By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
No. 24 Baylor men’s basketball heads off to South Carolina Thursday for the first of three games in the Myrtle Beach Invitational. One of the premier ESPN college basketball events, the tournament features talented mid-majors and championship contenders alike.
The first matchup will come against unranked Ohio, currently slotted at No. 179 in KenPom. The Bobcats started the season with three straight wins and a respectable loss at No. 17 Villanova.
Ohio is led by an irregular big-small duo, with sophomore guard Jason Preston averaging 17.5 PPG, 7.5 rebounds and 9.3 assists. Sophomore forward Ben Vander Plas is a 6 foot, 8 inch, 230-pound floor spacer who makes two threes a game and grabs six rebounds to go with his 15 points. Senior forward Freddie Gillespie said they’ve been preparing for the Bobcat two-man action all week.
“[Vander Plas] definitely shoots at a high rate,” Gillespie said. “Working on the pick-and-pop action, just in practice will be huge for us. And then just playing with high hands and making him dribble and get out of his comfort zone.”
Still, their offense is inefficient, scoring a little over two points less per 100 possessions than the average team. They will have a hard time scoring against the 15th-ranked Baylor defense.
With a win on Thursday, the Bears will take on the winner of Utah versus Coastal Carolina. With both squads unranked and in the 100s in efficiency, the second game of the tournament should be an easy stepping stone to the final.
Assuming the higher seeds win, either Villanova or No. 37 Mississippi State will be waiting for the Bears on Sunday. Villanova, a two-time title winner in the last four years, represents a serious threat to anyone with how well-coached they are. The Bulldogs could also be a test for Baylor, as both their offense and defense rank in the top-60.
With the long road trip ahead — the Bears will be away from Waco for over five days — head coach Scott Drew said his squad will be able to grow together off the court as well as on.
“Usually tournaments are great because it gives you a long time with your team and that helps with bonding … it allows you to mentally grow together and be able to just hopefully bond and have a closeness that helps you throughout the year,” Drew said.
Baylor’s tournament run will begin today at 3:30 p.m. in Conway, S.C. against Ohio on ESPN2. Proceeding games will be on Friday and Sunday and will be aired on the ESPN family of networks and the ESPN app.