I got a paper and another paper due Monday with a final on Monday, so, time to write a basketball preview!
Northwestern hosts No. 7 Baylor, by far the best team they'll play in non-con this year and one of the best they'll play all year. This is an enormous test for Northwestern: the Wildcats are undefeated and have some wins over power conference teams, but Baylor is the real deal. A win tomorrow would be literally enormous in terms of Northwestern's tournament prospects, and furthermore, would pretty much tell us that NU is a good team. So how about it?
Hey, KenPom says we're gonna win! He's always right, right?: For once, we have to take Kenpom's word with a grain of salt. Small sample sizes are always sketchy, but in this case, it's even sketchier, for a very specific reason. Baylor is the No. 7 team in the country according to voters, but No. 30 - just four spots ahead of NU - in Mr. Pomeroy's ranking. I hypothesize the reason for this inexplicable gap lies in the lack of Perry Jones III, who sat out Baylor's first five games this year for getting some of those good ol' improper benefits back in high school. The future lotto pick averaged 14 and seven last year at power forward and was a big part of why Baylor was reasonably successful offensively. Jones played in his first game of the season against Prairie View A&M, and although, yeah, that's Prairie View A&M, well, he scored 27 points on 14 shots and Baylor put up efficiency totals of 128.5 on offense and 77.1 on defense. Those numbers would make Baylor the best team in the country by far in each category. Baylor without Jones looks good to Kenpom, with him, they're worldbeaters.
Damn, you're good at explaining things! So why is Baylor so good after being under .500 in conference last year and losing in the first round of their conference tourney and not going to any postseason tournament?: You take out LaceDarius Dunn - who was a great scorer, averaging 19.5 points per game, but doing so while taking almost 1/3 of the team's shots - and plug in Quincy Miller, the talented freshman wing. He's 6-foot-9, 210, but plays the three, hitting half of his threes on the year, and like everybody else on Baylor, playing above the rim.
Anybody else I should be terrified of while you're at it?: Five Baylor players average double-digits and has four players with 5 or more rebounds per game, so, yeah. The lesser of the team's two Quincy's - who do they call "Q" - Quincy Acy's 6-foot-7 and leads the team with eight boards.
What are they good at?: Baylor is huge and athletic. As a result, they get a lot of friggin dunks and play what is currently the No. 1 statistical defense inside the three-point arc in the country, allowing the opponent to hit on only 33.2 percent of their shots. They get a lot of blocks - 19.7 percent of opposing shots, No. 7 in the country - play good pressure defense - steals on 13.4 percent of opposing possessions, No. 21 in the country. - and clean up the boards pretty well, rebounding 38 percent of their misses. When you have two hyperathletic future lotto pick big men in Jones and Miller as well as a nice player in Acy, that sort of interior dominance will happen.
What are they bad at?: Two things that should make your ears perk up if you're a Northwestern fan. First off, they aren't good at guarding the perimeter. Baylor has played one game against a good team this year, San Diego State. In that game, Chase Tapley hit eight of ten threes. (The team went 8-for-24 overall, since everybody else sucked.) It's a trend, as teams shoot 36.4 percent from downtown, 223rd in the country. They also have a knack for turning the ball over. This year it isn't that bad, but last year they were in the 300's on both getting the ball stolen and turning it over, giving the ball away on 23.4 percent of their possessions. This year it's slightly better, up to 21.7 percent of possessions. (It's 13.8 for Northwestern, for comparison.) I read that Baylor struggled immensely with zones last year, but it hasn't been obvious in the one game of theirs I've watched this season.
Us and them: First meeting! Sup!
Difference between the amount of times Northwestern has been to the NCAA Tournament and the amount of times Baylor has: Six! Most recently in 2010 with Ekpe Udoh.
Names?: Freshman guard Deuce Bello, whose last name is one or two syllables from making him a European gigolo. Also, senior center J'mison Morgan, whose name would be perfectly normal if there were an a there instead of an apostrophe. His favorite whiskey brand is probably J'meson's.
Can NU win?: To be honest, yes. Northwestern is going to get absolutely murdered inside. Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti won't stand a chance of defending anybody. But what encourages me is the fact that Northwestern just played a Georgia Tech team that is very, very like this Baylor team in terms of kenpom numbers - blocks/interior defense/rebounding - and absolutely killed them. This game is going to be a battle of styles: Baylor is extremely athletic and basically plays NBA style, mainly man defense, and will kill NU with athleticism, they give up a lot of threes and turn the ball over a lot. NU is going to hit them with a 1-3-1 zone that will try to force turnovers and keep them shooting, and is going to hoist countless threes on offense. Baylor is the only top-ten team with two top-ten picks that Northwestern should really have a shot of beating, thanks to Bill Carmody's set-up. Really interesting stuff from a basketball perspective.
Should NU win?: No, and I wouldn't be disappointed if they lost. I expect Baylor to win, but it could happen.