After knocking off #12 Missouri on Tuesday night, the task doesn’t get any easier for Auburn this week. Tomorrow, they will take on the 15-0 Baylor Bears in Waco as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. With that in mind, I wanted to find out more about Baylor and what has made them so successful this season. Today, we are joined by Kendall Kaut of Our Daily Bears to give us some insight on this Baylor team. My thanks to Kendall for taking the time to answer my questions. Kendall’s answers will be in bold below.
WM: It’s quite remarkable the job that Scott Drew has done at Baylor over the years. You guys made 5 of 6 NCAA Tournaments in the mid-2010s. But the last two years has been an incredible rise to the top of the Big 12. Talk about the rise of Baylor Basketball to this elite level over the last few seasons and do you see the run Baylor is currently on sustainable long-term?
KK: I think the run is sustainable, but this is almost assuredly the best team Baylor will ever have. That doesn’t mean Baylor will win the title this season, or that a worse Baylor team can’t win the title. But a lot of program’s best teams ever fail to win the title. 2015 Kentucky didn’t win. 1997 Kansas didn’t either. But Drew is landing 5-stars again, and the Bears have worked transfers well too. It’s hard to see a path where they collapse.
WM: Obviously one of the biggest storylines going into this one is the reunion between Auburn and Davion Mitchell who has thrived at Baylor. He played behind Jared Harper for a year and then transferred to Baylor but was a pivotal role player on Auburn’s 2017-2018 season. Talk about what he has meant to the Baylor program the past 3 seasons? What would you say Davion has improved on the most since he arrived in Waco?
KK: He’s been a ferocious defender. The Bears are No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency. He earned the nickname “off night” because his opponent always seems to have an off night when he guards them. I think his 3-point shooting has improved the most. He’s shooting 47% this year, and has already attempted more threes this season than he did at Auburn.
WM: We talked about Davion already, but you guys have this 3-headed monster of guards with Mitchell, Jared Butler, and MaCio Teague. Butler’s one of the best players in America and I feel like Teague gets overshadowed a bit but what can you say about what Butler and Teague have done this season and the strengths of each of them?
KK: Jared Butler might be the best player in America. Anyone that thought Luka Garza had wrapped up the player of the year honors should consider defense matters, and Butler is one heck of an offensive player too. Teague helps Baylor play smaller lineups, at times, with a 6-foot-11 wingspan. He’s also incredible near the hop, with an array of floaters and shots off the glass.
WM: Do you guys have enough 3-point shooters? 44% as a team with 6 guys shooting 38% and above is insanely good and I am saying that as someone who follows a team that shoots a ton of 3s. How big has that been regarding Baylor’s offense being so efficient this season?
KK: The Bears rank No. 1 in 3-point percentage, and that’s helped the offense quite a bit. Baylor was terrible from inside the arc last season, and I asked Scott Drew why their 2-point percentage improved, and he credited their 3-point shooting opening up those opportunities.
WM: While the offense has been great, Baylor’s defense continues to be one of the best in the country as it was last season. What is the biggest key as to why Baylor has been such an outstanding defensive team the last few years?
KK: After Texas Tech made the national title game, Baylor switched to a version of Texas Tech’s “no middle” defense. The Bears will switch certain plays a bit less and help less than Texas Tech, but they’ve been incredible with. But Baylor would have a good defense running just about any scheme. Their defense dominates because they have three guys that are among the top 15 watchlist for national defensive player of the year, and a host of other guys that can blow up sets.
WM: When I’ve watched Baylor this season, one of the guys that’s intrigued me the most is Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. He seems to be everywhere on both sides of the floor when he’s in the game. How big of an addition has he been to this year’s team?
KK: He opens up a ton of space because teams are terrified of his rim running. I did a long profile on him, and he told me that he spent the summer telling Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler they could keep throwing lobs higher. When Baylor gets EJ (Everyday Jon) on one side of the floor, and has three shooters on the other, it’s virtually impossible to contain the Bears.
WM: Who is one guy that might fly under the radar a bit that Auburn fans should be worried about Saturday?
KK: Matthew Mayer may be unknown to folks outside the Big 12. The 6-foot-9 wing can dribble and shoot with the best of them. He’s instant offense, and when he gets hot, there’s not much that stops him.
WM: If Baylor and Gonzaga were to play each other, who do you think wins? Auburn will have played both of them after Saturday so I would love to hear your assessment on that potential matchup.
KK: A true coin flip. I think if they played 100 times, Baylor would win like 52 of those games. As so much of basketball does, it probably comes down to who hits some threes. I think the Bears will stay aggressive, but Gonzaga will get some pretty good looks, and the Bears are a unique challenge for Gonzaga’s defense.
WM: Personally, I would have loved to have seen last year’s Auburn team go up against this group but thankful to at least get the matchup this season. How do you see this game playing out and do you have a score prediction?
KK: Obviously Auburn is substantially better with Sharife Cooper. With the Tigers at No. 19 in adjusted efficiency since he entered the lineup, this is one of the most dangerous games left for the Bears. But even at No. 19 over that run, Baylor is still just a bit better than the Tigers. I think Baylor makes life difficult for Cooper, and the Bears win 84-76.
Auburn will certainly have their hands full tomorrow against Baylor. Thanks again to Kendall for joining us today!