Baylor vs. Houston: Look for Jared Butler & A Surprise Role Player to Be X-Factors
Andy Lyons/Getty Images. Pictured: Jared Butler.
- Baylor enters Saturday as the favorite over Houston, but the Bears still need players to step up in order to make it to Monday.
- Tanner McGrath thinks Jared Butler and a surprise role player off the bench can propel Scott Drew's Bears over the Cougars.
- Check out who he thinks will play that role and why below.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for the Baylor Bears.
After starting 17-0, the Bears were forced into a three-week pause in play due to COVID-19. After that, the Bears defense was a dumpster fire and they suffered two losses in a five-game stretch.
However, when Baylor is playing its absolute best basketball, it has the ability to beat anybody. That includes Gonzaga in the National Championship game if both teams win on Saturday.
However, what’s it going to take for Scott Drew and Co. to cut down the nets?
While it’s probably a combination of things, I believe there are two players who could prove to be the difference-maker in the final two games — two matchup nightmares who can score with volume and efficiency.
One of those players might be a surprise.
Jared Butler was a Big 12 Player of the Year finalist. He was a National Player of the Year finalist. He’s often considered Baylor’s best player.
How could he possibly be Baylor’s X-factor?
Because Butler hasn’t been Baylor’s best player. In fact, he’s been mediocre for long stretches this season, including this most recent stretch.
Butler is part of the trio of players that forms the best backcourt in the nation. Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague are electric on offense and stifling on defense.
However, Butler is generally the leader of that group. Among the three, Butler has the highest percentage of possessions used and takes the highest percentage of shots. He leads the team in scoring while shooting lights out from all over the court.
But during this NCAA Tournament run, Mitchell and Teague have been carrying this Baylor team.
In four tournament games, Butler is averaging the least points among the Baylor backcourt while shooting just 34.6% from the field and 25% from 3. Moreover, he has the lowest average game score of all three during that stretch, per Sports-Reference.
Butler was particularly bad against Villanova when he managed just nine points on 4-for-14 shooting from the field and 1-for-9 from 3.
Baylor plays great team basketball, and it’s never over-reliant on one player. But Butler has not been playing his best basketball of late.
When Butler is playing his best basketball, he’s one of the top five players in the country and can carry Baylor through tough stretches. For example, he scored 25 points on 10-for-21 shooting in an overtime win over West Virginia.
If Butler can start playing at a Wooden Award level again, Baylor might be unstoppable.
Matthew Mayer is a 6-foot-9 matchup nightmare on the offensive end. Mayer can play on and off the ball, drive to the basket and shoot efficiently from the perimeter.
He’s also a spark plug. Mayer is always a threat to score in bunches and can provide much-needed energy for the Baylor bench unit. He’s also second on the team in percentage of possessions used (just behind Butler), although he averages only 15.5 minutes per game.
Mayer can be streaky, but he’s also has had a number of breakout performances in which he’s been unstoppable. A couple of recent performances that stick out:
- In the second round against Wisconsin, Mayer scored 17 points in 24 minutes on 5-for-12 shooting and 5-for-6 from the free-throw line. He also added six rebounds and two steals.
- Against Oklahoma State, Mayer scored 19 points in just 21 minutes on 7-for-13 shooting while adding seven rebounds.
- Against West Virginia, Mayer scored 18 points in 27 minutes on 7-for-12 shooting. Ten of those points came in the final five minutes and included back-to-back 3s to cut West Virginia’s late lead to one.
In all three of those performances, Mayer was a dominant offensive force. If the rest of the Baylor offense is slumping, Mayer can pick up the slack through perimeter shooting and exploiting mismatches.
Over the next two games, don’t be surprised to see Baylor respond to an offensive slump with a steady dose of Matthew Mayer. His bench production might be the difference in the Final Four.