ORLANDO-- It's been no secret that Baylor basketball has had its issues on the defensive end of the floor during Scott Drew's tenure.
Those struggles could be on their way out as Drew has a roster that looks radically different. A much improved Josh Lomers anchors the paint at a towering seven feet. His wingman are equally impressive as small forward Anthony Jones isn't so small. The sophomores is a skinny, but absurdly long 6'10''. Ekpe Udoh plays the four and five as another wirey 6'10'' big man.
That front line makes for a perfect fit for the 2-3 zone defense.
"We've been a man team for the last couple years, but we went zone at the end of last year and it did pretty well," Drew said. "We really have a team with a lot of length so we decided to start out the year with it. So far its been pretty good."
Pretty good is the key word here. The zone was impenetrable against Xavier in Sunday's fifth place game. Against Iona it was good, not great, but when Alabama opened its Old Spice Classic against Baylor, the Crimson Tide shred it pieces.
Each night Scott Drew has been a broken record trying to explain the defense's difficulties, but also its improvement, "We are the ninth youngest college basketball team with only four upperclassmen. So it's going to talk some time to reach your potential."
That improvement is very noticeable.
After Alabama ran up-and-down the court scoring at will, Baylor clamped down on Iona limiting second chance opportunities and dominating the paint with its ridiculous size.
But against the Gaels, the Bears still struggled to identify the shooters in the zone as Iona knocked down 12-of-28 three-point attempts. Baylor also several missed assignments that led to some confusion during the post-game press conference.
I asked Drew why he went to a 1-3-1 zone defense for about two possessions and Drew confusingly laughed.
"If we went to a 1-3-1 I didn't know about it. We must have had some missed assignments."
There was no 1-3-1/2-3 hybrid zone defense Sunday against Xavier. There were few missed assignments and Baylor's thin, but tall and long front line held up nicely against Xavier's monstrous, bulky front court.
For Baylor the personnel isn't the only difference.
"Love and dedication, said senior point guard Tweety Carter. "That's the difference. It's communicating. As leaders [He and Ekpe Udoh] of this team we preach defense in practice. It's what coach preaches every practice."
That love is clear with each smile and the demonstrative body language from Ekpe Udoh each time he blocked a shot.
The green and gold's success up front starts with a man known as the Nightmare.
Michigan transfer Ekpe Udoh is a menace around the basket. The lanky power forward/center is a dangerous shot blocker, but also an offensive force. Udoh's offensive game is quickly catching up to his defense.
In just three games in the Old Spice Classic, Udoh rejected 13 shots and grabbed 30 rebounds, including 11 offensive boards.
He can play the wing in the zone or anchor the middle when seven footer Josh Lomers isn't in the game.
His versatility on offense is just as valuable as his defense as Udoh is a long range threat who can handle the ball if needed to. He has the ability to pound the glass and finish his teammates' misses. His impact and the teams' improved defense allows Baylor to win even when star guard LaceDarius Dunn posts a 2-14 shooting day.
"It's a good thing for a coach when we win like that because it shows we don't need all our players to have their best games to win," Drew said.