Baylor has been one of the most impressive teams this year as they have started 9-1 with wins against Villanova, Arizona, and Butler. What might be the most impressive part about that fact is that they are doing it without great production from big man Tristan Clark who was expected to make a big impact this season for the Bears.
The team has done it starting on the defensive side of the ball where they rank 10th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings. The team has only allowed 0.76 PPP which is in the 91st percentile of teams per synergy as well.
Scott Drew spoke highly of this Baylor team’s defensive tenacity prior to their game against Tennessee-Martin. Drew said “Davion (Mitchell) starts it with the point of attack, anytime you have a lockdown defender like that it affects the entire team. Davion and Mark are two all-conference defenders and two of the best in the nation. I think that inspires and motivates everybody else, and makes everybody else’s job a little bit easier when they see other people playing hard.”
The game more so starts with Davion Mitchell who has been tasked with guarding the other team’s best players on a consistent basis. Mitchell took down Nico Mannion forcing him to 2-9 shooting from the field while Kamar Baldwin got his stats, it came on only 8-19 scoring. Mitchell on the season has only allowed opponents to score 0.64 PPP and is a dynamic athlete, as shown on this play where he helps force a turnover and takes it the other way for two.
While Davion Mitchell has been great, Mark Vital has also been really key both defensively where he can be used as a switchable defender and defensive stopper. Vital is an undersized four-man that really isn’t a great shooter which limits his potential at the next level but still has been really impressive by way of stopping opponents on the defensive side of the ball, he’s able to guard both bigs and guards and is on the season only allowing opponents to score 0.63 PPP against him.
This clip of Vital is him making the game-saving block against Butler.
Baylor’s great defense allows them to get out in transition of 17.3% of their offensive possessions and they execute to a 1.15 PPP per synergy, which ranks in the 89th percentile amongst College Basketball teams.
While the Bears defense has been undeniably their key to their success, they still have needed offensive production in order to win games and that is where Jared Butler has taken a big step forward, scoring 17.6 PPG while shooting 42.3% from three. UNC Asheville transfer MaCio Teague has also exceeded expectations by averaging 14.5 PPG. Inside former D3 player, turned Baylor big man Freddie Gillespie is averaging 8.9 points and rebounds per game while shooting 54.8% from the floor.
The great thing is that Baylor has played this well and hasn’t even got their best player from the preseason going yet as Tristan Clark is only scoring 5 PPG while missing the last two games with a recurring knee injury. That’s right, Baylor is doing this with little production from a guy who scored 14.6 PPG and shot 75.5% from the field. While injuries are hard to detail, the ceiling for this team is extremely high with Clark returning to the lineup.
As a whole this Baylor team has been really fun to track as they are a team that has players that play their roles. Offensively Jared Butler has been really impressive this year taking a big step forward, while defensively this team can lock down some of the better teams in the country. With all the talk about College Basketball not really having a great product this year, it is teams like Baylor that go against that thought and have put themselves in position to potentially reach the Final Four this season.