Time to Recognize the Other Point Guard at Baylor: AJ Walton

Posted by dnspewak on January 21st, 2013

ESPN’s Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla gushed about a bunch of Baylor players during its victory over Oklahoma State Monday evening. They talked about how the 34 NBA scouts in the building surely must have noticed that forwards Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin combined for 11 blocks and two double-doubles. They talked about standout point guard Pierre Jackson, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year and the Bears’ leading scorer. And they talked about Brady Heslip, the dead-eyed three-point shooter who has been suffering through a shooting slump after a terrific 2011-12 campaign.

A.J. Walton is a Starter, But Nobody Knows It (photo credit to Big12Sports.com)

A.J. Walton is a Starter, But Nobody Knows It (photo credit to Big12Sports.com)

There was one more guy they gushed about. That’s A.J. Walton, the senior guard and winningest player in Baylor basketball history. It’s about time you gush about him, too. He didn’t lead the team in scoring like Jackson, and he didn’t finish with a double-double or block any shots, but he made what Fraschilla called the “play of the game” when he saved a ball near the baseline and fired it to Jefferson for a dunk, helping extend his team’s lead to eight points after the Cowboys had staged a modest comeback. It was one of four assists on the day for Walton, who also tallied two steals, five rebounds and made a number of other hustle plays, none of which went unnoticed by the commentators. By the end of the game, it would be fair to say Musburger had more of a crush on A.J. Walton than he did on that other A.J.’s girlfriend, if you catch our drift.

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Amid Criticism, Baylor Proves Its Manhood

Posted by dnspewak on March 8th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. He filed this piece after Baylor’s 82-74 victory over Kansas State. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

On the first possession of the game, the man they call “soft” rose high into the air, catching a pass from point guard Pierre Jackson to slam home an alley-oop from the left side of the rim. The team they call “soft” played so tough on Thursday it actually made Frank Martin speechless as he sat on the bench in the final minutes with his chin resting on his left hand in dismay. Baylor isn’t supposed to play like this, not against a Kansas State team that prides itself on physicality and intimidation. And Perry Jones isn’t supposed to play so aggressively, not after every member of the mainstream media ripped him to pieces these past two years for failing to reach his potential. He’s supposed to back down in the face of pressure, especially against a seven-foot behemoth like Jordan Henriquez in the post. But Jones looked every bit like a future NBA lottery pick after that alley-oop just ten seconds into the basketball game. It didn’t matter who guarded him or where he was on the floor. It didn’t matter whether he pulled up from three, from 15 feet or from two inches under the basket. Jones swished everything, scoring 21 of his 31 points in the first half. “I guess I was just in a zone today,” Jones said. “Just being aggressive and more assertive.”

Baylor Played Like Men on Thursday. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kansas State looked helpless against Jones and the rest of the Bears’ half-court offense, which Jackson ran by controlling tempo and finding the open man. He finished with eight assists and added 13 points, wowing the Sprint Center crowd with his quickness from end to end. On Thursday, Baylor was the team that dove for loose balls, hustled for offensive rebounds and earned deflections on the defensive end. Backup point guard A.J. Walton, still an important part of this team despite losing his starting spot to Jackson, tallied four steals and harassed the Wildcats all afternoon. “I thought A.J. was huge tonight,” coach Scott Drew said. “Defensively he did a very good job, and those four steals were huge. He guarded without getting in foul trouble.”

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Scott Drew Correct in Comments to DeCourcy, Critics are Wrong

Posted by dnspewak on January 9th, 2012

It’s hard not to like Scott Drew on a personal level. Responsible for perhaps the most remarkable rebuilding job in college basketball history, the young, vibrant head coach at Baylor has transformed a scandal-ridden program into a Big 12 powerhouse since taking over in Waco in 2003.

In interviews, Drew speaks with a friendly, non-threatening tone. He hails from a famous basketball family as the son of Homer Drew and the brother of Bryce Drew, and he speaks openly about his faith as the face of a small, Baptist university. On the basketball court, Drew has shattered any previous notion of lowly Baylor basketball by recruiting elite talent to the school, resulting in two NCAA Tournaments, an Elite Eight appearance and, these days, a top-five ranking and a shot at a Big 12 title. He’s a nice man with a nice story. That’s the American Dream.

