These two teams have experienced very similar seasons thus far, making for a compelling matchup. Like Baylor, Alabama has two home losses to teams below KenPom’s top 100 rating. Both teams are coming off very good weeks with signature wins. Baylor’s victories over Texas Tech at home and West Virginia in Morgantown have flipped the script on their season expectations; Alabama, meanwhile, almost took down #1 Tennessee on the road and shellacked a decent Ole Miss team to the tune of 21 points in Tuscaloosa.
The key matchup will be between graduate transfer Makai Mason (15.7 Pts, 2.7 Reb, 2.9 Ast) and the freshman guard Kira Lewis (13.8 Pts, 2.1 Reb, 2.6 Ast), a top-rated recruit whose reclassification presumably led Jared Butler (8.2 Pts, 2.2 Reb, 2.3 Ast) to flip from the Tide to the Bears. Mason has steadily increased his three-point percentage over the course of the season and is now shooting a respectable 35% despite taking some tough shots.
Inside, sophomore Mark Vital (5.9 Pts, 7.4 Reb, 2.3 Ast) and sophomore transfer Mario Kegler (8.6 Pts, 6.1 Reb, 1.0 Ast) will be battling senior forward Donta Hall (11.2 Pts, 9.1 Reb, 0.6 Ast), who is a monster rebounder and inside scoring presence. Hall is shooting 62% on two-point attempts this season and brings down 25% of defensive rebounds when he’s on the floor. Expect to see Vital and Hall jostling under the glass most of this game.
King McClure (10.7 Pts, 5.7 Reb, 2.4 Ast) and Devonte Bandoo (7.1 Pts, 1.6 Reb, 1.3 Ast) have secretly become reliable outside shooters, both having risen above 38% for the season. They’ve turned around what was set to be one of Baylor’s worst shooting seasons under Scott Drew. Baylor is now shooting 36% from the three-point line in conference games, a significant improvement from the non-conference portion of the season. An absurd shooting game against Oklahoma State where Baylor went 15-25 (60%) obviously provides a bit of a bump.
For Alabama, sophomore John Petty is the outside threat, who matches Lewis’ three-point percentage of 38% on 30 more attempts. Old conference foe Tevin Mack, of famed Texas Longhorn mediocrity, has the potential to drain a couple of big shots from deep, mostly because he is an unabashed shot-taker despite sharing the floor with better talent in Lewis, Hall, and Petty. Baylor can hope that Mack does his former conference rival a solid and hoists bad shots while his coach Avery Johnson and son of a/the coach Avery Johnson look on in consternation.
Call this one 80-76 for the Bears. Sic’em!