Saturday, January 23, 2016

Baylor vs. OU

1) You really can't zone a team like OU

Baylor was drawing dead from the start in this one. If you were drawing up a blueprint for a team that would kill the zone, it would look a lot like OU. They are a well-coached and very experienced team with three guards who can fill it up from the perimeter and a big man who can knock down mid-range jumpers and make plays from the middle of the zone. When Baylor eventually went to man when they were down by 15+ points in the middle of the 2nd half, OU was shooting 65.7% from the field and 66.7% from 3. They have too many good decision-makers to make a lot of mistakes against the zone and they have too many good shooters that they are going to kill you if you keep giving them open looks.

Baylor couldn't even take advantage of Buddy Hield getting in foul trouble in the first half because OU knew they could just run offense and create shots in the half-court against the zone. Scott Drew has had a ton of success in his time in Waco and it's hard to knock him for what he has done to build up the program but I feel pretty comfortable making the prediction that they will never win a Big 12 championship until he moves away from his beloved 1-3-1 zone. It does have its benefits in the NCAA Tournament because teams are so unfamiliar with the style of play and the overall length and athleticism that Baylor can throw at them, but every team in the Big 12 knows precisely how to attack it and there's a real ceiling on this program until he decides to take advantage of the pronounced athletic advantage he has on most nights and commit to playing man defense.

2) OU doesn't have the horses to be the No. 1 team in the country

This is going to sound like hating after the performance they pulled off on Saturday - a dominant 82-72 win at Baylor that gave them their first home loss of the season - but I thought you could see some of the flaws on OU's roster nevertheless. They are a good team and it's easy to see why they have been so successful this season - they start three seniors and one junior and they are built around 3 guards who can shoot, dribble and pass, one of whom is one of the best players in the country. That's the formula for racking up a lot of wins at the NCAA level and for putting up the type of gaudy offensive numbers that make everyone sit up and notice. It has been enough to get them to No. 1 in a year where there aren't many great teams, but they aren't going to stay there after losing to Iowa State earlier in the week and I doubt they return.

There are three main problems that I can see with this team:

1) They aren't very deep.

They only play 7 guys serious minutes and the two guys that come off the bench - freshman forward Dante Buford and senior guard Dinjiyl Walker - are basically just placeholders there to give the starters some rest. Not only are they very vulnerable to injury, but any amount of foul trouble could be their doom in an NCAA Tournament game. A ref with a tight whistle could absolutely kill them because anyone picking up 2 early fouls will have to be play super cautious to avoid exposing their lack of depth.

2) They don't have a lot of size upfront.

Ryan Spangler (6'8 235) is a really solid role-playing big man and Khadeem Lattin (6'9 210) has a good combination of length and athleticism but they aren't all that big and they can't impose their will on the game. That's a problem two ways - 1) they will be giving up a lot of size to bigger teams (see Baylor beating them 34 to 19 on the boards) and 2) they can't force smaller teams to adjust to them. You can't pound the ball into Lattin and Spangler and they aren't going to kill you as shot-creators or 1-on-1 players. Spangler can spread the floor and Lattin can protect the rim but they are there to hold serve and not to win the game.

3) They don't have a lot of size on the wings

Taurean Prince (6'7 220) wasn't totally able to take advantage of this on Saturday for reasons I will get into later but OU doesn't have a natural option to match-up with bigger 3/4 combo forwards. Lattin is a more of a traditional big man + rim protector type, reserve big man Dante Buford isn't a great athlete while Buddy Hield is their biggest guard and he has to save himself for the offensive end of the floor. The last thing they want is for Hield to pick up cheap fouls banging with bigger players, which is what happened on Saturday. Their best perimeter defender is Isaiah Cousins and he's only 6'4 200.

3) Buddy Hield as a pro prospect

It was hard to get a great feel for Hield in this game because Baylor spent so much of it on zone on one end and doesn't run a ton of offense through their perimeter players on the other. He put up 19 points in 10 shots by going 4-7 from 3 mostly by shooting over the top of the Baylor zone and getting out in transition and knocking down open 3's. He did a decent job on defense, as he slid between all 3 of the Baylor perimeter players and didn't let the bigger Prince or the smaller and faster Medford take advantage of him. It was a solid all-around performance that showcased the strengths of his game and couldn't tell us too much about his weaknesses.

