ATB: Baylor’s Bubble Trouble, the Quiet Cardinal Resurgence, and Really, Baylor?Posted by Chris Johnson on March 5th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. The Postseason is Among Us. It is time we bid adieu to a season full of fun Big Monday matchups. Sure, sure: not every Monday night slate offered up top-25 drama, or even putatively interesting storylines. There were some boring Monday nights, for sure. But the net-net of the regular season’s compendium of Big Monday matchups comes out positive. Speaking of positive, by the time you read this some of the smaller conference Tournaments may have already tipped off. We have entered the preliminary fluff; the postseason is just ahead. And if that’s the tradeoff for running out of Big Monday games, I don’t know about you, but I’ll take my postseason and leave those made-for-tv Monday nights behind without batting an eye.
Your watercooler moment. That Hurts, Baylor.
When you see the way Baylor squandered a huge resume-boosting opportunity over the weekend against Kansas State – on Rodney McGruder’s last-second game-winning three, which came about after the Bears relinquished possession on a full-length inbounds play – Monday night’s loss at Texas doesn’t look anywhere near as heartbreaking. But it could wind up coming back to haunt the Bears on selection Sunday, where a classic bubble profile finds itself in the hottest of at-large waters. It didn’t have to be this way: McGruder could have missed that shot, and Baylor could have pulled off the upset, and a loss at Texas would be bad, no doubt, but not bad enough to outweigh the benefits of a massive K-State win. Hypotheticals are all the rage in bubble-anxious athletic departments this time of year, and you can rest assured Baylor has plenty of moments it’d like to have back this season. But the bottom line is that it’s March 4, conference tournaments are around the corner and Baylor, rife with future NBA draft picks and a backcourt that rumbled on to the Elite 8 last season, is in real danger of missing out on the Big Dance. The Bears’ do get one last saving grace (and it may not be enough, not without some serious work in the Big 12 Tournament): a home date with Kansas to close the regular season (March 9). That’s a game Baylor can win, but it’s not one Kansas will take lightly, even as the regular season grinds to a close. The Jayhawks take this Big 12 title streak thing kind of seriously; they won’t cede to Baylor’s Tournament desperation in the name of losing a grip on Bill Self’s ninth consecutive Big 12 crown, is what I’m saying. Baylor will need to overcome that crowning desire, along with the handful of inherent flaws that have weighed the Bears down all season. Good luck.
Tonight’s Quick Hit…
Bearcats No Match For Louisville. Three-game losing streaks in January, panic, negative questions making their rounds on the internet. Remember the days? Back when the then-number one Cardinals were stunned on their home floor by a Michael Carter Williams-powered Syracuse, then followed it up by catching the wrong end of Villanova’s mini streak of top-five takedowns and fell once more as Georgetown started to hit its stride en route an 11-game (and counting) win streak. Not only was the Cardinals’ traditionally helter-skelter offense called into question, their No. 1 efficiency D was also propped up for debate. The five-OT loss at Notre Dame didn’t help their national look, and when Louisville came upon a cupcake-laden four-game slate – Saint Johns, at South Florida, Seton Hall, Depaul – it was easy to forget about the Cardinals as a national title contender. In the meantime, Louisville beefed up its defense to Pitino’s pristine standards, gaining confidence along the way, all in time for a huge payback win at the Carrier Dome Saturday. Louisville was back, if you ever bought into the idea they were “gone” in the first place. Back, in my definition of the word, means back to something resembling the original glowing perception we had of the Cardinals – one of the two or three best teams in the country. Teams like that – with Smith and Siva minimizing mistakes, Chane Behanan supplying yeomen’s interior work and Gorgui Dieng cleaning up everything on the defensive end – don’t lost to Cincinnati at home. You know how this one ended.
Dunkdafied. Sorry if I’m spoiling your nightly dose of Big 12 news aggregation, but I can report, with a 37-point margin of accuracy, that Kansas did indeed top Texas Tech at Allen Field House Monday night. Oh, and Kevin Young did this.
Monday Night’s All-Americans.
- Myck Kabongo, Texas (NPOY) – This team isn’t messing around with its star point guard running the show. Kabongo outdueled Pierre Jackson and Baylor with 19 points, six rebounds and eight assists.
- Jeff Withey, Kansas – If there’s one thing you know about Kansas, it’s defense. The Jayhawks guard like mad almost on impulse. That’s not hard to do when Withey is blocking four shots and sweeping up any missed rotations or assignments around the basket. He also added 22 points and nine rebounds.
- Sheldon McClellan, Texas – An excellent backcourt jolt of energy off the bench from McClellan (23 points) helped the Longhorns defend home court.
- Russ Smith, Louisville – I like Louisville. I just can’t help worrying about their point-scoring capacity from time to time, that’s all. Smith can help ease my doubts with performances like these – 18 points (the 6-for-14 shot chart isn’t pretty, but oh well.)
- Damon Heuir – Give Southern Utah credit, even in a loss. Thanks to Heuir’s 29 point, six-rebound effort, the Thunderbirds pushed Big Sky leader Montana into overtime.
Tweet of the Night. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Dieng’s intuitive defensive abilities in the college game, and while I’m no draft expert, superb athleticism and quick hands and an avid eagerness to get better on the offensive end, all packaged tidily within a 6’11 frame, makes one assume that NBA draft types wouldn’t mind one bit making Dieng the next in a small crop of defensive-minded centers.