Sunday, December 6, 2015

Baylor vs. Vandy

This one had everything you would want in a college basketball game - it was a back-and-forth thriller that went down to the final buzzer between two good teams with a ton of NBA prospects between them. There was just a lot of interesting stuff going on both in terms of the chess match between Scott Drew and Kevin Stallings and in terms of what we learned about the NBA players involved. There were 31 scouts at this game for a reason and it wasn't to enjoy the pleasures of a Sunday night in Waco in December.

The big story in terms of tactics was Vandy shooting Baylor out of Drew's beloved 1-3-1 zone. This game was like a microcosm of a typical Baylor season in the Big 12 - they surprise people early with the length and athleticism coming from a lot of weird angles in the half-court before teams get comfortable with it and start to pick apart the zone. Drew did a better job of switching between man and zone in the first half than he usually does but there's just no way you are going to be able to zone a team as well-coached as Vandy that features a ton of size, a ton of shooting and a lot of intelligent players. The good news for Baylor is they have the athletes to play pressure man D and that was the difference for them in the 2nd half - the rest of the Big 12 should consider themselves lucky that Drew doesn't just do that all the time. Baylor has the athletic advantage on almost every team they face and why they chose to throw that away by playing a gimmick zones I will never understand. As Bomani Jones always says, #zoneisforcowards.

This was almost like an NBA game in terms of match-ups. There was a ton of talent on the floor, especially upfront, where Vandy had two 7'0 who can play in Damian Jones and Luke Kornet while Baylor countered with two 4/5 big men in Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley and a 3/4 combo forward in Taurean Waller-Prince.
  • Baylor started Gathers and Motley upfront last season but they are staggering their minutes a lot more this season, which is a very NBA move from Drew. Instead of having two traditional big men who can't stretch the floor, he's playing 4-out with either Motley or Gathers playing in the post and Waller-Prince playing as a small-ball 4 with three shooters around him. TWP had 30 points on 19 shots because Vandy didn't really have an answer for him - he was either taking bigger guys off the dribble or posting up smaller guys on the block, which is one of the benefits of playing in a ton of space. TWP just looks like a prototype combo forward for where the league is going and if he stays in the 30's all season (which is where DX has him now), I will eat my hat.
  • This game kind of shows the problem for a guy like Kornet when it comes to projecting him to the NBA. He's a 7'0 who can shoot 3's and stand behind guys in the post but he may be a generation too late in terms of being able to make an impact at the next level. He's a prototype stretch 4 but what's the point in playing a guy like that if I can just go small with a 3 at the 4 like TWP and have the same floor spacing and a lot more athleticism? You can move him to 5 but he can't protect the rim or anchor the defense and Vandy got killed against in the brief moments they went with that line-up. Kornet did a decent job of guarding Motley in the post but he was way too weak to bang with Gathers and he had no answer for when Motley took him out on the perimeter and used his quickness. He had 4 fouls in 18 minutes which was a pretty good indication of his night - Stallings just couldn't keep him on the floor and there was no one he could really guard defensively.
  • You have to love when NBA-caliber big men go up against each other at the NCAA level because they really expose the holes in each other's game. Rico Gathers is a dominant NCAA player and he is an absolute beast of a man but he's a 6'8 center without a perimeter game and you saw what happens to those type of guys when they have to go up against a legit NBA center with length like Damian Jones - Rico went 5-15 from the floor. He's a guy who should really think about playing in the NFL. He could have a Julius Peppers type career and I really think more NFL teams should try to look for undersized NCAA big men and transition them to their sport. The beauty of it is they have no miles on their body. 
    • Rico had a great quote after the game. "I told the guys before the game it was like David and Goliath out there [in terms of their match-up with the two Vandy 7'0]. We just needed a pocket full of stones to knock them down."
  • You didn't really see it in the numbers but Damian Jones had a huge impact on this game. I wish there was someone keeping track of +/- at the NCAA level because whenever Jones went out of the game for any stretch of time Vandy just completely fell apart. He's the anchor of the defense and their only big man with the athleticism to bang with Gathers and Motley. He struggled at first with the match-up against a round mound of rebound like Gathers before he realized that hey, I'm significantly taller than this guy and if I just take my time and gather strong (on offense) and put my hands straight up (on defense) there really isn't much he can do. 
  • Motley isn't going to get a ton of shine this season with Baylor going to a lot more smaller line-ups but he has a lot of game. He's 6'9 230 with a live body and a 7'3 wingspan and he does a great job of crashing the boards and getting up and down the floor. He still has a way to go in terms of feeling the game and scoring with his back to the basket but the tools are there. He struggled to score over the top of Kornet in the first half but then he took him out on the perimeter in the 2nd and there was nothing the Vandy big man could do. The next step for Motley is developing more range on his jumper - if he can be a consistent perimeter shooter as a junior, he's a guy who could fly up draft boards once he's playing full-time as a 5 in a spread floor with Gathers graduated. He's a much more gifted offensive player than Gathers and when Baylor wants to score they are going Motley at the 5, TWP at the 4.
The key guy for Vandy in this game was Jeff Roberson - their comeback in the 2nd half was keyed by playing Roberson at the 4 and Jones at the 5. He's a 6'6 combo forward and he's the only guy on their roster who can handle athletic 3's and 4's. The one thing to watch with Vandy this season is how much Roberson vs. Kornet plays at the 4 and how Stallings juggles his front-court rotation.

I also can't forget Wade Baldwin IV who had an absolutely dominant performance on the perimeter. He has great size and a great wingspan (6'10) for a PG and he uses it well on both sides of the ball - he can shoot over the top of just about anyone and finish from a lot of weird angles in the lane and then guard a lot of different guys on the perimeter. He's a two-way beast who totally locked up the Baylor guards while also having the ball in his hands for most of the game. He has a chance to be a first-team All-SEC guy and I'm really curious to see what he can do against the Kentucky and the LSU guards in SEC play. He has a chance to make a lot of money if he can show-out in those match-ups.

The key guy to watch for Baylor this season is Lester Medford. He was their only shot creator on the perimeter and Baylor needs him to balance out the scoring they get from the front-court. Medford was quiet for most of the game when Baylor was behind and his offense fueled their comeback and pushed them over the top. He's a senior PG and they need him to win his match-up if they are going to beat the best teams on their schedule. The problem is his size (5'10) which allows bigger guys like Baldwin to really cover him up. Allerik Freeman is their leading scorer but he did absolutely nothing in this game - I'll just chalk it up to one of those nights.

Both these teams are pretty good but it feels like they are both one player short when it comes to being elite. Baylor needs another perimeter creator and Vandy needs another 6'4+ athlete on the perimeter for defensive purposes. I expect both to make a lot of noise in conference play and possibly make it to the Sweet 16 if the match-ups play right but it's hard to see them getting out of the 2nd weekend with some of the holes on their respective rosters.

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