So why do so many people still criticize Scott Drew?

Scott Drew Has Revitalized Baylor Since Taking Over in 2003

As Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News explains, his doubters hate him for a lot of reasons. Among them, you’ll hear that his teams play undisciplined and unstructured offensively. They’ll say he’s not a basketball coach, but instead an amasser of talent who recruits as many McDonald’s All-Americans and NBA Draft picks as possible without any regard for team basketball. Other Big 12 coaches have called him out for negative recruiting, and every so often, somebody will accuse Drew of cheating — without any evidence, of course.

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Big 12 Weekly Primer: December 28-29

Posted by dnspewak on December 28th, 2011

GAME OF THE WEEK

  • #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.

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Big 12 Thursday Night Preview: Braggin’ Rights and Tricky Road Games

Posted by dnspewak on December 22nd, 2011

GAME OF THE NIGHT

  • Missouri vs. Illinois, 8 p.m. CST in St. Louis (ESPN2)
From 2000 to 2008, Illinois owned Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights series. Year after year, the Tigers found new ways to lose by mishandling a potential game-tying attempt (2006), slipping on watery residue from the Scottrade Center’s hockey rink on the final possession (2007), and shooting 11% from three-point range (2008). One winter, embarrassed MU fans even dumped popcorn on Quin Snyder‘s head. Yes, the series was that ugly. But two years ago, fate shifted to the Tigers’ side. Missouri dominated from start to finish in 2009, and last season, the Tigers edged Illinois thanks to a late-game collapse by Bruce Weber‘s team. The losing streak is a distant memory and the Tigers own this series now.

That brings us to 2011. No matter how confident MU fans may be with their top-10 ranking, undefeated record and two consecutive series victories, the 24th-ranked Illini will provide Frank Haith with his stiffest test of the season. Missouri has not seen size like this before, and it will need to be creative in guarding 7’1” center Meyers Leonard. The Tigers have handled players like Harper Kamp (California) and Mouphtaou Yarou (Villanova), but Leonard is one of the better forwards the Tigers will see all year. He commands respect in the paint, and he’s also a decent passer with the ability to burn Missouri’s double-teams. As usual, Haith’s team will need to use its speed to burn a slower Illinois team. Against one of the fastest rosters in the country, the Illini have to slow the tempo and let Leonard go to work. Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco, no stranger to Scottrade after visiting the arena four years in a row for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, will also need to settle this young team down as the point guard. He’s been a difference-maker this season as one of the most experienced players on Weber’s team, and it is imperative for him to lead by example.

Phil Pressey Will Lead Missouri Against The Illini Tonight

On Missouri’s side, Phil Pressey will have to serve as the catalyst. He’ll never have a strength advantage against any point guard, but he could run into some trouble with Maniscalco (6’0” but strong), Brandon Paul (6’4”) and D.J. Richardson (6’3”). Again, though, his quickness is unmatched by just about everybody in college basketball, and as the Big 12′s assists leader, he can control the game without scoring a point. That’s what Marcus Denmon is for. The senior All-American candidate struggled against William and Mary over the weekend, but he’s allowed an off night every once in awhile. When he’s set, he almost never misses from three-point land, and if he’s on his game, he will be the best player on the floor tonight.

Unless you’ve attended a Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis, you have no idea how intense the environment is. Haith may have watched last year’s game on tape, but not even he is ready for this atmosphere. There is no non-conference matchup quite like it — the arena is evenly split between Missouri and Illinois fans, and on each basket, one side erupts as if it has won the National Championship. Luckily for the Tigers, they have a more grizzled roster with five seniors, four of whom are now playing in their fourth Braggin’ Rights game.