The thing about Hield's game that you have to like is that he's a volume 3-point shooter (8.0 3PA on 51.5% as a senior) whose big and athletic to defend his position and can put the ball on the floor and move the ball. He should have a pretty solid floor as an NBA player as a plus shooter who doesn't kill you on the other end of the floor and isn't a liability with the ball in his hands. The question is his ceiling - will he be able to create his own shot against bigger and more athletic defenders? Will he be able to match up with those players on defense? That's what separates starting 2's from backup 2's at the next level and Hield doesn't offer a ton of versatility to your line-up if he's coming off the bench. Let's remember that he's an older player playing in great space who has a ton of offense run through him at the NCAA level. He has everything set up to be a star at the NCAA level and that may not necessarily translate to the NBA.

I'd really like to see what he can do in a 1-on-1 match-up against one of the other top wing prospects in this year's draft. Unfortunately, none of them play in the Big 12. While Hield was able to get the best of Wayne Selden in their first game against Kansas, he struggled at times against the smaller and faster Frank Mason. I'll be really interested to see whom they face in the NCAA Tournament and I'd love to see what he could do if matched up against someone like Caris Levert or bigger PG's like Kris Dunn or Wade Baldwin IV.

4) Isaiah Cousins was the difference maker on defense

Cousins doesn't get a lot of publicity playing in the shadow of Hield, but he's a very good player in his own right and he's OU's best two-way player on the perimeter. He had 13 points, 9 assists and 2 steals on 6 shots against Baylor and his ability to press up on the Baylor guards and use his long arms and quick hands to generate turnovers was key for OU to get in control of the game at the end of the first half, when Hield was in foul trouble. He got them a lot of points going defense to offense and he was able to keep Lester Medford in check, as Baylor's lead guard finished with only 6 points on 6 shots and 7 assists on 6 turnovers. Cousins is a great complement to Hield on both sides of the ball and his ability to take the tougher defensive assignment on the perimeter, control the tempo of the game and create easy shots for his running buddy is a big reason why Hield is having the type of season that he's having. They have a real Batman and Robin set-up between their two senior guards and it's the biggest strength of this OU team.

5) Taurean Prince at the 4

Scott Drew almost has too much of a good thing with his frontcourt rotation following the emergence of Terry Maston as a solid contributor at the 4 position. He has three really good NCAA big men - Gathers, Motley and Maston - but his best player (Prince) is most effective as a small-ball 4. When Prince is playing at the 3, he tends to settle for jumpers and there isn't a lot of room for him to leverage his size and athleticism and attack the rim since none of the Baylor big men can stretch out the defense. While Baylor was able to pound OU on the glass with their bigger line-ups, they found their most success when they were spreading the floor with Prince. Moving Prince down a position also had the benefit of scrambling the match-ups for OU. Since they didn't want either of their big men guarding him, it forced Spangler to chase one of the Baylor guards on the perimeter.

6) King McClure

The only way to fully take advantage of playing small is having enough wing players who can take advantage of all that extra space upfront. The guy I'm really interested in for Baylor who could possibly fill that role is freshman guard King McClure, who had one of the best games of his young career on Saturday, with 11 points and 4 steals on 6 shots. At 6'3 200, he has a good combination of size and speed for a college guard and he has the ability to shoot and dribble the ball. He was a 4-star recruit who was chased by a ton of top schools so there's definitely the possibility that there's more to his game than the 4 PPG he has averaged this season. Baylor needs more shot-making from their perimeter and McClure is one guy who could possibly provide that for them as the season goes on.

7) How far can OU go in the Tourney?

As we saw in this one, you really can't zone OU so a team that can't hang with them athletically on the perimeter is going to be in trouble. Spangler can spread the floor, Lattin can roll to the rim and all 3 of their guards can initiate offense - they play a modern offense and they won't have trouble scoring points on just about any team in the country. That should be enough to get them into the 2nd weekend of the Tourney, though I do think they have a few weak spots that could be exploited by a really good mid-major team - they can't dominate a smaller team with size (which means there are a lot more potential teams who could give them trouble) and they are so vulnerable to foul trouble.

The real concern is going to be in the 2nd weekend when they have to face bigger and deeper front-lines who can get Spangler and Lattin into foul trouble because they have almost nothing behind them. Teams that can get to the rim, either at the 4 or 5 positions or with bigger wings who can attack off the dribble, can play inside-out and take advantage of their defense. If they get a perfect draw, they could make it all the way to the Final 4 but my guess is their lack of size across the board and their lack of a pure 5 and a pure 3 is going to be their undoing at some point in their Tourney and it could be a lot earlier than many people expect given their national ranking.

No comments:

Post a Comment