Gearing Up: The Needs of the Big 12’s Top Tournament-Bound TeamsPosted by cwilliams on February 15th, 2012
While many pundits and fans are examining what the bubble teams need to do to reach the NCAA tournament, we at RTC Big 12 have our eyes set elsewhere. Today, I’ll examine what the Big 12 teams that are a lock for the NCAA Tournament need to do before they tip off in March. After all, the purpose of the Tournament is not to just make it, but to win it. No team in the nation is without flaw. Syracuse has struggled at times with rebounding and lacks a go-to player in crunch time, Kentucky is a youthful and inexperienced squad, while Duke struggles defensively and has two suspicious home losses. The Big 12 is lucky to have three Final Four-caliber teams, but these three teams don’t come without weaknesses themselves.
Baylor: Baylor’s flaws have recently become more apparent. While the Bears started strong enough to initially appear as the clear-cut favorite of the Big 12, they have struggled in recent games. First off Scott Drew needs to be a better in-game coach, plain and simple. His lack of adjustments against Kansas caused him to receive national criticism. Then, he unsuccessfully changed his game plan against Missouri, allowing the Tiger guards to shoot an amazing 14-for-28 from long range. I truly think Drew is a talented enough coach to get this team to the Final Four. Any doubters need to just look at him taking an (arguably) less talented 2010 Baylor team to the Elite Eight. His level of coaching talent hasn’t decreased, but he just needs to learn to play his players better, as cliche as that sounds. Baylor also seems to lack a killer instinct against elite opponents. While the Bears have been able to dominate lesser or even equal opponents, they are 0-4 against Missouri and Kansas this year.
Kansas: Kansas is a team that is seemingly getting better every minute they’re on the court together. Statistically, they’re great too, ranking no lower than 47th in the nation in any of the four major categories (rebounding, points per game, assists per game, field goal pct.). But just as the Big 12 is top heavy with three stars, so too is Kansas. If Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey, or Tyshawn Taylor is having an off night, doom could be spelled out for Bill Self and company. In their loss to Kentucky, Robinson only dropped 11 while Withey had a mere seven points. Against Davidson, Withey played just 16 minutes. Against Iowa State, Robinson had just 13 points and five turnovers. In the Border War instant classic, Withey was held scoreless, while Taylor had six turnovers. Of course, there have been games where these individuals have struggled and still earned the victory, but if Kansas wants to string six consecutive wins together in March, they need these three guys playing their A-game.
Missouri: Ah, Missouri. The Big 12’s Oscar-worthy story of the year, one of a coach (Frank Haith) who was criticized before the season even started, leading a team without a star inside player to a 23-2 record thus far. However, just like any good movie, this Tiger team has it’s flaws, and they are apparent: Size, size, size. Unfortunately for Tiger opponents, this “flaw” hasn’t seemed to slow down the Tigers one bit, as they’re running a unique and difficult-to-defend four-guard system. However, they are still being dominated on the glass, especially in terms of offensive rebounds and second-chance baskets. The Tigers rank a miserable 277th in the nation in rebounds per game. Obviously, with their smaller rotation they are going to get beaten on the glass by some margin. But giving up so many second-chance buckets will kill a team in March.