The key individual matchup is… Meyers Leonard vs. Ricardo Ratliffe. Leonard is the key to this entire contest. Although St. Louis native Tyler Griffey is a starter and key contributor, Leonard is the centerpiece of this team — especially against a smaller opponent in Missouri. If he gets into early foul trouble, Illinois will have a lot of problems since it lacks depth in the frontcourt. Leonard will see double-teams all night when he touches the ball, and Ratliffe will be at least one of those defenders tugging on his jersey for 40 minutes. When Ratliffe has the ball, it will also be interesting to watch how he handles the match-up with Leonard. He scores a lot of his buckets on layups, putbacks and turnaround hook shots off the backboard, but he’s not the kind of player that can always take a 7’1” defender off the dribble and create his own shot. Ratliffe must find a way to utilize his quickness against Leonard, and Phil Pressey must find him on screen-and-rolls since Haith’s offense calls for that play on almost every possession.

Missouri will win if… It scores in transition and forces turnovers. That sounds like a key to the game for a Mike Anderson team, but it’s true for Haith’s team as well. MU is actually converting better in transition than it did a year ago, and that’s what it has to do against Illinois. In his first three wins against Mike Anderson, Bruce Weber did a great job of controlling the tempo and letting his team go to work in the halfcourt. The Tigers don’t utilize full-court pressure anymore, but the basic principles remain: they want to get out and run, and they want to disrupt the opponent defensively. That’s how they dismantled Notre Dame, California and Villanova, and it’s how they must beat Illinois.

Illinois will win if… It makes this game a Big Ten fist fight and stays level-headed. Illinois is bigger and stronger than Missouri at almost every position. It has more physical guards, and it has a more physical frontcourt. If Weber can concoct another game plan to use the shot clock and limit turnovers, the Illini should be able to score at will in the paint and win the rebounding battle. That all hinges on this team’s ability to keep its cool. MU’s defenders will fly all over the place with active hands, trying to deflect every pass in their vicinity. These Illinois guards can counter that by staying poised, and Maniscalco needs to be especially steady here. He’s the guy that everything depends on, even though he’s in his first season playing for Weber. At Bradley, he earned a reputation as a leader and a winner, and he cannot get rattled in the spotlight tonight.

OTHER GAMES TO WATCH
  • Texas Tech at Oral Roberts, 7:05 PM CST
Fresh off a blowout victory at Xavier, Oral Roberts is flying high and should be favored in this game against Tech tonight. ORU is used to knocking off Big 12 foes: in the last decade, it has beaten both Missouri and Kansas. Scott Sutton’s program is the class of the Summit League, and it looks like a contender once against this season at 8-4. Billy Gillispie is still trying to figure things out with this Texas Tech team, as it has failed every test presented to it. Without consistent point guard play and a slump from senior Robert Lewandowski, the Red Raiders must find a way to execute better offensively. Otherwise, it could be a long night in Tulsa.
  • St. Mary’s at Baylor, 9 PM CST in Las Vegas
After winning at BYU, we’re pretty sure Baylor is an elite basketball team. There’s a lot of time for that to change, of course, but Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton have been lifesavers at the point guard position. This team is finally playing the kind of selfless basketball Scott Drew has been waiting for, and Perry Jones III has lived up to expectations after returning from a suspension. In five games, Jones is averaging more than 16 per game in the scoring department, and he’s shooting nearly 70 percent from the field. If only the Bears could rebound better– BYU’s forwards embarrassed Jones, Quincy Miller and the rest of the crew by grabbing 16 offensive boards. On paper, a team with this size should not allow that to happen. Baylor can redeem itself by keeping Rob Jones off the glass, as he’s averaging 11 rebounds per game for 10-1 St. Mary’s. Jones, the former transfer from San Diego, is undersized at 6’6” but still tenacious on the court. He has grabbed at least 10 boards in all but one game this season, but it’s important to remember that the Gaels’ schedule has not been challenging. They have played only a handful of decent teams: Northern Iowa (win), Denver (loss) and Weber State (win). That’s why this game may actually be more of a test for St. Mary’s than for Baylor.
  • Kansas at USC, 10 PM CST
In a relatively surprising result, USC actually knocked off an improved TCU team by 24 points on Monday, thanks in large part to a 25-point, seven-assist effort by point guard Maurice Jones. With Jio Fontan out for the season, Jones is the most important player on Kevin O’Neill’s roster. Jones is a 5’7” sparkplug with a lot of quickness, so Tyshawn Taylor and his recovering knee better watch out. Still, this Kansas team is too good to lose this game. And the Jayhawks should have a newfound focus after the debacle against Davidson earlier this week. Taylor gets a lot of grief for his high turnover rate this season, but he wasn’t the only problem against the Wildcats. This team just does not execute like most Bill Self teams do, and that has to improve in a Pac-12 road environment tonight. USC does not have a ton of offensive firepower, and it hardly has any threats from beyond the arc. Still, O’Neill’s a good coach who can gameplan against anybody, and his team will have the home crowd in its favor. This won’t be a cakewalk for Kansas.
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Big 12 Weekend Primer

