Baylor’s Battle With Vanderbilt a Chance to Show Bears Belong

Posted by Chris Stone on December 6th, 2015

Baylor has jumped out to one of the more interesting starts in college basketball. The Bears entered the season solidly ranked in the Top 25 but now voters aren’t sure what to make of them. They smashed a solid Stephen F. Austin team by 42 points on opening night before falling short in a true road game against Oregon in their second contest. Since then, Baylor has recorded four blowout home victories over the softest stretch of its non-conference schedule but Scott Drew’s squad has another chance to prove itself against Vanderbilt tonight in Waco. This game, sprouting out of the two teams’ meeting in the 2014 Big 12/SEC Challenge, represents an opportunity for the Bears to pick up their first non-conference win over a ranked opponent since defeating Kentucky in 2013-14. A win here would establish the Bears as a league contender alongside Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State.

Rico Gathers and Baylor can establish themselves in the Big 12 race with a win over Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Rico Gathers and Baylor can establish themselves in the Big 12 race with a win over Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Vanderbilt, a team that should challenge Kentucky for the SEC title, will quite literally be a big test for Baylor, as the Commodores are anchored by seven-footers Luke Kornet and Damian Jones. Although the Bears boast one of college basketball’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers, the senior big man has rarely faced the kind of size he’ll see tonight. To date, Gathers and fellow forward Johnathan Motley have helped Baylor collect 42.2 percent of their own misses, a mark that ranks sixth best nationally. If Kornet and James can succeed in keeping the Bears off the offensive glass, Baylor could be in for a difficult night that has to rely on forcing turnovers and its half-court offense.

In any event, the Bears will need a strong performance from their dark horse Big 12 Player of the Year candidate, Taurean Prince. With Royce O’Neale no longer around this season, Prince has seen his usage rate climb by nearly six percent. That increase represents Prince’s greater role in the Baylor offense where he now serves as one of the team’s most important facilitators and its top scoring option. As a senior, Prince is averaging triple the number of assists per 40 minutes compared with last season (6.1 assists per 40 from 1.9) and he also leads the team in field goal attempts per game. However, the expanded role has resulted in a decrease in his efficiency from last season. Prince is shooting just 37.3 percent from the floor, mostly the result of a 10 percent decline in his two-point field goal percentage. The Bears will need Prince to return to his more efficient ways against a Vanderbilt defense that ranks 16th in the country in getting stops. If he can do that and Baylor is able to control the offensive glass, the Bears should be able to put themselves in great position to pick up the victory in front of the home crowd tonight.

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

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