Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- The Big 12 has provided a number of interesting games in the early days of the conference season, and tonight’s main feature is no different, as #34 Baylor (13-2,1-0) faces #33 Texas A&M (14-2, 0-1).
Baylor picked up a couple of solid wins at the Anaheim Classic in Late November, beating Providence and Arizona St., and opened conference play by beating Texas Tech at home. The Bears two losses came in the Anaheim final against Wake Forest, and in their last non-conference game, when South Carolina beat them in the final seconds in Waco. For its part, Texas A&M reeled off a mid-season ten-game winning streak, including some decent wins over Arizona, Alabama and LSU. However, the Aggies didn’t look very good in a loss to Oklahoma St. on Saturday evening to start the Big 12 season.
Baylor is one of the nation’s best shooting teams, making nearly 40% of its threes and over 55% of attempts from two, and being that effective makes for one of the nation’s most impressive offensive units. The Bears also manage to get to the line quite often, though their percentage there is only average. The main weakness in Baylor’s attack is pulling down its own misses, perhaps because they have so little practice at it. Texas A&M will have a lot of trouble stopping Baylor from putting points on the board, the Aggies tend to defend well inside and keep teams off the free throw line, but have struggled to stop the three-point shot, where the Bears take nearly 40% of their shots. Texas A&M will do well on the glass, but may not force enough misses for it to matter too much.
Offensively, Texas A&M focuses on its interior attack, but doesn’t shoot nearly as efficiently as Baylor does. The Aggies do better than Baylor in the other major offensive categories, getting to the line often and controlling turnovers and rebounds well, but their shooting, especially from three, where A&M hits just 33% of its shots, drags down the Aggies’ overall offensive efficiency. Baylor isn’t particularly good defensively, but does force a good number of turnovers and defends two-point shots solidly. A&M will probably be able to build a possession advantage, but it’ll need it, given the Bears’ knack for hitting shots.
Senior guard Curtis Jerrells is Baylor’s leader, scoring 16.5 points a game and chipping in nearly 6 assists with a 1.9 A/TO ratio. His percentages are solid, and part of his value is helping create a lot of good chances for LaceDarius Dunn, who has taken ample advantage, shooting over 40% from three. Dunn doesn’t start, but is second in the team in scoring, and may be one of the nation’s best bench players. Henry Dugat and Tweety Carter are experienced backcourt starters, and they’ve both been shooting very well, though in fewer attempts than Jerrells or Dunn. Baylor’s concerns must be inside, where it doesn’t have much serious depth. 6-9 Kevin Rogers is a good scorer and leads the team in rebounding with nearly 8 per game, while 7-1 Mamdou Diene starts but plays fairly little, averaging only 11 minutes a game and taking just 16 shots all season. Freshman Quincy Acy is a dynamic inside force, shooting over 70% from the field, mostly on attempts right at the rim, and also leading the team in blocks. Acy’s free throw shooting is frightening, though, under 45% from the line.
Guard Donald Sloan and forward Josh Carter are an effective duo for the Aggies, though neither possesses the pure scoring ability of Baylor’s top players. Sloan is a good ball distribution guard who averages 3.5 assists with a 2.3 A/TO ratio, but desperately needs to improve his shot selection, as he hits 36% from the field and well under 40% from two. Carter is 6-7, but takes the majority of his shots from behind the arc, and is an major force at the free throw line, where he shoots nearly 90%. The Aggies do have some big men who will mix it up inside, led by 6-10 junior Chinemelu Elonu, who leads the team in both rebounds and blocks, and is shooting 70% from the floor on the year, and junior Bryan Davis, a 56% shooter who averages over 6 rebounds a game. Freshman David Lobeau has been decent in limited minutes, but needs to find more consistency in scoring. Derrick Roland starts alongside Sloan in the backcourt, but wastes a lot of possessions with poor shooting decisions, he’s under 25% from three. B.J. Holmes is a more efficient option off the bench, while freshman Dash Harris has show a good nose for assists, but not much of a shooting touch in relatively few minutes. Nathan Walkup’s probably best known for his game-winning shot against Arizona, but the sophomore hasn’t made many of his attempts on the season, and doesn’t play a huge role.
Baylor’s shooting, especially from behind the arc, will cause some serious havoc for the Aggies, and while they will be able to take some advantage down low, both in defending shots and on the glass, it likely won’t be enough to get them a win. If A&M can get Baylor’s big men into some foul trouble, the Bears’ weak interior depth could prove to be their Achilles heel, but otherwise Baylor should be able to hold on.
Winner: Baylor Margin: 4-8
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.