Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
In a battle of Big 12 powers, #23 Baylor (3-1, 15-3) travels north to face #5 Oklahoma (4-0, 16-1). This Baylor team is looking to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament just a few years after an NCAA scandal. Scott Drew has revitalized the program, and they are now one of the most fun teams to watch in all of college hoops. Oklahoma is led by a Player of the Year candidate, Blake Griffin. Whenever you have a player capable of going for 30 and 20 on any given night, you are going to be in contention for most games. The extra dynamism provided by such a high caliber player can not be discounted. This would be a marquee win for a Baylor team who has not played a top 25 team since their preseason tournament. A win for the Sooners would further solidify their position as the sole elite team from the Big 12.
Baylor wins games by outscoring opponents. They are efficient on offense, and while they don’t play at a frenetic pace, they capitalize on opportunities. As a team, they shoot 50% from the floor, eighth in the nation. The indisputable team leader is point guard Curtis Jerrells. He commands the floor as good as anyone. He leads the team in points, is third in the conference in assists, and third on the team in rebounds. Effective from inside and out, Jerrells is the centerpiece of Baylor’s success. His backcourt partner LaceDarius Dunn is a pure scorer. A shoot-first guard, Dunn is money from outside the arc, and that is where nearly 70% of his shots come from. Baylor employs a third guard in the starting lineup, Henry Dugat. Dugat, while nearly as good a shooter as Dunn, has a much more versatile game. Extremely effective putting the ball on the floor, Dugat is the perfect complement to the streaky Dunn. Although he only averages 12.4 points a game, Dugat just had a streak of 12 straight games with double digits snapped against Kansas State. With all these guards, it’s easy to assume that Baylor is weak in the post. That’s not true. Kevin Rogers isn’t quite Blake Griffin, but he is a solid 12 and 8 guy. Rogers gets a fairly high percentage of his rebounds on the offensive glass. The fourth starter for Baylor is yet another guard. Tweety Carter is a shorter version of Dunn; Dunn is 6-4 and Carter is 5-11. Both take a bunch of three pointers. But while Dunn has only gotten 11 assists to his credit on the year, Carter averages a much higher number, and is utilized as a combo guard in the Baylor system. The Bears only have one big time contributor off the bench, and that is Quincy Acy. Another big man is necessary, and Acy is that guy. He shoots a ridiculous 77% from the floor. Expect the freshman to see more than his average of 18 minutes a game in hopes of containing Griffin.
The Oklahoma Sooners are a more well-rounded team than they are given credit for, but one man runs the show. That man is Blake Griffin, the freakishly athletic power forward. Griffin averages around 22 points and 13 rebounds a game, but is NBA-ready. Praised for his polished passing skills, he bullies his way around the post, draws a double team and flips it out to the open man. Freshman Willie Warren is a nice number two, pumping in 15 points a game. Although accurate from long range, he doesn’t rely on it, and can slice to the hole as well. Wingman Tony Crocker has accepted a lesser role due to the emergence of Warren. His field goal percentage numbers are poor, but he still puts forth decent numbers. Joining Blake Griffin in post is older brother Taylor. While he isn’t quite the freak of nature his brother is, Taylor still has plenty of talent. A strong inside scorer, good offensive rebounder and adequate shot locker, Taylor still brings athleticism to the table. The Griffins are never a fun match up, and should wreak havoc against the height deprived Bears. Much maligned point guard Austin Johnson is much better than he is perceived. Johnson averages 8.1 points per game, not bad for a point guard, gets 4.5 assists per game against 1.4 turnovers per and also gets 1.4 steals and a block on defense. Those are good all-around numbers, and on top of it all, he is a good shooter. Griffin may be the “sexiest” Sooner, but Johnson is the oil that makes the Sooner machine go. Coming off the bench are Cade Davis, primarily a jump shooter (nearly 90% of his shots are threes) and Ray Willis, who is nearly as efficient of a scorer as Griffin. In 7.5 minutes a game, Willis scores 4.1 points a game. When he’s on the floor, there’s a good chance he will get some open looks.
Both these teams have lacking benches. Seeing that the game is in Norman, the Sooners get the nod here. Griffin should feast on the short Bear squad. But Baylor has enough firepower to make this a ballgame, regardless of location.
Winner: Oklahoma Margin: 7-11 points
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About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.