A few minutes into the second half of Baylor's 68-54 loss to Kansas, ESPN announcer Fran Frischilla told the audience, after noting that the Jayhawks tore up the Bears 1-3-1 zone earlier this season, that "you might wonder why Baylor doesn't play man defense. It's just not in their identity; it's not what they hang their hat on."
One of the most talented teams in the country, Baylor raced out to a 17-0 start and a No. 3 ranking nationally. However, they are now 0-3 against Top 10 competition, losing home games to both Kansas and Missouri. A team that should be thinking about positioning for a top seed and a run to the Final Four is now in crisis.
The problem starts with the 1-3-1 zone, which Scott Drew finally abandoned midway through the second half, when his team was already down by more than 20 points. While running a 1-3-1, which is rarely seen in college basketball, is an interesting contrarian idea for the type of up-and-coming program like Baylor was four or five years ago, it's a junk defense with easily exploitable holes, which is why few other top teams ever use it.
The 2-3 is far more popular, because it abandons the high post area, which most college big men aren't skilled enough to exploit, in order to station defenders around the three-point line. In contrast, the 1-3-1 concentrates players in the middle of the court and leaves the corner 3, the easiest long-range shot to hit, wide open.
Even worse, while Jim Boeheim extends the Syracuse 2-3 out to jump passing lanes, Baylor's opponents can leisurely move the ball around the perimeter while setting up their offense. The Orange aren't nearly as athletic as the Bears, but they average nearly two more steals a game.
Kansas is a well-coached team full of players who can shoot and pass, but their primary shot-creator, Tyshawn Taylor, is an erratic ball-handler prone to turning it over while their best player, Thomas Robinson, can struggle to create shots against players taller and more athletic than he is. Against Kentucky, which plays the type of intense man-to-man defense programs stocked with NBA talent normally use, Robinson shot 5-12 while Taylor shot 3-13.
Nor are Baylor's problems limited to the defensive side of the floor. Drew brought in three back-court transfers this year -- Pierre Jackson (Southern Idaho JC), Brady Heislip (Boston College) and Gary Franklin (California) -- but still couldn't find a point guard. Jackson and AJ Walton average 5.9 turnovers a game and don't have any real feel for running an offense.
In junior college, where he was the national player of the year, Jackson's shot-happy mentality made sense. At the highest levels of the Big 12, it's insane. Baylor has an athletic 6'11 230 power forward with the ball-handling ability of a point guard and an athletic 6'9 200 small forward with an NBA-caliber step-back jump-shot, yet they often let a 5'10 180 combo guard dominate the ball.
If Miller and Jones aren't being aggressive in demanding the ball, a good point guard slows the game down in order to space the floor for them to operate in the paint. Instead, Jackson has been acting like he's Kobe Bryant far too much this season.
On the other sideline Wednesday night, Bill Self is poised to win his 8th consecutive Big 12 championship despite fielding an extremely thin team with only two reliable offensive weapons.
Part of what makes finding a great college basketball coach so difficult is they need the skill-sets of both a GM and a coach. Scott Drew has the players capable of winning the Big 12, but he's going to need to improve as a coach to overcome Self and the Jayhawks.
For more on Baylor basketball, head over to Our Daily Bears.