No. 9 Baylor hosts No. 7 Xavier in top-10 clash
WACO, Texas -- For once, the beginning of basketball season brought with it a welcome change deep in the heart of Texas.
While Baylor's football program is stuck in a quagmire of scandal off the field and a five-game losing streak on the field, the Bears basketball team ascended from unranked to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll this week.
Baylor already defeated then-fourth-ranked Oregon at home this went to the Battle 4 Atlantis to pull off an impressive string of victories over VCU, Michigan State and Louisville.
All of that serves as context as No. 7 Xavier comes into the Ferrell Center on Saturday afternoon for a top-10 nonconference hoops matchup that will draw the eyes of the college basketball nation.
Baylor (7-0) tips off at the same time as its football team kicks off on the road at West Virginia, but that coincidence wasn't even mentioned in Bears' coach Scott Drew's pregame press conference on Friday.
Instead, Drew spoke about how fortunate his program is to have two top-10 nonconference opponents come into Baylor's arena in the same season. Before this year, Baylor played only two top-10 nonconference opponents at home in its history.
"The chance of having two top-10 home games in nonconference, you've got a better chance of hitting the lottery," Drew said. "It's a great opportunity for us to play at home against a real quality opponent. For both teams, your RPI is not going to go down if you lose and, if you win, it's a great gain."
Like Baylor, Xavier (7-0) is undefeated against a slate of quality opponents. Unlike Baylor, the Musketeers haven't faced a team with a national ranking attached to it yet this season.
Xavier defeated Missouri, Clemson and Northern Iowa twice during a stretch of four games last month.
Now the Musketeers play their first game on an opponent's home floor this season -- all seven of Xavier's previous contests were either at home in Cincinnati or at the Tire Pros Invitational in Orlando -- as well as their first ranked foe.
Xavier coach Chris Mack knows his team will be fully focused on Baylor.
"There's so much respect for the type of program that Baylor's had for several years," Mack said. "(Our players) saw what they did down in the Bahamas. There's no trick, there's no science for getting our guys up for the game."
With hype and motivation equal on both sides, the game could come down to whether or not Xavier can hit shots against Baylor's treacherous zone defense. The Bears deploy 7-foot forward Jo Lual-Acuil and 6-10 forward Johnathan Motley in the interior. And Mack said everyone in the Bears' 1-3-1 zone knows his responsibility to limit open looks.
"We're going to have to find soft spots in the zone and we're going to have to make some shots, obviously, and then we're going to have to try to rebound and get second opportunities," Mack said. "Baylor makes it tough. They're big and they put that 7-footer under the rim. It's a challenge but we wouldn't have it any other way."
The Musketeers will try to attack the zone and crash the boards with a quartet of tall guards and 6-10 center Sean O'Mara.
Drew seemed to be just as concerned about stopping Xavier's lineup on the offensive end as Mack was about combatting the Baylor zone.
"We haven't faced a team with as much height across the board, basically a team of four guards at 6-6, athletic, can shoot it, post it, drive it," Drew said. "With that, it also makes it difficult to defend because, with a lot of shooters, you never know which one is going to be hot that day. It's easy to see why they're such a good team."