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Scouting the Contenders 2021: Baylor Bears


MaCio Teague, Baylor

As March Madness slowly inches closer and closer, "Scouting the Contenders" takes a look at some of the nation's best teams in a chaotic race, scouts their strengths and weaknesses, and takes a best guess on just how far they could go in the NCAA Tournament. We continue with the nation's current No. 2 team, the undefeated Baylor Bears.

Track Record

  • 17-0 overall, 9-0 Big 12 
  • Notable Victories: 82-69 over Illinois, 68-60 over Texas Tech, 76-61 over Oklahoma, 83-69 over Texas
  • Averaging 87.0 PPG (fifth nationally)
  • 18.5 turnovers forced/game (fourth nationally)

Scouting Report
While Gonzaga has been No. 1 in every single Top 25 poll this 2020-21 season (including preseason), Baylor has not moved from their perch at No. 2 either. The Bears have done everything asked of them on the season, defeating a difficult Illinois squad in the non-conference and then rolling through Big 12 play, sitting top in the standings at 9-0. A lengthy COVID pause has restricted them from playing since very early February, but that has not changed the perception around the country that the Bears are clearly the greatest threat to a Gonzaga National Title. Is this perception correct, or is Scott Drew's club more of pretenders than actual contenders?

Strengths: Even with the abbreviated off-season, college basketball offenses are having a historical year, which remains the case in Waco. Baylor is averaging 87 points per game on the year, and they have a wide variety of scorers. Four different Bears currently average double-digit points per game and even the bench options can come on and provide a much-needed spark. Two things in particular stand out when watching this offense: how well they move the ball, and how well they shoot from three. I mentioned in my Gonzaga "Scouting the Contenders" how impressed I was with their ball movement and the lack of unnecessary flash or wasted movement. Baylor does the same; they understand space really well and know how to cut and get to the rim. It's an offense that knows their strengths, and does an excellent job executing them. The three-point shooting is really impressive, and the percentages back it up. There are five different regular contributor Bears that shoot over 40 percent from downtown (Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer, and L.J. Cryer). These are not just guys that shoot from three a few times a game and have a nice percentage because of it, they all shoot at a very consistent clip. That's even with guard MaCio Teague having somewhat of a down year shooting the ball, as he passed the 40 percent three-point threshold his first two years on campus... All credit to the offense, but the things that really stand out to me about Baylor is their defense. They play an extremely disruptive brand of defense, getting their hands in passing lanes and forcing you into difficult, contested looks. They force nearly 19 turnover per game on average, and their length and size plays a major role in that. Baylor knows how to force you into tough passing angles and uncomfortable possessions as well as anybody in the nation. Even when they don't force a turnover, they'll tip a pass or two and mess with your rhythm and flow. In addition, the Bear defense always seems to have endless energy. They come out every night and compete for the entire forty minutes on the defensive end, which is not always the case in college basketball. It's never going to be a team you're going to be able to get easy looks against and they force you to beat them. It just so happens nobody has been able to in '20-'21... I also mentioned in my Gonzaga scouting report that I love teams with experience when it comes to March. Sure, we've seen "one-and-done" teams succeed when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, but I'm more trustworthy of veteran teams that have played a lot of college basketball together. Baylor checks that box, as their roster is loaded with established veterans who have played with each other for years. This particular group hasn't been on a deep March run (although they might've in 2020 if the Tournament had not been cancelled), but it's still a group that works extremely well with each other and feeds off each other. In addition, I love teams with depth when it comes to March, and Baylor checks that box as well. This is a group that can legitimately go 9-10 players deep, which is a rarity in modern college basketball. That type of depth is a major advantage when you get into the brutal March schedule, where games get even more physical and difficult. You don't necessarily need a lineup that can rotate ten guys deep to win a National Title, but it certainly helps.

Weaknesses: No college basketball team is completely perfect and that remains the case with Baylor. There are two primary concerns I have with the Bears on offense that I'll be intrigued with how they handle down the stretch. My main concern centers around how this offense looks when the three-ball isn't dropping. While they may be one of the best three-point shooting teams in the entire country, the reality is that they are not going to be able to stroke from downtown every single night. Every single team can go through shooting slumps and even if they only last one game, they can kill your season. The Baylor offense does have a tendency to look sluggish when the three-ball is not dropping and they are not as strong in the half-court as you'd like. They aren't usually going to need to be a team that runs the offense through the low-post, but you'd like to see them have the option to when the shots aren't falling. The other concern, going off of the first one, is that they don't get to the free throw line as much you'd like. While they do shoot a good percentage from the stripe, they don't do a great job of forcing opponents into foul trouble, or simply get to the line. Again, when the shots aren't falling you'd like to see Baylor be able to manufacture points in other ways, but that part of the offense just is not there yet. I think they're going to need to be more creative in what they do offensively if they truly want to overtake Gonzaga atop the college basketball pedestal... A point that I had brought up in my scouting reports on Baylor's 2020 team is the program's lack of historical March success. I think it's not as strong of a point as some make it out to be, but the fact of the matter remains that Scott Drew has never led the Bears to a Final Four. In fact, since 2012 Baylor has only advanced to the second weekend of the Tournament twice. That isn't terrible when you consider the program that Drew once inherited, but it is something to keep an eye on. The fact of the matter is that it's never easy to do it your first time and while this team is elite, the road is never easy. You always wonder if the March demons that have sometimes inflicted the program in the past will once again rear their head this year... My final weakness has to do with Scott Drew himself. Nobody can discredit what an incredible job Drew has done in Waco, especially when you consider the state of the program when he took over in the early 2000s. In fact, I think there is a fairly strong point to be made that this might be the greatest rebuilding job in college basketball history. However, as good as Drew has been at building and maintaining the program, I'm still not sure how good of an Xs and Os coach he actually is. There have been many times throughout his lengthy tenure in Waco where Drew has been out-coached by opposing coaches, and they've happened in several big games. Situationally, he's not an elite coach in the way that some of the other big names in college basketball are, like a Coach K, Bill Self, or Jay Wright. Now to be fair, Drew also has not had the talent of other blue bloods in college basketball and he's still had unquestioned levels of success with Baylor. But, is he a good enough in-game coach to lead this team to a National Title? I'm going to have to see it before I can believe it.

Bottom Line: Baylor has played second fiddle to Gonzaga all season and you better believe that they are tired of hearing themselves described simply as "Gonzaga's greatest threat." It's a disservice to how truly dominant the Bears have been all season long, racing to a 17-0 start in which they've won nearly every game by double-digit points. But, the reality is that this 2020-21 college basketball season has been a story of the top two dogs, and Baylor's may be defined in whether they're actually able to beat Gonzaga or not. Unfortunately, the two had previously been scheduled before a COVID postponement and while there remains a chance the two might still play prior to March, it's highly unlikely. That means the only chance these two teams will meet this season is in a potential National Championship Game, and there are still plenty of barriers to pass before we get there. One would assume Gonzaga would be favored in said NCG, but I actually really like Baylor's chances against the Bulldogs. They are the better shooting team and also the better two-way team, ranking Top 5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. This team is not a second fiddle to anyone; they are probably the best team in school history, and have a very legitimate chance at taking it all home come early April.

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