No Matter What Happens Tonight, Scott Drew Deserves a Fair Shake

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 27th, 2014

Ever since Baylor blew the doors off of Creighton on Sunday, the public tide has started to turn in Scott Drew’s favor. He hasn’t shaken all of the criticisms — that he’s underachieved with top-flight talent in previous seasons and that he’s toed a fine line with his recruiting strategies (as if other programs don’t)  — but with every postseason win he continued to chalk up, the noise has definitely quieted. On Wednesday night alone, CBSSports.com‘s Dennis Dodd and Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg posted columns detailing why the doubters have it all wrong about Drew. While Dodd and Eisenberg aren’t the first to defend the Baylor head coach, their points remain that regardless of what you think about his tactics, the results he’s produced deserve acclaim among some of the best coaching jobs in the country — no matter what happens tonight against Wisconsin.

No matter what happens tonight, it's time to evaluate Scott Drew with fairness. (AP)

You don’t have to like Scott Drew, but it’s past time to evaluate his tenure at Baylor with fairness. (AP)

The Bears are one win away from a chance to play in the Final Four for the third time in five seasons, so if they beat the Badgers this evening, they’ll have cracked the Elite Eight with three very different teams. While one of the prevalent knocks on Drew is that last season’s group — which had a similar look and feel to this year’s team in terms of roster construction — failed to make the NCAA Tournament, it’s also true that three of his best players this season were guys who were passed over by bigger programs. In other words, if you’re going to penalize Drew for missing out on a Dance card with Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and a senior Pierre Jackson, that’s fine; but if you’re going to do that, it’s only fair to also credit him for getting the most out of Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale and parlaying that player development into postseason success. Going back even further, he’s offset the lukewarm contributions of hyped recruits Perry Jones and Quincy Miller by getting great value from low-level prospects like Jackson, Quincy Acy and Ekpe Udoh, all three of whom are now playing professionally.

Even if Drew loses tonight, he’ll still find himself among rarefied air in the coaching community. Only six other programs have made the Sweet Sixteen three times in the last five years: Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Not Kansas, not Duke, not Syracuse, not Connecticut. Not bad for a guy who arrived in Waco 11 years ago with the unenviable task of rebuilding a D-I program from essentially scratch. No matter what the narrative says you should think about him, stop thinking it. The guy can coach.

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Assessing Three Key Big 12 Matchups in the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 26th, 2014

The Big 12 has had a rough go of things in this season’s NCAA Tournament, but the conference is very much alive with two teams still playing. To briefly recap how we got here, Kansas returned to campus earlier than expected, Oklahoma State failed to carry its improved play into the Tournament, and Oklahoma fell victim to a #12 seed darling in North Dakota State. It’s safe to say that those teams underperformed relative to expectations both at the beginning of the season and after Selection Sunday, but the damage doesn’t end there. Kansas State was also bounced by Kentucky in the second round and Texas fell to Michigan in the round of 32 after needing a buzzer-beating putback to get past a mediocre Arizona State squad. While some attrition is to be expected whenever a large percentage of a conference makes the field, it was reasonable to believe that more than two teams from the Big 12 would emerge from the frenzied opening weekend. Still, what we’re left with are two proud programs in Baylor and Iowa State that have been playing well for about six weeks now. As the Cyclones and Bears get ready for their next tests against UConn and Wisconsin, respectively, here are the three key match-ups worth your attention.

After a performance for the ages in the Round of 32, DeAndre Kane will need to be at his best against UConn. (USA Today)

After a performance for the ages in the Round of 32, DeAndre Kane will need to be at his best yet again against UConn. (USA Today)

  1. DeAndre Kane vs. Shabazz Napier - The country’s two best do-everything guards lock horns in Madison Square Garden Friday night with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line — what could be better? After stepping up in a huge way with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists against North Carolina Sunday, Kane will likely need another large performance to offset the loss of Georges Niang if the Cyclones are to make their first Elite Eight since 2000. On the other side, Napier was fantastic against Villanova, shaking off foul trouble and a tweaked leg on his way to 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting. The MSG crowd will certainly be pro-UConn, and Napier will have a chip on his shoulder after the Cyclones ended the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament defense a couple of years ago. While Kane and Napier may not be matched up against each other when they step onto the court, it stands to reason that whichever team gets the best performance from its stud guard will play for a chance to cut down the nets in New York. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 21st, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

South Region

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Baylor and Texas Playing Great Heading into Lone Star Match-up

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 14th, 2014

Baylor’s rollercoaster season has been on the upswing for awhile, and that upward trajectory has continued in Kansas City. The Bears got off to a hot start (15-3) in their opener against TCU, and followed that up with a similarly hot start in the quarterfinal against Oklahoma (13-3). The difference? TCU was winless in conference play, while the Sooners came into the game ranked #17 and boasting one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Baylor came ready to play in both games, and is now headed to the semi-finals brimming with momentum. The Bears shredded the Oklahoma defense to the tune of a 54.8 percent shooting performance in the first half, and while that dipped in the second half, they did just enough to shoot 50 percent on the game.

