TCU begins a tough week of basketball tonight with a road contest against the 22nd-ranked Baylor Bears. To get ready for the rivalry game, we met up with PocketChange from Our Daily Bears to chat about Baylor's recent success, the rivalry, and what to expect out of both teams tonight. Be sure to check out my responses to PC's questions right here!
1. Baylor dropped out of the top 25 following a tough 102-74 loss at Kansas earlier this month. However, the Bears rebounded with a blowout win over Oklahoma State and a huge road win against 13th-ranked Iowa State. Back in the rankings this week at #22, how would you assess where Baylor is at this point in the season?
I honestly didn't feel that bad about the Kansas blowout. The Jayhawks were a blazing inferno of three-point shooting for the first nine minutes, but the rest of the game, aside from the final three minutes of garbage time where KU's bench poured in some extra points, was actually fairly even. I know that probably comes off as "Except for the parts where they sucked, they were great!" but that's really the only thing to be taken away from a game like that. Once Baylor switched to man defense, KU had a much harder time scoring the ball. If Kansas had shot even remotely close to average in those first nine minutes, it's likely only a 10-15 point loss instead of a near 30 point shellacking.
The effectiveness of the defensive switch, by the way, is a theme that has shown up repeatedly for Scott Drew this season. In the late comeback against Oregon on the road, the Bears switched to a man defense that clogged up what had been free lanes for the Ducks. I just mentioned the effectiveness of the switch against KU -- Baylor actually outscored KU for the last 11 minutes of the first half -- and obviously Drew's decision to go to the triangle-and-2 in the closing stretch against ISU completely changed the complexion of that game.
Against Oklahoma State, Baylor got to stick with its usual 1-3-1/2-3 hybrid scheme that closed down every Cowboy except Juwan Evans, who is nothing less than stellar even as a freshman.
Looking at the advanced stats, Baylor has been a more efficient team on offense than on defense (perhaps a bit skewed by the Texas A&M and Kansas games), but I think the defensive versatility is what makes this season's team a true challenge to game-plan.
TL;DR: I think Baylor's a pretty good team.
2. There's really no argument that basketball takes a backseat to football at both Baylor and TCU. Since you and I are both college hoops guys, what do you think it would take for the basketball version of this rivalry to emerge from that shadow and be respected in its own right?
In one respect, I think the heat of the football rivalry can and will bleed into the basketball rivalry, but the only way basketball can culture its own vitriol would be for TCU to upset Baylor a couple of times in the next two or three years. If the competition on the court lacks contention, so will the energy of the rivalry.
Two things that TCU is doing that help, however, are 1.) the new arena, showing their investment in the program that has long been, well, not very good, and 2.) improved recruiting. The subtler aspect of courting higher level talent is the relationships developed between players in high school and AAU have the opportunity to transition to the college level. When a player personally knows one or two dudes across the court from him, that gets the competitive juices flowing a little hotter.
If TCU continues to grow as a program, the rivalry should follow naturally.
3. The Bears have dominated this series as of late. Since TCU joined the Big 12, the Frogs are 0-7 against Baylor with an average margin of defeat of 18.9 points per game. What would TCU need to do to pick up a win on Wednesday? What is the biggest area of weakness for Scott Drew's team?
Baylor's biggest weakness this season has been starting out halves a bit sluggish. If TCU can come out of the gates fast, knock down some outside shots, and score some quick transition baskets, they'll have a chance. If Baylor has a chance to settle into a half-court defense, I'm not sure that TCU can score efficiently enough to hang around.
4. This year's Baylor team is loaded with talent. Taurean Prince is scoring with ease, Rico Gathers is averaging a double-double, and Al Freeman and Jonathan Motley are both making significant contributions on both ends of the court. Are there any individuals you think TCU fans should keep their eye on tonight, or is Baylor's balanced productivity what makes this team so strong?
The balance of the contributors for Baylor has been key to its success so far this season. Both Gathers and Prince have had several off games so far, but those have been counter-balanced by strong showings from Freeman, Motley, Maston, and Medford. In the preseason, depth was a concern, especially for the back court. Now, with Freeman and freshman Jake Lindsey coming out strong alongside Medford's steady point guard play, it looks like Baylor has more depth than all but Kansas and Oklahoma in the Big XII.
I would recommend TCU fans pay attention to Terry Maston, who has shown a lot in conference play so far. Just a sophomore, he possesses a surprising amount of calm and control with the ball in his hands. He rarely goes too fast -- something that Gathers, Motley, and Prince all suffer from -- and he can contribute in a variety of ways on offense. He has moves from both blocks, and he showed a knack for playing in the high-post when paired with Motley. Maston has nice vision and passing touch from up high, doing a good job of passing into the post and limiting turnovers. I can't guarantee that he'll go off in Wednesday's game, but I would recommend that TCU fans give some notice to Maston when he's on the floor.
5. Finally, give us your prediction for how things go on Wednesday night. Do the Bears continue their string of dominance in this rivalry, or can TCU pick up their first road win in Waco since 2002?
The only way I can chart out a Horned Frog victory would be for Brandon Parrish and Chris Washburn to repeat their performances against Texas. For Parrish in particular, however, that will be tough. He's a 53.5% shooter from three so far this season, but it's difficult to see him going 5-6 two games in a row.
I predict this game goes the way of previous match-ups. It'll be ugly on offense for both teams for a while, but Baylor's strength in the front court will show itself in the rebounding, and that will be the difference. I expect Gathers to have a bounce back game after riding the bench late against ISU.
TCU 69, Baylor 82.
Big thanks to PocketChange and the team over at Our Daily Bears. Rivalry aside, go check out their site. They produce some excellent content.
Stay tuned right here for continued coverage of TCU vs. Baylor leading up to tonight's game!