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College Basketball Preview: Texas @ Baylor

Texas Hoops has the unenviable task of going on the road and facing a good team with its back against the wall tonight when they face the Baylor Bears at 8 pm cst in Waco. The Bears were embarrassed in Norman on Saturday, getting run out of the gym to the tune of 95-76. And the score wasn't indicative of how bad things could have been. Rest assured things will be rocking and rolling when the Horns come to town.

Offensively, Baylor will play an up tempo style looking to get out and run in an effort to find easy looks for their guard dominant personnel. Whether that comes from penetration to the rim by Jerrels and Dugat or open 3's in the secondary break for Dunn and Tweety Carter, Baylor is looking to get out and find offense before you can set up your halfcourt defense. Texas will have to do a good job 1-5 of getting back and fanning to a man to shut off easy primary and secondary break opportunities. If the Horns can make the Bears play shot clock to shot clock in a half court setting, Texas has an excellent chance to exploit their advantage over the Bears defensively and on the glass. If Baylor can get numerous runouts for easy buckets, the momentum and home court crowd could be the difference in the game. On to the personnel.

The Backcourt
For the Bears, it all starts with star combo guard Curtis Jerrells. The 6-2 senior is averaging 17.6 ppg and nearly 6 assists and is the focal point of the Baylor offense especially when he's allowed to get to the rack. Curtis is at his best when he's able to use a Hardaway-esque killer crossover to his right and take defenders to the hole. It may sound counterintuitive considering CJ is a lefty, but it's important for Texas defenders to shade Jerrells' right hand and force him left. He's a classic change of direction blow-by penetrator, so shading him left and forcing a jumper is key. If Curtis can cross a defender, blow by and get in the paint for easy looks and dishes, Baylor is tough to defend.

Flanking Jerrells in Baylor's three guard offense is Henry Dugat and Tweety Carter. They both shoot the 3 ball at over 40%, but Dugat is more likely to penetrate while Carter is looking to drift and spot up. Dugat is the more physical of the two, and unlike Carter he has the ability to finish at the rim with his strength and athleticism. If I'm defending, I'm closing out much more aggressively on Carter because he poses little to no threat of hurting me off the bounce. With Dugat, defenders need to close out under control and make him shoot contested jumpers over the top.

The Frontcourt
Senior 6-8 forward Kevin Rogers and 6-7 freshman forward Quincy Acy round out the starting 5 for the Baptists. For Texas' defensive, this pair should be right in the Horn's wheelhouse when it comes to defending out of their new small personnel group. There isn't a typical back to the basket low post threat in this pair so Barnes can mix and match Atchley and Johnson on the Bear frontcourt without worrying too much about mismatches. Since Rogers is the much more accomplished offensive player, I see Atchley starting out on Acy considering Connor's strength is playing defense from the helpside. Johnson's quickness and athleticism should bother Rogers since Kevin is a player that likes to face up 15 feet in. With his back to the basket, Rogers is a below average player.

Acy is Baylor's garbage guy, so Connor must be diligent keeping this athletic forward off the weakside boards. When Connor's helping block to block, James and Mason have to rotate and put a body on the slightly built jumping jack Acy to prevent put backs offensive boards.

The Bench
Lacedarius Dunn comes off the bench in an instant offense role. The 6-4 sophomore gunslinger is second on the team in scoring with 16.9 ppg. Dunn is coming in the ballgame to jack up 3's and he must be defended in the same manner as Kyle McAlarney or any other sharp shooter. He must be defended on the catch because if he's given any room he's going to pull and hit. In Baylor's last 3 conference games, Dunn has averaged twelve 3 point attempts in 29 minutes of play.

Frontcourt depth comes from 6-6 forward Fred Ellis, 7-1 center Mamadou Diene, and 6-10 cneter Josh Lomers. The Bears like to stick with 6 deep, but Diene and Lomers give the Bears some big fouls off the bench.

Horns Keys to the Game

Play quick but don't hurry.
Yes, it's a play on Wooden's old adage be quick but don't hurry. The fact of the matter is that Texas can really hurt the Bears and their porous halfcourt defense even with the newly implemented small personnel group. James at the 3 is simply too big for Jerrells, Johnson will most likely draw Acy to keep Rogers out of foul trouble, and Rogers will have to float on the perimeter with Atchley.

Playing quick in the half court in terms of screening, cutting, and passing should lead to great looks for the Horns against a below average Bear defense. If Texas hurries and settles for jumpshots early in the shot clock, they're playing right into Baylor's hands. Not only will they be bailing the Bears out defensively, but these early shots will likely aid Baylor's efforts to get out in transition and hurt the Horns in the running game. We're not asking for the Horns to plod and pound, just play quick yet patient.

Transition Defense by Varying Who Attacks the Glass
You can slow down a transition team if you make them focus most of their energy rebounding the basketball by sending large numbers to the boards to close out possessions. If Texas can make the Bears defend the glass with numbers, then it makes the job of getting back much easier. One strategy involves sending a variety of players to board offensively in order to plant a seed of doubt in all 5 Bears defenders. For instance, certain possessions, Barnes can designate Mason to attack the glass with the usual suspects while Abrams and Atchley are getting back. On the next possession you roll the dice and send 4 guys to the glass. Another possession you might send just two. Certainly you want to match your boarding strategy with the offensive sets or motion you're running, but what the tactic does is make all 5 Bears account for their blockout responsibility before they leak out in transition. If Texas predictably sends James, Atchley, and Johnson on every position, then Baylor can get comfortable with leaking out Dugat and Carter. Texas has an advantage on the glass, making blockout numbers unpredictable just enhances this advantage.

Defend the Secondary Break
When there are runouts, it won't be enough for Texas to simply get back, pick up the ball and defend the bucket. The third piece is for defenders 3-5 to fan out and find shooters beyond the arc. Baylor does a bunch of sideline breaking, which involves advancing the ball up the sidelines with a secondary break coming via skip pass over helpside. Texas defenders have to get back and then turn and find shooters by fanning out to the arc once they cross halfcourt. Stopping the ball and protecting the goal are certainly the priority, but Texas has to be congnizant of stopping easy secondary break 3's in transition.

No tit for tat
It's going to be very important for AJ Abrams and to a lesser extent Damion James to avoid a jumpshooting contest with Baylor. If for example Dunn drills a 3, Abrams has to resist the urge to come down and get it back off a quick catch and shoot. If it's a wide open look, fine. If it's contested, though, run offense and find the easy shot Baylor will assuredly make available for you. For James, it's probable that Jerrells will have success scoring. James has to resist the temptation to go one on one with Curtis on the other end to "get it back". If Texas makes Baylor help and rotate for just a couple of machinations, Texas will get a layup, an open 3, or an easy put back. This has to remain a 5 on 5 game for Texas to win.

We saw the effectiveness of some token pressure in the TAMU game. A little three quarter court pressure off of makes can be effective against a team like Baylor that wants to pull the ball out of the net and get out and run. It's a similar philosophy to pressing in last second shot situations. Your main goal is to slow the ball down and force a couple passes before a team can get into an offense. If you want to have a pressure personnel group that includes Ward and Balbay in an effort to wear down the Bears, that would be another benefit. It's my opinion that when Texas isn't pressing, it's leaving some of its horses out of the equation, especially when the Horns face teams with little or no depth like the Bears. And if it slows the Bears down and takes them out of rhythm even a little bit, all the better.

Overall, it should be a great game. The Horns are 1.5 dogs, so Vegas is expecting it to come down to the wire. I like the Horns because they matchup really well on defense.