At least the Baylor Bears are off to a better start in 2019. Baylor lost its opening game at home last season to Texas Southern, a Tigers team that wound up being close to the bottom 100 in college basketball. A 105-61 tune-up against Central Arkansas was a good way for Scott Drew’s team to start the season.
A game against the Washington Huskies in Anchorage, Alaska could be a different story. The Armed Forces Classic features Baylor and Washington, a couple of teams that could eventually meet down the line in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor, with a game under its belt already, is a five-point favorite for this neutral-site affair at Alaska Airlines Arena with a total of 137.5.
Baylor and Washington are both teams with some high hopes for the season. The Bears are in the top 25 and Huskies received some votes. This is a weird spot for both teams. The travel from Seattle to Anchorage is obviously a lot easier for the Huskies. To some degree, Washington is likely to have something of a crowd edge as well. On the other hand, Baylor has played a game against a real-life opponent in a game that actually matters.
The Bears were easy winners over Central Arkansas, who could be a bottom-75 type of team this season. Baylor scored 1.329 points per possession in the win while going 18-of-33 from deep. Proficiency from beyond the arc would really help Baylor in this one. Washington employs the Syracuse zone defense because head coach Mike Hopkins was on the coaching staff with Jim Boeheim in upstate New York. A very unfamiliar shooting backdrop could wreak havoc on Baylor in this game when compounded with that zone defense.
Sophomore Jared Butler paced Baylor with 30 points in the win over UCA and he was 8-of-12 from distance. Butler was one of Baylor’s best distance shooters last season, firing away at 35% from three. It would be nice to see Butler and UNC-Asheville transfer MaCio Teague make up for some of the production lost by the graduation of Makai Mason.
Tristan Clark, who was one of Baylor’s more efficient offensive players last season, was limited to 16 minutes and just three points in the win. Baylor’s offense was very guard-oriented in that victory. The Bears were 114th in three-point rate last season and shot 34.1% from distance. That performance against Central Arkansas profiles to be more of the exception than the norm. Baylor was a very strong offensive team last season, but the Bears were driven heavily by their success on the offensive glass. They didn’t miss enough shots in the opener to find out about that part of the team, but that could be huge in this game.
Teams that play a zone defense generally don’t rebound well. That was true of Washington last season. The Huskies ranked 349th in the country out of 353 teams in offensive rebounding percentage against. Despite the second-chance opportunities for the opposition, Washington was still in the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency per Bart Torvik. The zone defense forced a turnover on over 24% of opponents’ possessions. Washington was also just outside the top 25 in defending two-point shots.
Therein lies your handicap for this game. If Baylor shoots well and gets a lot of offensive boards, this will be a very tough matchup for Washington. Fortunately, Quade Green, the transfer from Kansas, is eligible right away for the Huskies. UDub will be without Noah Dickerson, David Crisp, Matisse Thybulle, and Dominic Green from last season, but the underclassmen should play an even bigger (pardon the pun) role, including seven-footer Bryan Penn-Johnson and 7-foot-4 Richland, Washington native Riley Sorn.
As much as those guys stand out, the freshmen duo of Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels come in as two extremely highly-ranked recruits. They are the two best that Hopkins has signed in his three recruiting classes in Seattle. Raequan Battle is no slouch either. Before Stewart and McDaniels, Hopkins’s best recruit was Jaylen Nowell, who led the team in scoring last season and shot 44% from distance.
This is a really good early-season game and we’ll find out a ton about both of these teams here. There will be a ton of talent on the floor. Baylor will get a crack at a zone defense and Washington will get the opportunity to see if things can improve at all on the offensive glass. It would seem that they can’t get much worse, but Washington went from 328th in the country in ORB% against in 2018 to 349th in 2019, so it certainly could.
The new-look Huskies offense is very much worth watching as well. Two uber-talented freshmen are now on the floor with Nowell and Washington will have a lot more scoring options off of the bench as well.
Pick: Washington +5
Lean: Under 137.5