The 7-1 Baylor Bears are roughly 25% of the way through the 2013-2014 season. They have returned from Hawaii and a successful trip to the Maui Invitational that ended with the Bears suffering their first loss of the season resulting in a second place finish. It was a loss that snapped the Bears nation-leading 11-game win streak stretching back to last year and the NIT title.
Early in the year, the Bears rankings are a bit all over the map, which is not a surprise given the small sample sizes that these sites are working with. However, it is easy to see that Baylor has performed solidly and is a Top 20 caliber team. Baylor has beaten two teams at least receiving votes in one of the polls in Colorado and Dayton. Their lone loss is to undefeated and 4th ranked Syracuse in the Maui Invitational championship game.
Outside of those three games, the Bears schedule has been rather soft. Overall though, the strength of schedule for the Bears is quite good, with Sagarin ranking them as playing the 34th toughest schedule so far and Massey at 48th. To put it into end of year terms, the Bears are most likely 2-1 against Top 50 opponents, 3-0 against 50th through 200 and 2-0 against lower division teams.
Right now, the Bears are running with a 9-man rotation. All 9 of those players are averaging between 15 and 29 minutes per game, with the Bears leader in minutes per game at just 28.6. Even in the tougher games against Dayton and Syracuse more recently, the Bears have stuck with this 9-man rotation with every player getting in for at least 10 minutes. This has led to a balanced attack with four players scoring in double figures for Baylor and two more right around 8 points per game.
You can see that in the shot selection as well of this team, with only Brady Heslip ranking in the top 300 of players in terms of % of shots while the player is on the court. That means this is a team that shares the ball and doesn't have just one weapon to focus on. Another way to look at this is in terms of possessions that the player has used up as in made a shot, missed a shot, or committing a turnover. Cory Jefferson is the only player on the Bears over 24% and he ranks 468th in the country. In 2014, Pierre Jackson ranked 32nd in the entire country with a 30.5% possession rate.
In terms or team performance, the Bears have done an exceptional job of passing the ball, getting an assist on 60.01% of their baskets, compared to 58.4% last year. They have also improved drastically behind the arc, shooting a scorching 42.9% from 3-point range (19th best in the country). Where Baylor has struggled is inside the arc, where they are just making 50% of their shots which is around 140th in the nation. Last year, they made 51.2% of their 2-point field goals, which was 40th best, which is a big difference.
But the worst thing the Bears are doing is related to turnovers. First, they are committing way too many at 22.7% of their offensive possessions ending without a shot taken, and secondly, they are not forcing nearly enough. The Bears are getting a turnover on just 13.9% of their defensive possessions. They rank 328th out of 338 teams in turnover margin with a -4.3. That is an absolutely brutal mark for a Top 25 team, and the Bears have to get much better at protecting the ball and forcing the opposition to make more mistakes.
With the final test of the non-conference portion of the schedule awaiting the Bears on Friday in Arlington against 3rd ranked Kentucky, Baylor has a significantly easier schedule awaiting them after the Wildcats. Even with a loss to UK, Baylor should enter conference play with just 2 losses, and a Top 25 ranking next to their name.