There is no bigger regular season game possible than 1 vs 2. If all goes well, Gonzaga could have multiple 1 vs 2 games in the matter of two weeks. First they must take care of business against the Baylor Bears, a team they are 5-0 against all-time.
Baylor, not Gonzaga, had the most number one votes in the preseason AP Poll. The majority of those switched over to the Zags after they throttled Kansas, but after the first 10 days of the season, it seems very clear that Gonzaga and Baylor are a tier ahead of every other team currently.
The KenPom gap between Gonzaga/Baylor and everyone else this early in the season is absolutely staggering. pic.twitter.com/yU36nSeRSe— Steven Karr (@SKarrG0) December 3, 2020
Usually in these previews, we give you the opponent’s KenPom ranking and all that good stuff. We all know Baylor is on par with Gonzaga in everything. So instead, let’s talk about Baylor’s eight-man rotation. They have distinct roles and they are incredibly talented.
Jared Butler (6’3 junior): 16.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.0 apg
MaCaio Teague (6’3 senior): 15.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.7 apg
Davion Mitchell (6’2 junior): 13.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.7 apg
Adam Flagler (6’3 sophomore): 15.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.7 apg
The top three guys are all returning starters from last season. They can all score from every level on the court, they can all handle the ball, and they all defend their tails off. Butler is a pre-season All American and a National Player of the Year candidate. Teague is dynamic off the ball. Mitchell facilitates the whole thing, but can get his own when needed.
What Baylor was missing last season was a dynamic scorer off the bench. Boy do they have that now. Flagler, the redshirt transfer from Presbyterian, is their second leading scorer and leading three-point shooter through three games. The quartet are a combined 28-for-63 (44%) from long range this season. Gonzaga has made 16 as a team. We talk about Gonzaga’s loaded back court, but this highly experienced foursome is as equal to or better than what Mark Few puts out there. Butler started in their 2019 NCAA Tournament game against the Bulldogs and had 11 points, going 1-for-8 from deep.
Mark Vital (6’5 senior): 6.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.3 apg
Matthew Mayer (6’9 junior): 7.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.0 apg
Both guys are used as wing/forward hybrids, but can be used as small ball centers in a pinch. In fact, Vital was a small ball center at times at the end of the 2019 season after Tristan Clark went down with injury. Vital had to guard Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, and Clarke tore Baylor to shreds. This year, Vital is the ultimate glue guy. He is an absolute load at 250 pounds. He rebounds the heck out of the ball and can defend basically anyone on the court. He’s not known for being a huge offensive playmaker, but he led the Bears with 17 points in their 2019 Tournament game so he is perfectly capable when needed. Mayer is more of a prototypical stretch-4. He shot 38 percent from deep a season ago, and is 2-for-4 in three games this month. He’ll give Baylor 10-12 quality minutes and won’t make many mistakes. He’s not the defender and rebounder that Vital is, though, so it’s possible that Gonzaga can take advantage of that during his minutes on the floor.
Flo Thamba (6’10 junior): 3.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg
Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (6’9 sophomore): 9.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg
If there’s any weakness on Baylor’s roster, it’s inside. With Freddie Gillespie’s graduation and Tristan Clark’s retirement, the Bears have two fairly unproven centers. Thamba has started all three games, but Tchatchoua, a UNLV transfer, has been far more effective. Gonzaga struggled mightily on the glass for large portions of the game against West Virginia, and Tchatchoua will offer zero reprieve on that front. Him and Vital average nearly eight offensive boards a game. However, neither Thamba nor Tchatchoua are the greatest defenders and both have a propensity to foul. Kofi Cockburn, and moreso Giorgi Bezhanishvili, had some success inside for Illinois on Wednesday. They combined for 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting. 6’10 Theo Akwuba put up 22 points, going 9-for-9 from the field, for the Rajin’ Cajuns in Baylor’s opener. Drew Timme has to own the front court battle in this game.
Last season, Baylor was remarkably good defensively because they could switch 1-through-5. Gillespie was a freak athlete and combined with great guards, they didn’t allow a whole lot of easy looks. With Gillespie gone, there’s a bit of regression, especially on the interior. Last season, teams only shot 44 percent inside the arc. Through three games this year, opponents are shooting 53 percent inside the line. Gonzaga is fourth in the country at 2pt FG% with a 65.3 percent clip.
While they have taken a slight step back defensively, they have taken a leap forward offensively. They are shooting lights out from deep to start the season. Butler was a good shooter a year ago, but Mitchell and Teague both shot under 36 percent. It feels like there should be some regressing to the mean, but right now, they’re scorching hot. Add in Flagler, who has always been an elite shooter, and you’ve got the makings for an elite perimeter team.
Baylor is also top 10 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, where they have been each of the last seven seasons. So it seems pretty self-explanatory after reading all this that the three keys to the game are rebounding, limiting open perimeter looks, and dominating inside offensively. Easier said than done.
Gonzaga vs. Baylor is the fifth 1 vs. 2 meeting in college basketball in the past 12-plus seasons. It’s the first 1 vs. 2 game since Tennessee vs. Memphis on 2.23.08 (remember that one?) to not feature at least one of Kentucky, Duke or Kansas.— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) December 3, 2020
Game: #1 Gonzaga vs #2 Baylor
Time: Saturday, 10 am pacific
TV: CBS (Tom McCarthy, Bill Raftery)
KenPom: 79-78 Gonzaga
Betting line: Gonzaga (-4)