Posted by dnspewak on December 17th, 2011

GAME OF THE WEEK

  • Texas A&M (8-1) at Florida (7-2), Orange Bowl Classic, Saturday 1:30 p.m. CT
Starting next season, these two programs will battle each other annually in the SEC. Until then, Texas A&M and Florida will settle for playing each other in the Orange Bowl Classic, a neutral-site game set in Sunrise, Florida on Saturday afternoon. The Aggies are a wild card in the Big 12 right now, as they’ve built their 8-1 record against mostly inferior competition– and, more importantly, they have played all but two games without All-Big 12 wing Khris Middleton. The 6’7” junior has missed the majority of the season recovering from knee surgery, returning in time for A&M’s most recent victory over Louisiana-Monroe. Although Middleton hadn’t played since the season opener, he seemed perfectly healthy in torching the Warhawks for 24 points. His return gives Texas A&M an entirely different look on both ends of the floor, so much that it would be worthless to judge the seven games it played without Middleton. For instance, A&M fell flat against the best team on its schedule without him, falling behind by more than 20 points in the first half at Madison Square Garden. That’s why Florida will let Billy Kennedy truly gauge his team for the first time in 2011-12. Though forward Kourtney Roberson is still questionable for the contest, A&M could solidify itself as a Big 12 contender by knocking off the Gators in a quasi-road environment.

Texas A&M Will Play A "Neutral" Game in The State of Florida Against the Gators

The key individual match-up is… Dash Harris vs. Erving Walker. Although Texas A&M’s schedule has not been demanding, this team could have really slipped had Dash Harris not played so steadily. The senior point guard is known for his defense, but offensively, Harris has kept the Aggies afloat without Middleton by making good decisions and taking care of the basketball. He won’t score much, but he’s irreplaceable as a distributor in this offense. And as a defensive stopper, he has the skills to slow down Erving Walker. Harris has a few inches on Walker, and he’s as quick as any guard in the nation. No matter the defender, though, it’s up to Walker to rise to the challenge. He looks to score much more than Harris, and at times, he has looked terrific with the ball in his hands. When he has struggled, it has been his own fault: against Arizona, for example, he settled for quick threes and forced up 16 shots. If he doesn’t settle down against Harris, Walker could be in for a tough night.

Texas A&M will win if… it continues to dominate on the defensive end. This program’s attitude from former coaches Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon has carried over to Kennedy’s team. The Aggies are all about defense, rebounding and physicality, but they will have their hands full with the explosive Gator guards. Though Middleton’s blend of size and athleticism is a tough match-up for every team, Florida has excellent backcourt speed in Kenny Boynton, Brad Beal, Mike Rosario, and Walker. A&M has to find a way to lock down those guards and force them into tough shots. In that Arizona victory, Billy Donovan was not happy with the shot selection of his guards. Against a team like A&M, Florida will have to settle down and run its stuff efficiently to have a chance.
Florida will win if… it can control the paint. Texas A&M likes to think it’s tougher than you– David Loubeau and Ray Turner are intimidating physical specimens, and this team rebounds with authority around the basket. UF is no slouch in that category this year. Patric Young might be the best forward on the floor on Saturday, and sophomore Will Yeguete has done a nice job since entering the starting lineup in late November. Neither team is especially deep up front, but A&M could get a big lift if Kourtney Roberson is healthy.
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Big 12 Team Previews: Baylor Bears

