Northwestern has passed every major non-conference test thus far this year to move to 7-0. Tomorrow, they’ll face what is likely going to be the toughest game between them and an unbeaten non-conference season when 6-0 and top-10 ranked Baylor comes to Welsh-Ryan Arena. The big advantage for Northwestern is that this game is at home and it is Baylor’s first road game of the season. Northwestern is also the best team Baylor has faced and while the same can be said of Bears for NU, Northwestern has probably faced a more challenging slate of games to this point in the season.
When talking about Baylor you have to start with Perry Jones III who is likely top-5 NBA draft pick. He’ll be playing just his second game of the season on Sunday after being suspended early in the year, but he scored 27 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in his first game back so it doesn’t seem he has any rust. Jones is 6-11 and along with 6-10 Anthony Jones and 6-9 Quincy Miller gives the Bears some major size in the front court. It’s hard to envision who on NU’s team would play Jones III in man-to-man based on size I’d guess it would be Luka Mirkovic, but I wasn’t thrilled with Luka’s defense on 6-9 Herb Pope of Seton Hall who is the best front court scorer the ‘Cats have played to this point so I’m not really sure what to think. I know John Shurna played 6-11 Daniel Miller of Georgia Tech well, but he’s a different of player from Jones III. I wouldn’t be surprised to see NU in more zone on Sunday whether that be the 1-3-1 or even a 2-3.
The problem with a zone is Baylor has a number of players who can knock down threes and many of those players have size. 6-10 Anthony Jones is really more of wing player and he shoots 44% from three. 6-9 Quincy Miller makes 50% of his threes. Guards Pierre Jackson at 56% and Brady Heslip at 42% are also excellent three point shooters. To be honest, as much as it seems like a potential mismatch, I hope NU at least tries man-to-man because I’d almost be happier to see Baylor making twos early than just pouring in three pointers to start they game which might happen against a zone. Still, at some point in the game NU is going to go to the 1-3-1 and when they do, the must be active and hustle out on shooters because they probably can get turnovers out of the 1-3-1, but those won’t be enough if the Bears are canning threes at will.
Baylor like Northwestern has scored a lot of points this year and the Bears average right around 80. Miller leads the way amongst the guys who have played every game with 15.2, but six Baylor players average more than nine points a game. 6-7 senior Quincy Acy hasn’t gotten the same amount of message board and media hype as Perry Jones III leading up to this game, but I’m also worried about his size and ability to hit the glass at 235 pounds and his average of eight rebounds a game.
For Northwestern to win this game they need to take advantage of a Baylor defense which hasn’t been great in terms of allowing the three point shot. Hopefully, the Wildcats will continue their hot streak from Friday night. I also think NU needs to slow this game down in a way similar to what they did versus Ohio State least season. I just can’t see NU winning a shootout against Baylor since the Bears have athletes at virtually every position. Hopefully, a slow pace, changing defenses, and a solid home crowd will be enough to make Baylor uncomfortable as they face a team unlike any they’ve seen so far this year. The key player if NU does slow the game down is Dave Sobolewski because it’ll be up to him to trigger the offense when the shot clock gets to 15 and make something happen if called sets aren’t available. That’s a lot of reasonability on a young player, but I think he can handle it. I really think this Northwestern team is better prepared to handle this type of game than any previous incarnation of the Wildcats. I predict: Northwestern, 55 Baylor, 54