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Looking Forward... Duke vs Baylor

Through the many twists and turns of DirecTV’s tourney package I had somehow managed to not watch a moment of Baylor’s games until last night. I pulled out the Tivo and watched them dismantle St Marys in the first half of their game on Friday night, and there is no question they are impressive. Here is how they grade out on the NCAA tourney success checklist:

  • Good Guard Play: A. The high passing grade here because they have a great combination in the backcourt - experienced speedy point guard in Tweety Carter (senior) and uber-athletic scoring machine shooting guard LaceDarius Dunn (junior). Both play 32+ minutes/game. The only reason they don’t get an A+ in this category is that they (like Duke) don’t really have anyone coming off the bench in the backcourt that contributes meaningfully. If either player gets in foul trouble 
  • Atlas Guy: A-. The guy who can carry this team is LaceDarius Dunn. Despite the head-shaking name, Dunn can fill it up from anywhere. He averages nearly 20 pts and 5 rebounds a game to go with his stellar 86% free throw and 42% shooting from distance (over 100 made 3’s on the year). He takes and makes tough shots and he has that ‘you can’t stop me’ swagger.
  • Front Court strength: B+. They have NBA starting size at 6’10”, 6’10”, 7’0” along the backline. Senior center Josh Lomers is kind of a Chase McFarland clone without the overt thuggery. Both he and Soph Anthony Jones don’t put up a lot of points, but Epke Udoh more than makes up for their lack of scoring punch (as well as providing another weirdo name). Udoh is a handful, averaging about 14 and 10 as well as an amazing 3.7 blocks. He seems to have a 15-17ft jump shot to go with his athletic game around the rim. He also averages 32+ minutes a game.
  • Bench: C-. Quincy Acy (okay Baylor might be the All-Name Team) is an athletic wing forward who is the only scoring punch off the bench. He chips in 9pts and 5 boards so he is a valuable contributor. 6’1” AJ Walton is the only backcourt player who gets significant minutes, but he seems mostly to be in to give the stars a breather. 
  • Denfensive Prowess: B. Baylor playes zone D almost exclusively so that unfamiliarity can give them a bit of an advantage. They say it is a 2-3, but often looks more like a 1-3-1. The one thing for certain is that this is not your father’s zone that packs it in the paint. They are very aggressive matching up and pressuring the ball even 27-30 feet from the basket. (that could have had much to do with St Mary’s 3pt shooting prowess, I would expect the same against Duke) But looking over their season, the numbers don’t suggest that Baylor was winning a lot with defense. Mostly they out-score people.

Now you want to see some eerie numbers about these two teams’ averages:

  • Baylor: 77.1pts  39.1reb  14.7ast  13.7 TO  6.5steals  6.7bks  48%FG  73%FT  38.8%3pt
  • Duke:   77.7pts  39.4reb  13.9ast  11.1 TO  6.7steals  4.2bks  44%FG  76%FT  38.1%3pt

How about them apples? Want more? Duke has a very un-Duke-like +6.5 rebounding margin on the season. Baylor is +7. Duke’s FG% defense is 40% for the season (41% in conf). Baylor is 38% for the year and 42% in conference games. Both teams have a trio of players that average a ton of minutes (32+) that they rely on for the vast majority of their scoring. Both teams have primarily a  7 man rotation. There are only 2 areas where they have significantly different stats that may well be the story of this game. In conference games (which are a better measuring stick than all the inflated stats of non-conf cream puffs) Duke has a very impressive 24% 3pt FG defense vs 42% for Baylor. And Baylor gave up 70ppg as opposed to Duke’s 60.8 per contest.

After holding 3 teams under 60 points in the tourney I think we can safely say Duke’s Defense is going to be there. Baylor has the backcourt that could just be bombing 50+% from outside, but that doesn’t seem likely to me.  I will be shocked if Baylor breaks 70 points. So the question of the game to me is can Duke break 70? All year we have been saying Duke is going to have to make jump shots to win, and against a zone that seems even more imperative. But I don’t think Duke has to win this game making 3’s, they just have to make shots. This game will likely come down to how well Duke handles the zone in 3 areas:

  1. Make 3’s. No question Duke is going to have to make some 3’s. St Mary’s had some good looks but couldn’t hit them as they effectively lost the game in the first 15 minutes.
  2. Be Aggressive. St Marys also showed Duke what not to do: being resigned to shoot from outside and getting flustered from missing a few open shots. Duke’s Big 3 have to be aggressive driving into the zone where all 3 have the mid-range game to score. They also stand a better chance of getting Baylor into foul trouble where Duke has a decided front-court depth advantage.
  3. Offensive boards. One of the knocks on a zone is giving up boards when you can’t find a guy to box out. Baylor gives up 12.7 boards per game on that end. The second half of the year Duke has been a terror on the offensive glass and if they can give themselves an extra 15 shots, that could and should be the difference.

All in all it should be a great matchup of two statistically similar teams with very different styles. Can Duke win? Absolutely. Can Baylor? For sure. But if both teams play up to their M.O. then Duke’s D should carry the day. Winning ugly is not good for the stomach ulcers, but that’s who we are this year. So….