Posted by dnspewak on November 11th, 2011

Predicted finish: 2nd

2010-11 Record: 18-13, 7-9 (7th, Big 12)

Head Coach: Scott Drew, 9th season

Key Losses: Lacedarius Dunn (19.5 PPG)

It’s been an up-and-down stretch lately for Scott Drew at Baylor. In 2007-08, Drew led the Bears to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in decades, capping a remarkable turnaround for the program just five years after the ugly Patrick Dennehy murder scandal. With high expectations the next season, though, the Bears flopped; they then recovered for an Elite Eight appearance in 2009-10 before tumbling to a 7-9 record in Big 12 play last season. If the trend continues, perhaps BU will make a Final Four this season. That’s not even a wild scenario, considering the Bears have one of the nation’s most ferocious frontcourts. Even with all of the talent in Waco, they’ll need better point guard play, and they must learn how to play as a cohesive unit. If that happens, there’s no stopping these guys.

Potential Lotto Pick Perry Jones Made An Unexpected Return To Waco, But Will Chemistry Issues Plague The Bears Again?

The Stars: Perry Jones could have made millions as an NBA Draft lottery pick this spring, but he bypassed that option and returned for his sophomore season at Baylor. Although the 6’11” forward wasn’t perfect last season, he was still one of the nation’s top freshman. In 2011-12, he’s a Big 12 Player of the Year and All-America candidate who can score from anywhere on the floor. The other star opposite of Jones is Quincy Miller, the freshman stud who loves to attack the offensive glass and use his freakish athleticism in transition. Like Jones, Miller is a long, fast forward with great defensive potential and a future in the NBA.

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RTC Conference Primers: #5 – Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 2nd, 2011

Steve Fetch of Rock Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can find him on Twitter @fetch9.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • This is of course the last year for Texas A&M to leave its mark on the Big 12, and it could be Missouri’s as well. Both teams enter the 2011-12 season with serious conference title hopes,  but each comes with some question marks. Missouri lost Laurence Bowers to an ACL injury, which really puts a strain on their interior depth. They didn’t rebound terribly well in the first place, ranking 317th nationally in defensive rebounding, and the loss of the 6’8” Bowers, who was their best returning player on the glass, won’t help. A&M meanwhile still has Khris Middleton, but do they have anyone to get him the ball? Dash Harris had a turnover rate of almost 30% last year and an assist rate of only 21%
  • Speaking of those two, the Big 12 has four new coaches this year, with Texas Tech and Oklahoma joining A&M and Missouri as teams with new head men. The Big 12 hasn’t had this many new coaches since 2007 when six of the twelve schools had first-year men on the job. I took a look at  how coaches in the Big 12 have done in their first year on the job and compared it with the historical performances of the programs who have new coaches at the helm this season, and it looks like all four could be in for rough times initially.
  • Kansas has won at least a share of the last seven Big 12 titles, but in order or the Jayhawks to make it eight, Bill Self will have to do his best coaching job yet. He lost both the Morris twins and Josh Selby to the NBA, as well as the underrated Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar to graduation. What’s more, incoming freshmen Ben McLemore, Jamari Traylor and Braeden Anderson were all deemed ineligible. Kansas still has some talent to work with, especially Thomas Robinson, who had a tremendous summer.

Even Bill Self Has Admitted That This Season Will Be A Challenge For The Perennial Blueblood

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Kansas (14-4)
  2. Baylor (13-5)
  3. Missouri (13-5)
  4. Texas A&M (12-6)
  5. Oklahoma State (10-8)
  6. Texas (9-9)
  7. Iowa State (7-11)
  8. Kansas State (5-13)
  9. Oklahoma (4-14)
  10. Texas Tech (3-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

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Summer School in the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 27th, 2010

Around The Big 12:

