Big 12 Weekly Primer: December 28-29

Posted by dnspewak on December 28th, 2011


  • #11 Mississippi State at #6 Baylor, Wednesday, 8 PM CT in Dallas (ESPN2)

Scott Drew's Team Is Flying High Heading Into Tonight's Game

At 12-0 and fresh off a Las Vegas Classic sweep of St. Mary’s and West Virginia, there’s not a whole lot left for Baylor to prove. The 6th-ranked Bears seem to have it all: dominant bigs, freakish athleticism, terrific dunkers and, most importantly, steady guard play. Junior college All-American Pierre Jackson, Boston College transfer Brady Heslip and junior A.J. Walton have formed a strong trio in the backcourt, and they’re helping Perry Jones and the crew lead the way in the paint. Cal transfer Gary Franklin has also impressed since gaining eligibility, as he’s turned the ball over just once in four games. That’s a striking contrast from last season, when Scott Drew wasted a boatload of NBA talent due to poor guard play and other issues. Baylor still has some work to do in the rebounding department, and it also turns the ball over a bit too much at times. But those are kinks Drew will work out during the course of the season, and they shouldn’t hold Baylor back against Mississippi State. In many ways, the Bulldogs are a mirror image of Baylor. They have a dangerous frontcourt duo in Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney, but Rick Stansbury’s guards have stepped up to help the Bulldogs to a 12-1 start. Dee Bost may be this team’s most important player as both a scorer and leader of the offense, and it’s going to be up to him to make smart decisions on a semi-neutral floor in Dallas tonight. Let’s not be silly here, though. This game will be won in the paint, and it all depends on which stars show up to play. Jones had a lot of questions to answer this season after a somewhat disappointing freshman season, but he has looked like a new man so far in 2011-12. That’s also an accurate description for Moultrie, who has embraced his role as the enforcer in Starkville after two modest seasons at UTEP. In his first year of eligibility, Moultrie has already recorded seven double-doubles, and he’s both getting to the line (6.0 attempts per game) and converting his free throws (88.3 percent). Against Jones, Quincy Miller, Quincy Acy and the other forwards with giant wingspans on the Baylor roster, Moultrie has a chance to prove his worth on national television.

The key individual matchup is… Dee Bost vs. A.J. Walton/Pierre Jackson/Gary Franklin. Jackson has not started a game this year, and Franklin just became eligible four games ago, but they’re both stealing time away from starter A.J. Walton at the point. It’s not a bad problem for Drew to have, since all three are playing reasonably well. It’s no secret who runs the show for Mississippi State, though. Dee Bost will likely attempt the most shots for the Bulldogs tonight, he’ll lead the team in assists and he will also be the most disruptive defensive presence on the floor. After all, he’s in the top-10 all-time in steals at Mississippi State, which means Walton, Jackson and Franklin better take care of the basketball. The elite forwards in this game cannot get to work unless the point guards play well. For Bost, that means taking good shots. When MSU plays well, it’s usually because Bost finds a groove and plays within the offense. But when Bost struggles– say, like his 2-9 effort in a loss to Akron or a 4-16 performance in a near-collapse at Detroit– this team is in trouble. It will be interesting to see who Drew leans on at his point guard spot. Franklin and Jackson actually played more minutes than Walton in the team’s overtime win against West Virginia, and Jackson starred in that game with 23 points and a tying three-point in the final minute.

Baylor will win if… it keeps Mississippi State off the glass. With as much size as Baylor has, it actually has trouble rebounding the ball, and it has not done a good job limiting opponents to one shot. That is a serious problem against Moultrie, since he’s the fifth-leading offensive rebounder in college basketball at 4.8 offensive boards per game. Even in wins over BYU and West Virginia, BU allowed an average of 15 offensive rebounds in both of those games. Moultrie is better than any forward on either of those teams, so the key for Baylor here is pretty simple. Get a body on Moultrie and don’t let him run wild on the offensive glass. Otherwise, it could be a long and frustrating night from Drew’s perspective.

Mississippi State will win if… Bost plays well. Sorry, Dee, but it’s up to you tonight. The senior point guard is struggling right now with his long-range shot, having made just four of his last 20 three-point attempts. Bost is taking more shots than last year but is shooting less than 40 percent from the field, and his assist totals are also down. That’s not to say Bost is playing horribly or that he’s not a good player. He is. It’s just that during the first 13 games of his season, he hasn’t quite played up to his potential on the offensive end. As long as he stays controlled, plays within the offense and lets his teammates help him out, Bost can be a tremendous asset to this Mississippi State team. We know he’ll show up as a defensive pest, but the Bulldogs can’t win unless he’s running this team with authority as the point guard. Even if his shots aren’t falling, he has still shown the ability to make the best of an off-night: in a win over West Virginia earlier this year, he shook off a 1-7 night from beyond the arc to tally seven assists against just one turnover. That’s the Dee Bost that needs to play tonight.
  • Oklahoma State at SMU, Wednesday, 5:30 PM CT
Game One of the Cezar Guerrero project starts tonight, as he’s now the only true point guard left on the roster after Fred Gulley and Reger Dowell decided to transfer. Senior Keiton Page will also see time there, and it will be interesting to see how this all shakes out against a tough SMU team. Matt Doherty has a competitive team again this season after a post-season appearance a year ago, but this team has been all over the place during the first few months. Though Robert Nyakundi has grown into a star and guard London Giles is having a breakout season after transferring from Nevada, SMU lost to Jackson State at home two weeks ago and has no quality wins. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say this is the Mustangs’ most important non-conference game, and that means Travis Ford‘s team will have a rare target on its back tonight. Although this is primarily an opportunity for SMU’s program, this is also a winnable game for Oklahoma State, and it could give the Cowboys a little confidence amidst all the turmoil.
  • Oklahoma at Cincinnati, Thursday, 8 PM CT
For two months, we’ve heard all about Lon Kruger‘s rebuilding project at Oklahoma and how much different these Sooners look under his tutelage. At 9-1, OU has lost only to Saint Louis on a neutral court, and it has looked revitalized this season thanks to better point guard play from Sam Grooms, an improved effort on the glass and a surprising season from leading scorer Steven Pledger. Oklahoma’s nine wins haven’t told us much, though. Sure, OU has knocked off Oral Roberts, Arkansas, Houston, Washington State and Santa Clara, but tomorrow’s game at Cincinnati offers the Sooners their first road test of the season. Since that fight against Xavier, Cincy has won four straight games by an average of 33.5 points, but we’ll let you guess what kind of opponents Mick Cronin‘s team faced in those contests. Forward Yancy Gates is still suspended for his role in that fight, so Oklahoma actually has a good opportunity here to pick up an out-of-conference road victory.
dnspewak (343 Posts)

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