The Baylor Bears (15-0, 3-0) are the new No. 1 team in the country. The Bears continued their perfect start the season by winning their first three games in Big 12 play. However, they were pushed all the way in their past two home games against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. The Bears’ big man combo of Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil combined for 31 points and 20 rebounds and Manu Lecomte got the game-winning jumper with eight seconds left in their 65-63 win against the Cyclones. Meanwhile, Motley had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and Lecomte added 17 points in their 61-57 win over the Cowboys.
Motley is having a spectacular junior season. The Baylor big man is averaging 15.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He and Acuil, who is 3rd in the country with 3.5 blocks per game, have been the pillars of an excellent Baylor defense which is giving up just 58.3 points per game, 4th-fewest in the country. The Bears will face a stiff test in No. 10 West Virginia, but they’ve passed some much tougher tests already this season. Baylor is 4-0 against ranked opposition this season, and has beaten three of those teams (No. 4 Oregon, No. 24 Michigan State, and No. 7 Xavier) by 15 or more points. Baylor also faced Louisville, which is a terrific pressing team like West Virginia, earlier this season, and came out on top, 66-63.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers (13-2, 2-1) bounced back from their tough 77-76 loss at Texas Tech by beating TCU 82-70. The offense didn’t play particularly well – they shot just 46 percent from the field – but they managed to get 20 more shot attempts than the Horned Frogs because of 20 offensive rebounds and 18 turnovers forced. Daxter Miles Jr. starred against TCU with 22 points and 7 rebounds. The junior guard has picked up his game to start Big 12 play. He also led the team with 22 points in their 92-75 win over Oklahoma State in the conference opener. Miles is just one of the Mountaineers’ many weapons in an offense which is 4th in the country in scoring with 90.1 points per game. Eight players are averaging between 13 and 7 points this season, which is some terrific balance.
Of course, defense is the fuel for this Mountaineers offense. “Press Virginia” is having another spectacular season forcing their opponents to a ton of turnovers. They’re leading the country by a wide margin in terms of turnovers per game with 24.3. They are also 15th in the country in scoring defense, giving up just 61.4 points per game.
Keys to the Game
- Baylor hasn’t been the dominant offensive rebound team it has been in past years, but they’ll have the size advantage inside with Acuil and Motley. They must take advantage of West Virginia’s big weakness, which is taking care of defensive rebounds.
- Jake Lindsey came up big for Baylor in the game against Louisville as he had 8 points and 5 assists in 23 minutes. The Mountaineers press will look to wear Baylor out, so Lindsey must be prepared to chip in with more crucial minutes.
- Hit some 3s. West Virginia is an average 3-point shooting team, shooting just 36 percent on the season. But with all the size inside for Baylor, the Mountaineers need to hit from the outside to counter the Bears’ zone defense.
- Get out and run. WVU will have the speed advantage against Baylor every time the 7-foot Acuil is on the floor. They need to get out and attack the Bears early before Baylor can get its excellent half-court defense set.
Baylor Projected Starting Lineup
G Manu Lecomte (Junior) | G Al Freeman (Junior) | G Ian Wainwright (Senior) | F Johnathan Motley (Junior) | C Jo Lual Acuil (Junior)
West Virginia Projected Starting Lineup
G Jevon Carter (Junior) | G Daxter Miles (Junior) | F Brandon Watkins (Senior) | F Esa Ahmad (Sophomore) | F Nathan Adrian (Senior)
After a couple of close calls, Baylor’s perfect season finally ends tonight against West Virginia. Morgantown will be rocking with the visit of the No. 1-ranked Bears, and the Mountaineers will match the crowd’s intensity as they hand the Bears their first loss of the year.
Tip-Off is at 7pm ET on ESPN2 – WVU Coliseum – Morgantown, WV