Kenny Chery facilitated an efficient Baylor offense as the Bears outshot Oklahoma (baylorbears.com).

Kenny Chery facilitated an efficient Baylor offense as the Bears outshot Oklahoma (baylorbears.com).

What is the ceiling for this Baylor team? If the way they’ve played in Kansas City is any indicator, it’s pretty high. Steady point guard is usually a big part of a tournament run, and Kenny Chery looked the part against the Sooners. He didn’t shoot the ball well (3-of-11), but played virtually the entire game (38 minutes) and was the key factor in the Bears’ hyper efficient offense. His seven assists helped the Bears put four players other than himself in double figures. Despite three turnovers, Chery did a good job against Oklahoma’s press and created easy basket that way too. Cory Jefferson was another reason the offense kept whirring by effectively passing out of double teams numerous times.

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Three Thoughts on Baylor’s Win Over Iowa State Last Night

Posted 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.

Baylor-Iowa State

Cory Jefferson and Baylor Appear to be Back in the NCAA Tournament’s Good Graces

  1. 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). Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 5th, 2014

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  1. Through the first 16 games conference play, Baylor amazingly played themselves out of and back into contention for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Now it appears their at-large candidacy is all but sewn up by beating Iowa State 74-61 on Senior Night in Waco. Fittingly, Baylor seniors Brady Heslip (18 points, 5-for-8 from three) and Cory Jefferson (21 points, seven boards and two blocks) led the way and helped the Bears improve to 8-9 in the Big 12. How’s this for patterns: Baylor has made every even-numbered tournament year since 2008. Why mess with happy?
  2. On the heels of Senior Night, the Waco Tribune dove in to the story of fifth-year senior Cory Jefferson. It might sound hard to believe but Jefferson was a freshman on the 2010 Elite Eight team with guys like LaceDarius Dunn (!!) and Tweety Carter (!!!). You can tell Jefferson is a patient guy: he was willing to redshirt his sophomore season, stay on the team despite playing ten minutes per game in 2011-12 and then decided to put the NBA on hold to complete his college career in 2013. Now with a likely tournament bid and potential NBA career nearing, Jefferson is reaping the benefits of making the decision to stay in Waco.
  3. BREAKING: Bill Self is happy about something for once. The Kansas coach is looking forward to tonight’s Senior Night festivities when his Jayhawks take on Texas Tech in Lawrence. KU plans to honor Tarik Black, Justin Wesley and Niko Roberts and here Self is quite vivid about his feelings for these players. For whatever reason, folks have negatively chimed in about the team not properly “celebrating” the program’s tenth straight Big 12 title last week. At least on this night, something worth celebrating will be celebrated. Congrats to the Jayhawk seniors.
  4. Quietly, Oklahoma is after some valuable real estate on the final week of the regular season. The Sooners sit in second at 10-6 in the Big 12, tied with Texas but OU owns the tiebreak over UT by virtue of their season sweep. They will host West Virginia tonight and wrap-up the schedule against winless TCU on Saturday. It’s amazing to think that the coaches picked Oklahoma to tie for fifth in the preseason poll with Kansas State but are now on the verge of finishing right behind Kansas. It would mark the first time that had happened since Blake Griffin’s sophomore season in 2009. It’s looking more and more like Lon Kruger emerging as the favorite for conference COY.
  5. It’s now or never time for West Virginia. What WVU need to show the NCAA Selection Committee in the next ten days is that a) they can win games consistently, b) win games against quality opponents and c) win games against quality opponents away from home. They’ll get a chance to do all three starting in Norman tonight, Kansas at home Saturday and during next week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. But all of that starts with the type of effort the team gets from leading scorer Eron Harris. Harris is a statistical oddity for a team’s top scorer: the Mountaineers are a surprising 3-7 when Harris scores 20 or more and just 2-4 in Big 12 games. Simply put WVU will need all hands to squeeze in an eighth Big 12 squad into the Big Dance.
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Three Thoughts on Baylor’s Monday Night Win Over Oklahoma State

