An in Depth Look at Baylor’s Defense

Baylor's Defense
AMES, IA - JANUARY 29: George Conditt IV #4 of the Iowa State Cyclones and Freddie Gillespie #33 of the Baylor Bears battle for a rebound in the first half of the game at Hilton Coliseum on January 29, 2020 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

Baylor basketball has been quite impressive this season and without a doubt, Baylor’s defense has something to do with that.

They currently sit second in the country, just recently getting knocked off by Kansas. This squad has without a doubt proved their worth, but how have they climbed their way to the top? They have taken the saying “a great defense can be a great offense” to another level.

With March Madness approaching rather quickly, not only are you looking for the best college basketball betting sites, you also start to look at what teams have topped all the others this season. Can Baylor’s defense truly propel them to a national title?

Why Baylor’s Defense May Be Unstoppable

The Makeup

Baylor uses what is called a “no-middle” defense, which refers to the strategy behind the scheme. The entire goal is to prevent the ball and players from setting up in the middle, forcing them to drive towards the outside. Youtuber Hoopvision68 does a great job of showing this.

The entire makeup of Baylor’s defense is to push the ball carrier to the outside/towards the baseline. It’s actually a defense that many high school teams use. In addition, it’s pretty well known in the Texas Tech camp as well.

Key Points

It starts with the on-ball defender. He squares to the side of the ball, not allowing them to have any room to move towards the middle of the court. The be all end all in this gameplan; keep the middle empty.

One of the biggest traits of this strategy is help defense. All four of the other Baylor defenders must be locked in, ready to help if an opposing player sneaks into the middle.

If this does end up happening, rotation becomes key. If you watch a couple of possessions of Baylor’s defense, you can see the movement in action. Guys are never flat-footed. There is always communication and for the majority of the time, the plan works because of this.

When a team looks to screen Baylor, it’s nearly always an automatic switch. That way there isn’t any confusion or delay to allow the team into the middle of the court. Furthermore, since there is so much help involved in this defensive plan, mismatches aren’t as useful for the other team, making it easier for Baylor on screens.

Every offensive player is played tight on the ball, allowing for little space to move and iso. If the defender gets beat, he has help towards the middle at all times. It’s an extremely volatile yet tough system.

How Has It Worked?

Pushing the great system aside, Baylor has two of the best defenders in division one. Davion Mitchell is one of the best perimeter defenders in college basketball and he’s one of the biggest reasons Baylor has performed at such a high level on the defensive end.

Mark Vital is their most versatile player on the defensive end, playing both the 2/3/4 positions. He’s achieved a defensive efficiency rating of 83 this season, an improvement of 17 points from last season. He’s got a Rodman-type playstyle that helps tremendously in the paint when needed.

Mitchell and Vital are the reason this system works so well and Baylor is lucky to have such a good scheme mixed with some elite defenders.

Where Do They Rank?

Overall, Baylor tops the best in the Nation.

Defensively, they remain at the top. Baylor sits fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency at 85 points per 100 possessions. With the separation of just 1.7 points from the number one team, West Virginia, they are part of an elite class this season. They also rank top five in opponent true shooting percentage (#5) and opponent points per game (#3).

Offensively, they aren’t so hot. They rank 22nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, scoring 112 points per 100 possessions. Now, it’s quite hard for college teams to perform excellently on both ends and frankly San Diego State, Duke, and Kansas are the only teams to do so this year. I wouldn’t knock Baylor too much for their offensive drop off, considering they are still a top 20 offense in the nation.

Downsides of the Scheme

It’s obvious this scheme has some flaws, otherwise, it would be used everywhere. One of the biggest gripes against the “no middle” approach is that it greatly depends on the type of team you play. If you match up against a team that tends to score in the paint a bit more, you should be able to run them out of the building. However, Baylor’s defense leaves the three-point line unguarded at times. Coming into contact with a perimeter team that lives and dies by the three might be trouble.

Due to the constant rotation they must endure, someone is eventually going to be caught in no man’s land with an opponent wide open on the perimeter. Now whether their opponent converts on the open threes is another question, but giving them 9-10 wide-open threes per game is never good.

A team like St. Mary’s, who may end up matching up against them in the dance, have a legit shot to upset the Bears. They shoot 42% from three, good for second in the nation. It’s a gameplan that has worked for Baylor so far but could blow up at any time when facing the right team.

There is a lot of pressure on every single player every single possession. They are all responsible for maintaining “order” during the game and relying on that many guys all at once can become a problem.

Heading Into the Dance

Baylor is primed for a strong madness run. They have found a defensive scheme that works and has powered them to the top of the nation. Their defensive strategy isn’t totally uncommon, but we haven’t seen it at this level often. Texas Tech has a similar strategy that propelled them to the national championship game last year, only to lose to a powerful Virginia team.

It’ll be very interesting to see Baylor’s defense if they run into a great three-point shooting squad. Without a doubt, opponents will not be looking forward to coming into contact with this gritty Baylor defense.

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