Final Four Preview: (1) Baylor vs. (2) Houston

Lineup notes

Houston:

  • The Cougars have actually cycled through a few starting lineups this year, but they’ve become attached to one group in particular this past month: Sasser, Jarreau, Grimes, Justin Gorham, and Reggie Chaney.
  • Houston has stopped going deeper than eight in the NCAA Tournament, with Fabian White getting exactly 19 minutes in all four games so far, Brison Gresham getting 15+ in three of four, and Tramon Mark getting at least 13 in all four. No one else has played a second in the last two games.
  • Keeping DeJon Jarreau on the court is important for many reasons, but here’s two underrated ones: Houston attempts nearly 8.4 more mid-range attempts per 100 shooting possessions when he’s off the floor, as well as allowing 13.5 more free throw attempts per 100 possessions. If I’m a Houston fan, I need him on the floor for 35+ minutes.

Baylor:

  • Here’s a first, as far as I’m concerned: Baylor is the only Final Four team I know of in recent memory to go wire-to-wire with the same starting five. Just like it was on November 28 against UL-Lafayette, it’ll be Mitchell, Butler, Teague, Vital, and Thamba to start.
  • Like Houston, Baylor won’t go more than eight-deep; Flagler, Mayer, and Tchamwa Tchatchoua all get around 15+ minutes off the bench, with Flagler and Mayer regularly surpassing 20.
  • Watch to see if Scott Drew closes this game with Vital at the five, particularly if Baylor needs buckets. Lineups with Vital at center are posting an astounding 1.3 PPP after opponent adjustments, and Baylor’s most efficient lineup this year has been one with Mitchell/Butler/Flagler/Teague/Vital together. Their most balanced lineup is the starting lineup, though.

Key matchups

Jared Butler vs. probably three different guys, but mainly Marcus Sasser. Butler is such a weird player to match against; he really is a true three-level scorer, an elite defender, and a fine rebounder for his size. Sasser, a great defender in his own right and one of the least foul-prone Houston players, may get the matchup to start. He’ll have the difficult job of forcing Butler to make unusual decisions while also trying to hit threes on the other end.

Davion Mitchell vs. DeJon Jarreau. This is one both teams may switch, but this is the matchup I want most. Mitchell/Jarreau is like two polar-opposite prize-fighters taking the court. Mitchell’s elite speed separates him on drives to the basket from everyone, but Jarreau’s underrated agility and extremely high defensive awareness may actually take away some of what Mitchell wants to do. Mitchell is no slouch on defense, either. I’m incredibly interested to see if one can get the other in foul trouble or if both agree to keep it relatively clean.

MaCio Teague vs. Quentin Grimes. Teague has the strangest-looking shot of anyone left in the Tournament; it’s like Shawn Marion crossed with Charles Barkley’s golf swing. But it works really well, and how can I tell him to stop what he’s doing? Grimes may be the best deep shooter on the floor, which is a remarkable thing to say when Baylor is involved. Of Baylor’s main five, Teague may be the least-effective defender, but it’s on Grimes to avoid taking the mid-range jumpers he likes and stick to threes/drives to the basket.

Three predictions

  1. Both offenses post their highest TO% of the Tournament (19.4% or higher for Houston, 13.2% or higher for Baylor);
  2. Both teams rebound at least 30% of their misses, with Houston cracking 35%;
  3. Houston 72, Baylor 71.

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