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 18th, 2014

Take a trip back in time to January 3, 2014. Baylor had just demolished lowly Savannah State at home in its final tune-up before conference play. Scott Drew’s team was 12-1, ranked 9th in the nation with neutral site, non-conference victories over a Spencer Dinwiddie-led Colorado team and a Kentucky squad that was ranked 3rd at the time. Baylor looked like one of the Big 12’s elite, possibly capable of threatening Kansas’ nine-year reign atop the league. On that same evening in early January, Oklahoma State was preparing for its first conference game of the season — a road contest at an up-and-down Kansas State group looking for a win to ignite its start in league play. The Cowboys, much like their fellow Big 12 competitors from Waco, had raced out to a 12-1 record to begin the season, and found themselves ranked 6th in the nation after non-conference victories over Memphis and the same Colorado team. Marcus Smart was averaging over 17 points per game, and perhaps even more so than Baylor, Travis Ford’s team looked like it had a legitimate shot to take down the then-shaky Jayhawks.

With a thin Oklahoma State front line, Baylor big men Corey Jefferson and Isaiah Austin proved too much inside.

With a thin Oklahoma State front line, Baylor big men Corey Jefferson and Isaiah Austin proved too much inside. (Waco Tribune-Herald)

At that time, a mid-February Big Monday battle in Waco between these two teams looked like must-see television. Boy, how quickly things can change. Instead of a match-up that could have (should have?) had serious league title implications, this game instead featured the eighth and ninth teams in the Big 12 standings, fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. The winner of last night’s game would move to three games back of .500 in conference play; the loser would stare at a 4-9 record and the notion of having to win every game left just to break even. What took place for the better part of 30 minutes on Monday night looked exactly like a contest between two bottom-dwellers, regardless of the names on the fronts of the jerseys. And if that wasn’t enough, a comedy of head-scratching coaching decisions down the stretch left most observers wondering what the heck they just witnessed. Nevertheless, a 70-64 overtime win for Baylor proved to be a tremendous feat for a team clinging to hopes of an at-large bid. Here are three thoughts on the showdown that was in Waco Monday night.

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Baylor Heads to Lawrence in Hopes of Snapping a Funk

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2014

With two weeks of Big 12 play already in the rearview mirror, there’s been a good bit of chaos. Oklahoma State already has two losses; Iowa State and Baylor are in the league’s lower half; West Virginia is a mess (again); and Kansas State hasn’t regressed as far as many thought they would (at least not yet). It seems like the only steadying Big 12 force has been Kansas, leading the pack once again. The Jayhawks are the only undefeated team in conference play, and as it tends to be the case with the Jayhawks in the Bill Self era, they’re getting better with each passing game. With a win at home tonight, Kansas can tighten its grip on the rest of the league, while Baylor is in desperate need of a victory to keep its prospects of a top-three finish alive.

Look for the play of Isaiah Austin to determine Baylor's fate tonight in Lawrence.

Look for the inside play of Isaiah Austin to determine Baylor’s fate tonight in Lawrence.

That will be a tall order for Scott Drew’s team, which has never won in Allen Fieldhouse under his watch. He’s tried virtually everything, even going so far as to usher his team into the tunnel before a game so as not to be fazed by Kansas’ notoriously intense pregame introductions. But it hasn’t worked. If Baylor is to buck the trend tonight, it will need to succeed in the following four key areas:

  1. Tighten the zone. Baylor is giving up 1.10 points per possession in league play, good for eighth in the Big 12. That mark is way too low for any team, much less one with Baylor’s size and athleticism. To Drew’s credit, the Bears’ defense was effective against Oklahoma’s offense on Saturday, but it will need to be even better tonight in the unfriendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks have been uncharacteristically turnover-prone in their last two games, so tonight would be a good opportunity for the Bears to apply more pressure than they previously have. Even if they can’t force turnovers, though… Read the rest of this entry »
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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?

Cory Jefferson And The Defensively Challenged Bears Would Be Well-Suited To Replicate Their Offensive Efficiency On The Other End Of The Floor

Cory Jefferson And The Defensively Challenged Bears Would Be Well-Suited To Replicate Their Offensive Efficiency On The Other End Of The Floor

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.

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Big 12 M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on December 16th, 2013

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  1. If you missed Iowa State’s annual game against Iowa Friday night, you missed a great one. