Getting to know No. 21-ranked Baylor
Given the depth and quality of the Big 12 this season, it somehow seems appropriate Kansas will begin its conference title defense on the road against a top-25 team.
These are the exact types of games the Jayhawks will have to win in order to extend their regular-season championship run to 11 years in a row.
For No. 12 KU, the journey begins Wednesday night at No. 21 Baylor.
Scott Drew, who is 3-13 against Bill Self’s Jayhawks since taking over in Waco, Texas, has coached BU to 12 straight victories at the Ferrell Center. Wouldn’t you know it, the Bears’ last home loss came to Kansas on Feb. 4, 2014.
Baylor has only surrendered 56.1 points a game this season (13th in the nation) and has a field-goal percentage defense of 37.7% (28th nationally). What’s more, the Bears have held their opponents to an average of 13.0 points below their season scoring averages.
In BU’s Big 12 opener, though, the previously stingy Bears lost 73-63 at Oklahoma (2-0 in Big 12 after throttling Texas 70-49 on Big Monday).
It’s time to meet the Baylor players Kansas will have to hold back.
No. 35 — Jonathan Motley, 6-9, freshman F
The 230-pound redshirt freshman is a load inside and capable of doing serious damage on the offensive glass (see: 8 offensive boards vs. Texas A&M on Dec. 9).
Motley is said to have added 20 pounds of muscle while sitting out the 2013-14 season — a year he spent battling Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers at Baylor practices.
The strategy (one rarely seen in major Division I college basketball) seems to have paid off. The first-year forward averages 10.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on the season. But he has come on much stronger of late, leading Baylor in scoring in four of the last five games. In that five-game stretch, Motley is averaging 17.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks.
This followed back-to-back games in early December when he fouled out and went scoreless.
In his Big 12 debut this past weekend, Motley scored 24 points and hit 9 of 12 field goals in a loss at Oklahoma.
— hoop-math.com nugget: Motley loves finishing inside, where he has 37 field goals at the rim. Keep him away from point-blank range and he makes just 24.4% of his 2-point jumpers and 25% of his 3-pointers.
No. 00 — Royce O’Neale, 6-6, senior F
Both Baylor and O’Neale benefited when the forward decided to transfer and become a Bear after playing two seasons at Denver.
He has scored 1,069 points in his career, with 676 rebounds, 329 assists and 134 steals.
As a junior, O’Neale became the first player in Baylor history to produce 200-plus rebounds and 100-plus assists in the same season, and though he doesn’t play in the backcourt he ranked second on the team with 2.9 assists.
Speaking of guard skills, he has made four or more 3-pointers in three games this season.
Just over a week ago, O’Neale (10.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists) went for a career-high with 23 points on 7-for-9 shooting (5-for-6 from deep) against Norfolk State.
— hoop-math.com nugget: Gathers scores mostly at the rim (20 field goals) and from downtown (19 3-pointers). He makes 66.7% of his takes to the rim.
No. 2 — Rico Gathers, 6-8, junior F
No, that’s not a Baylor football defensive end. That’s BU’s powerfully-built, 275-pound power forward.
Gathers nearly averages a double-double — 9.6 points, 10.6 rebounds — now that he’s a Baylor starter, as a junior. A monster in the paint, and at times impossible to block out, he’s averaging 4.9 offensive rebounds a game — second to Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney in that category.
According to sports-reference.com, the beastly forward controls 20.3% of available offensive rebounds. That’s second in the nation, to Nevada’s AJ West (22.2%).
Gathers’ six double-doubles this season lead the Big 12 and he averages one rebound every 2.8 minutes in his career.
— hoop-math.com nugget: Little surprise here, but Gathers leads Baylor in put-backs. He has scored 27 times on the offensive glass this season (Motley has 15 put-backs) and makes 50% of his put-back tries at the rim.
No. 11 — Lester Medford, 5-10, junior G
A junior-college transfer, Medford is similar in size and ability to fellow backcourt mate Kenny Chery. He started five games for Chery when the incumbent guard hurt his foot and dished 30 assists, against seven turnovers.
The combo guard averages 4.1 assists per game (fifth in the Big 12) to go with his 8.3 points.
A double-digit scorer in six games this season, Medford also mixes it up defensively, with 1.7 steals (tied for fifth in the Big 12 with Frank Mason III).
He has hit 17 of his 50 3-point attempts this season (34%), but is coming off a 3-for-6 outing at OU.
— hoop-math.com nugget: Of Baylor’s rotation players, Medford spends the least time taking shots in between the rim and the 3-point arc. Just 14.8% of his shots have been 2-point jumpers, while 35.2% have come at the rim and a whopping 50% have come from long distance.
No. 1 — Kenny Chery, 5-11, senior G
Baylor’s primary distributor dishes 4.6 assists per game to go with 8.2 points.
Since missing five consecutive starts (coming off the bench in one) with planter fasciitis, the senior from Montreal has set up his fellow Bears to the tune of 6.8 assists a game in his last four starts, compared to 2.0 turnovers a game.
The point guard channeled his inner scorer at South Carolina, where he poured in 18 of his 20 in the second half to help Baylor win on the road.
Last season, Chery’s .879 free-throw percentage led the Big 12, and he has made 12 of 15 (80 percent) so far as a senior, playing in nine games.
— hoop-math.com nugget: Just 18.1% of his shots so far have come at the rim. Chery has taken 25 2-point jumpers and is making just 28.6% of those tries. He’s 12-for-34 from deep.
No. 21 — Taurean Prince, 6-7, junior F
A starter for five games this season while Chery recovered, he has easily transitioned into a stellar sixth man. Prince’s 12.0 points per game and 21 3-pointers lead the Bears. He has made that many bombs on just 39 attempts — giving him the Big 12’s top percentage of 53.8%.
With nine double-digit scoring games, he leads Baylor (Gathers, Medford and Motley all have six such performances).
Prince played 30 minutes at Oklahoma, and shot the ball well — 6-for-12 from the floor, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range.
Overall, he has made 50 of 104 shots (48.1%) while providing instant offense.
— hoop-math.com nugget: He can create his own easy points. Only 50% of Prince’s shots at the rim come off assists. His method? Crashing the offensive glass. He has 11 put-backs.
No. 25 — Al Freeman, 6-3, freshman G
Another redshirt freshman (he missed eight weeks with a broken wrist last year), Freeman has scored double-digits off the bench in three of BU’s past five games.
But at Oklahoma, Drew only played Freeman 16 minutes and he went 0-for-3 with one point.
He has yet to start, but averages 6.5 points in 19.3 minutes and has reached the foul line (20-for-29) more often than starting guards Medford and Chery.
— hoop-math.com nugget: Most of his shot attempts, 55.2% actually, come from long range. However, Freeman has connected on just 29.7% of his 3-pointers.