The Bears, having a down year, are projected to finish last in the Big 12 by KenPom, but have experienced plenty of success under longtime coach Scott Drew in the past.
This is Arizona’s last non-conference game against a major-conference opponent, and a contest the Wildcats might need to win to pad their résumé come Selection Sunday.
Without further ado, here’s a preview of what Baylor brings to the table this year.
G Makai Mason (13.2 PPG, 2.6 APG, 30.4 3PT%)
G King McClure (13.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 43.2 3PT%)
G Mark Vital (5.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 37 FG%)
F Mario Kegler (12.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 33.3 FG%)
F Tristan Clark (13.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.0 BPG, 75.9 FG%)
Much like Arizona, the Bears have mostly relied on a very small rotation of players. These five players, in addition to Devonte Bandoo, Matthew Mayer, and Jared Butler account for the vast majority of Baylor’s output.
The player to watch among the starters is probably Tristan Clark, since he’ll be matched up against Chase Jeter. Clark is averaging 13.6 points per game, tied for the team’s best, while also grabbing 5.6 boards per game. Perhaps most impressively, Clark has 3.0 blocks per game right now, despite being listed as an average-for-a-big-man 6’9”. Jeter has shown himself to be quite an offensive asset down low, and it’ll be up to Baylor’s best defender in Clark to slow him down.
I mentioned above that Baylor’s biggest asset, Clark, plays as a defensive specialist if anything. That matches the team in general, as the Bears offense has been inconsistent and average this season on offense, ranking an average 107th in the nation.
Perhaps Baylor’s biggest weakness is 3-point shooting. The Bears are shooting only 30.1% from outside this season, good for 285th (of 352) in college basketball. Combine that with their small ball approach, and the cold shooting from outside has really hurt them this year. This is another reason Clark will be pivotal, as his inside game may be the Bears’ best way to score.
Arizona’s defense has been promising, with an efficiency mark of 43rd. Baylor likely doesn’t have the shooters to seriously wear down this defense, but it’ll be an interesting chess match with two underrated units.
One thing Arizona needs to do is control the glass. Baylor ranks 39th in offensive rebounding percentage, only a few spots below Alabama, who ravaged the Wildcats on the boards down the stretch last Sunday.
Mixing man and zone, Baylor has been able to keep up with their opponents thanks to a pretty stellar defense. Allowing just 65.8 points per game, the Bears’ defense ranks comfortably in the top 100 in numerous important categories, including 56th in adjusted efficiency.
As evidenced by Clark’s numbers, Baylor is great at stopping inside shots via blocks. The Bears have racked up an astonishing block percentage of 19.9%, good for second in the nation.
“They’re an elite shot-blocking team,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller.
The Bears’ kryptonite on offense might be 3s, but they make up for it with stellar outside defense in addition to their stellar inside presence. Baylor ranks 285th in 3-point percentage on offense, but a solid 44th on the other end of the court, as opponents are shooting a dismal 29.4% against BU from behind the arc.
“They also have a way of blending both zone defense and man,” Miller said. “And we haven’t faced a lot of zone this year, so we’re obviously preparing for that. They have great length in their zone. They’re not there one of those zones that you can see over them. They’ve historically done a good job with their zone.”
Arizona’s offense has been overall pretty solid, but hit long dry spells in Tuscaloosa and has had a few long droughts before that. Baylor could cause similar issues.
Arizona and Baylor are an interesting matchup. Both have long tenured head coaches who have had great teams but are now rebuilding. Both teams have three losses, and while Arizona has faced much steeper competition, Baylor will have to deal with the juggernaut that is the Big 12.
Baylor, which KenPom pegs as the No. 68 team, is better than their record and schedule would indicate, and there’s no reason to believe the two won’t have another close game on their hands Saturday.
Expect a low scoring, physical game, and a lot of drama as the clock winds down.