On Wednesday night, Baylor lost to Kansas 68-54, which dropped them a game off of the pace in the Big 12 standings.
In the writeup that I did for SI.com on the game, I said that "for all the talent that the Bears have on their roster, they are not going to do anything of note in the postseason until they learn how to consistently defend at an elite level."
That statement was kind of vague, so I wanted to touch on it a bit deeper.
Baylor has been predominantly a zone team under Scott Drew, and while they have been playing more man-to-man than usual this season, they have reverted back to their bread-and-butter during Big 12 play. Scott Drew runs, more or less, a 1-1-3 zone that takes the shape of a 1-3-1 when Baylor gets more aggressive defensively. But, as Fran Fraschilla described it on the ESPN broadcast of the game, the zone is a bit of an amoeba; Drew has incorporated some of the principles of a matchup zone into his defense, which means that the defense will take the shape of the offensive players.
Here are a couple of examples to get an idea of what Baylor is doing on that end of the floor.
This first example should give you a solid feel for what Baylor does. Once Kansas gets into their half court set, Pierre Jackson matches up with the ball handler while Brady Heslip slides back into the foul line area, cutting off a pass to Thomas Robinson at the high post:
When the ball gets swung, instead of Heslip stepping out to matchup with Elijah Johnson, Perry Jones III does. Heslip stays on Robinson. Notice how open the short-corner area is behind Jones:
Eventually, the Kansas attack loses its shape, leaving no one at the high post. Baylor forces a turnover on this possession:
In this second one, you'll see AJ Walton defending the ball handler for 94 feet while Gary Franklin, the other guard on the floor, is planted at the foul line to prevent a pass to the high-post. Also notice how high the wings are defensively. This is what Baylor's zone looks like when Scott Drew has them playing more aggressively:
When the ball is swung from Elijah Johnson to Travis Releford, Quincy Miller comes all the way out to pick him up. Notice how much space there is in the short-corner on the ball-side of the floor:
When the ball is swung back to Johnson, Miller remains with Releford and Franklin tracks Robinson down to around the block:
Against a typical zone defense, the area that must be exploited is the high post. By getting the ball into the middle of the zone it forces the defense to either a) collapse and open up passing lanes to open shooters; b) create an angle to make a high-low pass to a player on the block; or c) try and defend the player at the high-post in a 1-on-1 situation. However it happens, its an advantage for the offense.
Not so against Baylor's zone. With the opposite side guard sloughing into the paint and the wings sliding up as high as foul line extended, it creates a soft spot in the short corner. (For those that don't know, the "short corner" is the area on the baseline about 12-15 feet away from the rim.)
Take a look at this example. As you can see, Baylor is in their standard zone set, with one guard matched up with the ball-handler, one guard sloughed into the high-post and the two wings pushing up on the perimeter to matchup with the wings in Kansas' offense:
But when the ball is swung from Elijah Johnson at the top of the key to Conner Teahan on the far-side wing, Anthony Jones and Gary Franklin both jump to defend him. At the same time, Kevin Young cuts from the high-post to the short-corner while Gary Franklin stays at the high-post and Quincy Acy remains wide on the opposite side of the floor:
Young receives the ball in the short corner, but since Baylor had four defenders above the foul line, it creates a 2-on-1 situation. Jeff Withey, who had slid into the high-post to replace Young, dives to the rim as Acy -- and the weak-side guard, for that matter -- is (very) late on his rotation to defend the rim:
Want to see it again? And no, this isn't a replay, its actually an entirely separate possession:
One more example. Here, you once again see Baylor in their 1-3-1 zone, with Pierre Jackson matched up with Tyshawn Taylor and Brady Heslip sloughing off to protect the high-post:
But Kevin Young is able to find some space in the paint, receiving the ball about half way up the lane:
He turns and attacks the base-line -- short-corner! -- with the dribble. This time, Baylor's defense collapses. Four players are in the paint, leaving Conner Teahan all alone in the corner.
Teahan came into this game struggling, but he had hit a three not 60 seconds earlier. Young finds him and he knocks it down, giving Kansas the lead:
That was just the start of the run for Kansas. They would end up pushing their lead to 56-34 -- in total, a 47-15 surge highlighted by a 32-4 run -- as Baylor's zone continually got abused.
And while Baylor's rotations were slow, I think Baylor's zone is fatally flawed. Why they continually send two players in a soft double when an opponent as the ball 25 feet from the rim on the wing is beyond me. Scott Drew puts his team in impossible situations. Baylor might not be executing in that zone, but I'm not convinced that they are being put in a situation where execution is all that possible.