Baylor’s Man-to-Man Defense a New Wrinkle With Promise

Posted by Kendall Kaut on December 8th, 2015

Baylor scored its biggest victory of the young season on Sunday night, beating Vanderbilt, 69-67. The Bears played to a key strength against the Commodores, forcing 17 turnovers in an effort that has propelled Scott Drew‘s team all the way to seventh nationally in turnovers forced per 100 possessions. But Baylor wasn’t proficient in every area on the defensive end, as Vanderbilt made 10 of their 21 relatively clean looks from three-point range. Moving forward, Baylor’s focus should be to design a defense that still allows it to play to its strength in forcing turnovers but avoids giving opponents open opportunities from three-point range. Drew is sure to switch between zone and man to find the perfect amount of each strategy, but a full-time man-to-man approach may be most likely to maximize turnovers while also defending the perimeter.

Rico Gathers and Baylor pulled off the victory Sunday against Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Rico Gathers’ And The Bears Snuck By Vandy On Sunday. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Baylor has primarily been a zone team over the last seven years. Drew’s current defense of choice is a 1-3-1 zone that is usually anchored by one of the country’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers. After a rough start against Oregon in Eugene three weeks ago, Baylor switched to man-to-man and nearly came back and won. In four home blowouts of less talented teams, Baylor stuck with the man-to-man. On Sunday, the Bears mixed defenses against Vanderbilt, switching from zone to man as part of a strategy that included alternating looks on the first eight possessions.

Baylor’s man defense helps the Bears maximize turnovers. In the above clip, Ish Wainwright, despite being only 6’6″, is able to defend Vanderbilt seven-footer and NBA prospect Damian Jones, with Gathers ready and waiting to help. When Jones cannot back Wainwright down he’s forced to make an errant pass, which leads to a shot clock violation for the Commodores.

In the zone, Baylor has problems when it overextends. In the next clip, Vanderbilt’s strong ball movement leaves the Bears with a problem. Gathers can close out on the wing, but he leaves the Commodores with an easy alley-oop opportunity if he does. Instead, Taurean Prince is left to try to recover late but he isn’t in time, leaving Luke Kornett to drain an open three. Good teams will exploit the zone and continue to find open threes, particularly from the corners when the Bears go to the 1-3-1.

The biggest problem Baylor has had with man-to-man defense is switching and getting through screens. As in the below clip, Vanderbilt freed shooters from the right side with off-ball screens several times. Prince and Jonathan Motley appear to be confused about whether a switch is occurring, and Vanderbilt sniper Matthew Fisher-Davis is left with a great look from three. This seems like a fixable problem, however. The Bears had yet to face a team as talented as Vanderbilt, and Baylor was unable to rely on its pure athleticism as it did against teams like Prairie View A&M and Arkansas State. With Motley’s quickness and Prince’s strong defensive instincts, the Bears should be able to develop a better, more communicative off-ball defense.

This final clip highlights Baylor’s strength in man. Prince is able to recover quickly because he’s never too far from his assignment. Al Freeman is also close and ready to help, something that wouldn’t happen out of the zone. Overall team athleticism helps the Bears get in position to defend the three-point shot, something else that doesn’t always happen in the zone. Baylor clearly has the athletes to defend one through five, as no player needs to be hidden on defense. To beat the teams at the top of the Big 12 — Iowa State, Kansas, and Oklahoma — the Bears will need to better defend the three. Their newly-installed man-to-man defense gives them hope.

Kendall Kaut (3 Posts)

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