Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Baylor vs. TCU

1) To zone or not to zone, that is the question

Don't be fooled by the final score - Baylor 82, TCU 54. This game was actually very competitive at the start and the difference between these two teams isn't nearly as large as it might appear. TCU was up 31-30 late in the first half when Baylor went from zone to man and it was like they flipped a switch. They went on a 27-4 run and turned the game into a laugher by the middle of the 2nd half.

The thing I wonder about Baylor is why they play so much zone when they have the athletes to play man and compete with just about any team in the country. The underlying principle behind playing zone is to mask a disadvantage in talent and junk up a game against a better team. TCU went into a zone several times over the course of the game in order to try and stem the tide against Baylor and that's a program that might want to consider playing zone in order to make up for how overmatched athletically they are on the perimeter. When Baylor is playing a zone, it plays right into TCU's hands.

TCU doesn't have a lot of guys who can break down a defense and create shots for themselves or their teammates 1-on-1 but it didn't matter when Baylor was sitting back in a zone. They could pass the ball around the perimeter and cut into open spots in the zone and eventually create a good look. The only way for the defense to make it work is to try and be aggressive and attack out of the zone and TCU was too well prepared for where the ball needed to go. They also had the the most critical piece to picking apart a zone - a big man (Chris Washburn Jr. - the son of the former NBA player with the same name) with the size to see over the defense and the passing ability to find the open man.

As soon as Baylor went into man and started forcing the TCU guards to create off the dribble, it was church. Scott Drew just might want to think about doing that more often.

2) The Terry Maston show

The player of the game was Baylor sophomore big man Terry Maston, who continues to come on over the last few weeks. After 13 points against Iowa State, Maston had the game of his life on Tuesday, with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists on 8-11 shooting. He kept Baylor in the game in the first half and he was almost completely unstoppable in the post. At 6'7 215 with a 6'11 wingspan, he looks like a Baylor big man - long, bouncy and skilled - and he seems well-positioned to be the next in the long line of frontcourt stars that Scott Drew has churned out. I love a big man with bloodlines and Maston is the nephew of former NBA big man Tony Battie.

What really stands about his game is ability to score in the post. He has incredible footwork and touch with his back to the basket and he has a great feel for where he is in the paint and how to get shots off from any angle. Your best chance to stop him is to push him off the block and he will definitely need to hit the gym in the off-season and get stronger. When he gets position, though, it's over. Cal super freshman Ivan Raab is the only guy in the country I've seen this season with Maston's feel for playing in the paint.

Maston doesn't even have a recruiting mixtape, which shows you how under the radar he was coming out of high school in DeSoto (a Dallas suburb). Scott Drew has a great eye for talent and he knows how to develop big guys.

3) Taurean Prince being aggressive

Just as important as the man defense in blowing open the game was Prince becoming more aggressive and looking to push the ball in transition and attack the rim and create offense either for himself or his teammates. Prince is Baylor's best player and when he's not looking to score their offense can get stagnant. He didn't have a huge game statistically but he filled up the stat sheet and got Baylor going by igniting the break and getting them going defense to offense - 9 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 1 block on 4-6 shooting.

He gets knocked for his consistency and aggressiveness but I think that will actually work in his favor at the next level, where he can play in a more secondary role. Prince is not a natural first option and he'll much better when he can play off of more talented players who can set him up for offense instead of having to set up other people. A lot of times guys get moved down in the draft because they don't put up huge scoring numbers at the NCAA level but that's not what they will be asked to do in the NBA anyway. I really like Prince's all-around game as a 6'7 220 combo forward and I think he will be a steal if he stays as a late first-round pick.

4) TCU is a few guards away from being a good team

The Big 12 is a tough place for a rebuilding program so you might not see it by their win-loss record at the end of the season but TCU has some building blocks in place. They have a really interesting group of big men - Karviar Shepherd and Chris Washburn Jr. could play for any team in the country and Vladimir Brodziansky, JD Miller and Devonte Abron are 6'8+ guys with talent on their bench - and a solid 3-and-D wing in Brandon Parrish. The problem is they just don't have enough talent at the guard positions and that's going to get you killed in the college game.

They only played two guards for most of the game on Tuesday - Michael Williams and Chauncey Collins - and Collins is probably best used as a scoring guard off the bench while Williams just can't hang athletically at the Big 12 level. He had no chance of staying in front of Lester Medford and TCU almost had to play zone to keep him in the game. Williams might have been a decent bench guard but that was a huge mis-evaluation from the TCU coaching staff and they've really put themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to having enough guards this season. To be fair, it looks worse without Kenrich Williams, a 6'7 wing whom they lost for the season. If they had Williams and Kyan Anderson, their senior PG from last season, they might have had a chance to compete for a postseason berth.

5) Lester Medford dominated the TCU guards

Medford was only 1-5 with 3 points but he had 11 assists on 2 turnovers and he completely controlled the flow of the game. He had Williams playing on skates all night and he could go by him whenever he wanted. Medford is the X factor on this team - Baylor needs consistent offense from their backcourt to complement the players they have upfront and Medford, as their senior PG, is the logical place to look for it.

6) Baylor is set up well for next season

The key to being a consistent NCAA program is to set up your team so that you have young players in supporting roles who are ready to take on bigger roles going forward and there's a seamless transition from one team to the next. You want to have a team and a team in waiting each season and Baylor's team in waiting looks really good. They will be built around Johnathan Motley and Terry Matson upfront - and those two guys could be one of the best frontcourts in the country - and they have two athletic wing shooters (Al Freeman and King McClure) a transfer PG from Miami (Manu Lecomte) and a 6'5 freshman PG with good bloodlines (the son of a former Baylor player whose now the Utah Jazz GM).

An NCAA coach is a head coach and a GM in one position and Drew might not be the greatest X and O's guy but he is one of the best GM's in the country.

7) TCU better find a guard in the JUCO ranks

If I was a JUCO PG, I'd think long and hard about the prospective pitch that TCU could give me. They have a ton of big men coming back who could cover me on defense and whom I could set up on offense and they will offer a ton of opportunities to have the ball in my hands and rack up big stats while playing in one of the best conferences in the country. Baylor has done a great job of mining the JUCO ranks for PG's - Pierre Jackson, Kenny Chery and Medford - and TCU should think about following their model if they want to be competitive next season. There's a clear ceiling on this season's team but what has to really worry Trent Johnson is there aren't any promising young guards for their team in waiting either.

8) Trent Johnson has a really dry sense of humor

I have gotten to sit in on his last two press conferences - a dramatic win over Texas and a crushing loss to Baylor - and he was consistently funny in both situations. He's a clever guy with a bit of an edge - he had a lot of great one liners and he answered every question sardonically. He would be great on TV and that's looking like where he will be up if he keeps this up.

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