Scorching Before COVID-19 Pause, Baylor Has 2 Issues to Address Down the Stretch

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2021

Baylor coach Scott Drew
Baylor coach Scott DrewJustin Rex/Associated Press

As the buzzer sounded on Baylor's 83-69 victory over No. 6 Texas to begin February, only top-ranked Gonzaga could be considered an equally impressive team. Baylor improved to 17-0 and hadn't played a game within eight points all season.

But then on Feb. 4and for the second time in 2020-21Baylor hit pause due to coronavirus health and safety protocols.

This time around, though, the return hasn't been so smooth.

Following a three-week layoff that included six postponed games, Scott Drew's team hosted Iowa State on Feb. 23. Baylor trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half and needed a last-minute surge to pull away from the Cyclones, who entered with zero Big 12 wins and a 2-16 mark overall.

Baylor still set a program record with an 18-0 start to the year, but the dim shine of the accomplishment soon disappeared. Kansas ruined the Bears' undefeated season on Saturday.

The main takeaways from the two games are Baylor struggled with three-point shots and interior play. One hadn't been a problem in 2020-21, and the other had quietly been a complication for the Bears.

First, look at the shooters.

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Jared Butler
Jared ButlerChuck Burton/Associated Press

Baylor has a bunch of quality long-range options. Along with Presbyterian transfer Adam Flagler, star guards Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell attempt four-plus triples per game and convert 42.5 percent or better. MaCio Teague is at 34.8 percent, and Matthew Mayer shoots a lower volume at 45.0 percent. It's no surprise the Bears rank No. 1 nationally in three-point percentage.

In the last two games, however, they posted a 14-of-51 mark combined. Most notably, the trio of Butler, Mitchell and Flagler finished 3-of-17 from outside in the loss to Kansas.

Throw in a dismal 21-of-37 combined performance at the free-throw linewhere Baylor ranks an unsightly 233rd anywayand the offense has endured two disastrous days recently.

When shots aren't falling, winning inside is increasingly important.

Baylor is a great defensive team overall but is strongest on the perimeter with Mitchell, Mark Vital and Butler. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchouawho didn't play against Iowa State and was limited opposite KansasFlo Thamba and Mayer are the only players in the rotation who stand taller than 6'5".

Opponents shoot 64.5 percent at the rim, per Hoop-Math.com, which is the nation's 42nd-worst mark. Plus, the Bears rank 287th in offensive rebound rate allowed. That showed up in a major way when Kansas grabbed 43 missed shots to Baylor's 25, and Jayhawks forward David McCormack scored 20 points.

Again, hot shooting can overcome that vulnerability. But the first part hasn't yet emerged in the initial post-pause games.

By no means is this reason to panic. Even as the coronavirus concerns eased, the major snowstorms in Texas also prevented the team from gathering, too.

"A lot of people go on pauses, but they might not have people that have COVID," Drew said, per ESPN's Jeff Borzello. "And if that's the case, they're working out every day, they don't have snowstorms, they're practicing. Their comeback time is a lot quicker than other teams."

Not every return can be like that of Michigan, which jumped from a respected team to a prime championship contender after its pause. The Wolverines had a head-turning defensive effort to beat Wisconsin before edging Rutgers, holding off No. 4 Ohio State and blitzing No. 9 Iowa.

Truly, it's possible the Bears return to their previous form as their conditioning improves. It isn't exactly breaking news that fatigue can have a large impact on shooters and rebounding.

The challenge facing Baylor is a difficult six-day stretch, which includes a trip to No. 6 West Virginia and home games against No. 17 Oklahoma State and No. 18 Texas Tech. Should the Bears handle that physical strain, it'll be a hard-earned recovery.

But if Baylor has a couple of rough games, the concern level will rise. The blueprint for an upset may be perfectly clear, too.

The Bears deserve their likely No. 1 seed in March Madness and are a definite championship threat at their best. Before the NCAA tournament begins, though, it would be reassuring to see a reminder of why Baylor had fully earned that billing.

            

Statistics courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.