  • One Foot Out The Door: The big news in the Big 12 is that it’s no longer the Big 12.  This season will be the final season with the Big 12 as we know it.  Nebraska departs for the Big Ten and Colorado will eventually make the jump to the Pac-10, either in 2011 or 2012.  Either way, the transformation in the conference has major implications as far as basketball is concerned, as the unbalanced schedule that has existed since the league’s inception goes away, and a new 18-game conference slate could become the norm.  In an ideal world, no more excuses – everybody plays everybody at home and on the road from here on out.
  • New Coaches: Two teams in the conference will have new head coaches in 2010. Colorado lost Jeff Bzdelik to Wake Forest and his self-described dream job.  The timing couldn’t have been worse for Colorado, as the program seemed to be gaining some traction, and any time there is a lack of stability, it can hurt a program.  In terms of the hire itself, Tad Boyle from Northern Colorado doesn’t necessarily have the name recognition, but he was able to keep all the current pieces in place for Colorado and in the short term, that’s very important.  Things at Iowa State didn’t necessarily shake out quite as well.  The Cyclones are bringing back “The Mayor,” Fred Hoiberg, who has an extremely limited coaching resume, but tremendous amount of clout with the Iowa State faithful.  The program lost the top two players from a year ago and then some.  With the new start and a fresh face on the bench, it’s a full-blown rebuilding job awaiting an Ames legend.
  • Diaper Dandies: The Big 12 has made a name for itself as a league that can reload. This year is no exception; around the league, a host of high-profile recruits join various programs, ensuring the viability of the league as a basketball power for the future.  Perry Jones at Baylor, Josh Selby at Kansas, Tony Mitchell at Missouri and both Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph at Texas join each respective program as big-time national recruits. The only problem right now is that both Tiger and Jayhawk fans are awaiting eligibility news related to their blue chip talents.
  • An I-70 Battle: Three teams situated on or very close to Interstate 70 look poised to battle for the conference title.  In years past, the gripe from the Big 12 South has always been the competitively unbalanced schedule and the built-in advantage that it provided Kansas in winning the conference.  In 2010, three North teams in Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri all appear to be legitimate contenders for the conference crown.  Mike Anderson and Frank Martin have done a tremendous job in recruiting players to their respective programs, developing talent and getting the buy-in that it takes to step onto the national stage.  Both appear to be inching ever closer to Bill Self and the Jayhawks and the three-way “rivalry” will no doubt play a major role in who wins the Big 12.

With or without Josh Selby, Kansas is ready to defend its string of six consecutive regular season conference titles.

Power Rankings:

  1. Kansas: When you lose three starters, the common belief is that you will take a step back.  With Kansas however, the cupboard is far from bare.  The Jayhawks were easily one of the deepest teams in the country a year ago and while losing Sherron Collins, Xavier Henry and Cole Aldrich certainly isn’t an easy pill to swallow, Kansas returns a Big 12 POY candidate in Marcus Morris, depth and talent at every position, and they add one of the top recruits in the country in McDonald’s All-American Josh Selby, who as of this writing, has yet to be cleared to play. Two players who could prove critical to success in 2010 are Markieff Morris and Tyshawn Taylor. Both have enjoyed success off and on in their careers thus far, but neither has found the consistency or leadership on the court that’s necessary to be viewed as a leader.  With the turnover in the program, the opportunity is there for one or both to make that leap.
  2. Kansas State: The Wildcats return a good amount of talent from their Elite Eight team of a year ago.  Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly could easily represent the best inside-outside combination in the league. But the biggest reason to not doubt Kansas State is their coach, Frank Martin. A hire that was highly criticized when it was made, Martin’s move to the head job in Manhattan has proven to be a great one. His teams play an extremely hard, tough, physical brand of basketball, and as a coach, he’s found a way to put together a team that buys into that style.  The biggest question mark will be finding a way to replace Denis Clemente, arguably the most athletic player in the Big 12 a year ago.  Martin will look to sophomores Rodney McGruder and Wally Judge to step up and provide support for the Wildcats as they battle for the conference title
  3. Missouri: Mike Anderson has stocked up on quality depth and added the top recruiting class in the conference to boot.  While the eligibility of blue-chip talent Tony Mitchell remains a question mark, the Tigers have made another major addition on the interior in the top ranked junior college forward, Ricardo Ratliffe. The biggest thing the Tigers will have to replace is leadership.  The departures of seniors J.T. Tiller, Keith Ramsey and Zaire Taylor aren’t major blows in terms of production, but they are in terms of leadership.  All three were part of the initial transition from the Quin Snyder era to Anderson and all three were in the top four in minutes played a year ago.  The talent in Columbia is there for a Big 12 run, the question is who will lead them? Read the rest of this entry »
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2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Baylor Bears

