Three Thoughts on Baylor’s Win Over Iowa State Last NightPosted by Taylor Erickson on March 5th, 2014
In the moments following his team’s win over Iowa State on Tuesday night, Baylor head coach Scott Drew was asked if that performance against the Cyclones put his team into the NCAA Tournament, to which Drew responded, “Absolutely. No question.” Baring a dreadful performance in the Bears’ last game on Saturday at Kansas State and an disappointing early exit in the Big 12 Tournament, it seems like Drew’s statement is spot on. That in itself is crazy to think about; a team that looked all but dead in the water at 2-8 in conference play with little emotional desire to turn things around has done exactly that, winning six of its last seven and positioning the squad for a bid on Selection Sunday. It’s also worth mentioning that for all the criticism Scott Drew took while his team floundered to start conference play, he too is responsible in large part for its February resurgence and should receive due credit. For the Cyclones, it was another road loss in a league that offers very few chances to get a win away from home, but make no mistake about it, Fred Hoiberg’s squad will not be an easy out in postseason play. Here’s three observations from last night’s contest.
- Aside from Kansas, Baylor has perhaps the best combination of frontcourt size and skill on both ends of the floor, and this was certainly the case on Tuesday night. The length of Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin inside held the Big 12’s leading scorer, Melvin Ejim, to just six points, far from his average of 18.3 points per game in league play. Ejim’s teammate Georges Niang also had a difficult night, contributing only four points in the contest, also well below his league average. The duo of Jefferson and Austin combined to score 20 points themselves, but most importantly, controlled the paint. What was most interesting about this game was the fact that Baylor allowed Iowa State to shoot 41 percent from beyond the arc — connecting on 12 three-pointers — but that wasn’t enough to keep pace for the Cyclones with two of their stars failing to show up. It’s almost as if Drew’s game plan was to make Iowa State beat the Bears from the outside, and it seems to have been effective as the Cyclones converted better from distance than they did inside the arc (39 percent).
- The Cyclones weren’t the only ones raining in threes from deep. Baylor shooting guard Brady Heslip caught fire from the three-point line in the second half, finishing 5-of-8 from distance. To me, though, beyond the hot shooting, Heslip looked like a senior who isn’t ready to see his final season in Waco end without another trip to the NCAA Tournament. I’ve watched a fair amount of Baylor basketball this season, and I cannot recall seeing Heslip as emotional as he was in this game, especially when he knocked down a back-breaking three to extend the Bears’ lead late in the game. From an outsider’s perspective, it feels like when Baylor has struggled it has been because the players are almost lifeless on the court, but for much of their current streak this hasn’t been the case. Can the Bears maintain that intensity long enough to stay hot in tournament action?
- Is there still a debate as to which league is the nation’s best this season? I think most fans who pay close attention to the sport would tell you that Iowa State is a good basketball team, but after last night’s loss, the Cyclones are now 10-7 in conference play. This further illustrates just how difficult the Big 12 has been this season. Trying to win games away from home has proven incredibly difficult, regardless of how good that team is. It looks like the best match-ups for the Cyclones in March will be against teams that don’t have an impressive front line — and luckily for Iowa State, there aren’t many scattered around the country. Hoiberg’s team has struggled against the length that Kansas and Baylor can roll out against them, and probably need to draw a fortuitous bracket to really make a run. When the NCAA Tournament gets underway here in a few short weeks, I think we’ll see the depth of the conference shine as several schools are poised to make it to the second weekend of the Tournament and beyond.