they won’t be in as many close games.
UWDP- Baylor has a ton of returning experience which would seem to favor them in a game so early in the season but they’ll be traveling an extra 1,700 miles and two more time zones than Washington. What’s your prediction for this game?
Kendall- I think Baylor wins. Washington is good--and with two of your stars not playing against TCU in the scrimmage--I take nothing away from that game. But I think Baylor’s still well-designed to handle Washington’s zone, and with Mark Vital--one of the country’s top offensive rebounders back--the Bears should be able to get some second chances. Maybe you all flip the zone like you did against Kansas in 2017 and we can’t hit mid-range floaters, but assuming a normal game, I think Baylor is around a 75% favorite in this game and gets it done.
Thanks again to Kendall Kaut of Our Daily Bears for his input about the season opener! If you’d like to read more of Kendall’s work previewing this Baylor team check out this mega preview here.