Posted by zhayes9 on August 19th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

Continuing our Big 12 theme after a breakdown of Kansas and Texas, let’s dissect the Baylor Bears on their quest to accomplish what Butler did this April: play a Final Four in their home state.

Drew has led Baylor out of the Big 12 basement

Team Outlook: Baylor head coach Scott Drew lost two indispensable components to any successful college basketball team this summer with the graduation of senior point guard/assist machine Tweety Carter and interior defensive force Ekpe Udoh to the NBA Draft. Replacing the leadership and experience of Carter coupled with Udoh’s double-double tendencies in the post usually means a giant step back for a program that’s not considered a hoops powerhouse. Mass defections in the Big 12 help the cause, but expectations for 2010-11 are really not all that different from a season ago. It’s entirely possible blue chip freshman Perry Jones can equal or surpass the production of Udoh, and A.J. Walton showed enough glimpses of potential during his freshman year that the loss of Carter won’t sting so harshly. LaceDarius Dunn opting to return also helps plenty. Drew and this Baylor program have reached the point where reloading, rather than rebuilding, is the name of the game.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 5.5. For a team trying to enter the upper echelon of the Big 12 on a consistent basis, it’s a tad surprising Drew didn’t opt to challenge Baylor more during the non-conference slate. Baylor’s schedule looks like a walk in the park relative to Kansas, Texas or Kansas State, but there are some frisky teams on the docket just prior to Big 12 competition. Baylor will participate in ESPN’s 24-Hour Hoops Marathon with a mid-afternoon tilt against a La Salle team not expected to contend in the Atlantic 10. Their assigned game in the Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood Series is a home date with Arizona State, a squad projected to be near the bubble this season. In fact, the Bears don’t leave Texas until the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu where they’ll face either Mississippi State or Washington State after likely dispatching of San Diego in the quarters. Either Butler or Florida State may wait for the final. The jewel of the non-conference schedule is a matchup with Gonzaga in Dallas on December 18.

Cupcake City: The frosting is a bit too heavy on Baylor’s cupcake for my liking. Drew loaded the slate with a plethora of teams the Bears should run over. These opponents include Grambling State, Jackson State, Lipscomb, Prairie View A&M and Bethune-Cookman prior to the Gonzaga meeting and Texas Southern and Morgan State just before Big 12 play, seven teams mired in the dregs of Division I. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the February 15 breather against Wayland Baptist. Was Texas Pan-American not available? NJIT? It’s one thing to throw in a handful of semi-talented mid-majors, but these are mostly teams in the MEAC and SWAC. I’m not sure how scheduling these games do Baylor, a team that returns a fair chunk of talent, any good. If anything, the committee will penalize the Bears come Selection Sunday with all of these wins against sub-300 RPI squads.

Toughest Early Season Test: The nationally televised clash with Gonzaga in Dallas (a doubleheader at the home of the Mavericks with Texas A&M taking on Arkansas in the undercard) is the prize of the early season portion of the schedule. Gonzaga returns four starters from a squad that won another WCC regular season title and is projected to finish in the top 20 this year. The Baylor frontline of Quincy Acy, Perry Jones and Anthony Jones should have a difficult time containing the Gonzaga attack of versatile threat Elias Harris and seven-footer Robert Sacre. The Zags also boast Steven Gray, a capable outside shooter that can stretch the Baylor defense and open space for Harris and Sacre to operate. Going up against Gonzaga in the non-conference is dangerous. They need these RPI-boosting victories playing in a conference that doesn’t provide many tests.

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