Is Baylor Overrated? Of Course!Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 16th, 2014
The Baylor Bears are currently the 12th best team in the land (says the Associated Press), and are considered by many to be both a Big 12 title contender and Final Four threat. The Bears are deep and talented (as usual), and Kenny Chery has been remarkable enough to make Bears fan already forget their preseason fears of a life without Pierre Jackson. But after Wednesday night’s discouraging no-show of an 82-72 loss to Texas Tech – a game in which Baylor trailed by 21 at halftime – I think it’s high time we reassess Scott Drew’s team. They are a talented bunch, no doubt; but are the Bears as good as we first thought?
Baylor had already risen all the way to seventh in the polls this season, but another decisive Big 12 road loss (at Iowa State) knocked them down to their current spot. The Bears followed the standard prescription for reaching the upper realms of the poll: Enter the season ranked, possess a solid reputation of recent success, and then it doesn’t really matter who you beat — just win a bunch of games. Twelve of 13 did the trick for Scott Drew’s team, and that one loss was commendable – a seven-point defeat to second ranked Syracuse in Maui. But if we reevaluate Baylor’s current list of victories, the rise in profile that accompanied its jaunt up the polls may feel a bit hasty. Wins over Kentucky and Colorado are nice, but Arkansas and Washington can also claim that. Furthermore, make sure to note that those two games – both played in Dallas/Fort Worth — should be considered far friendlier for Baylor than the attached “neutral site” title would suggest – especially as the Bears struggle on the road here early in conference play.
A one-point victory that Dayton gifted them in Maui is Baylor’s only other victory of consequence. We could talk for a while about the Bears’ narrow escapes (single-digit wins over South Carolina and Charleston Southern, an overtime victory over #224 Northwestern State), but I’m not a guy who likes to blast teams for wins. More relevant to the notion that Baylor might be overrated is their middling defensive profile. The Bears are currently just 108th nationally in defensive efficiency. Somehow, that long, athletic frontcourt led by Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin is failing at both defending their defensive glass (201st nationally in defensive rebounding percentage) and forcing turnovers (323rd nationally in turnover percentage). For a team as athletically gifted as Baylor, the possession of those two statistics, this far into the regular season, is truly inexplicable.
Led by a quintet of Bears sporting national top-400 offensive ratings, the offense has been good. That’s nothing new – five of the last six Baylor teams finished with an offensive efficiency among the nation’s 15 best. More news from the “not-shocking department”: The defensive efficiency of Scott Drew’s teams have typically lagged well behind the offense. Only twice in the six prior seasons has the defense been able to muster even a top-50 national efficiency rating. But the final destination in the two seasons that they did? The Elite Eight.
The jury remains out on the Bears. They clearly have the talent requisite to be a national influence, but road victories and defensive improvements are in order if the Bears want to be taken seriously. Scott Drew’s teams have a history of teasing us with talent before settling into mediocrity; can this Baylor team shun that fate?