Guest byline: Shehan Jeyarajah Sports Editor of the Baylor Lariat
After coming into the season as a borderline tournament team, Baylor basketball shocked the Big 12 en route to a three-seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament and an opening date with the Georgia State Panthers on Thursday.
The Bears lost Isaiah Austin to a career-ending illness, Cory Jefferson to the Brooklyn Nets and sharpshooter Brady Heslip to Europe after the 2013-14 season. No matter; a combination of returners and new additions helped make up the gap.
Baylor was able to find success behind the rapid improvement of junior forward Rico Gathers, an All-Big 12 First Team member for his performance this season. The LaPlace, Louisiana native led Baylor with 11.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game (No. 4 nationally), up from 6.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game last season.
Gathers also helped spearhead a dominant Baylor rebounding effort. As a team, the Bears rank No. 7 nationally and No. 2 among tourney teams with 14.7 offensive rebounds per game. The Bears also rebounded opponents by 8.0 rebounds per game, which does not bode well for a Georgia State roster that posts a -0.6 rebound per game differential.
Defensively, Baylor is one of the top teams in basketball. The Bears held opponents to only 60.3 points per game on 40.2 percent shooting from the field. Baylor coach Scott Drew has made his money on establishing a dominant zone defense. The system is a base 1-3-1, but with plenty of deviation that makes it supremely difficult to prepare for in postseason tourneys.
The unorthodox system is a key reason Baylor has been able to qualify for the Sweet Sixteen in three of the last five seasons.
To beat Baylor, a team needs to force it to turn the ball over. Since this team lacks a true star or finisher, it relies heavily on ball movement. We have seen how good it can be when things are going well, including assists on 61 percent of its made buckets. However, when the team starts moving into isolation, like they did against Kansas in the Big 12 tourney, Baylor becomes vulnerable.
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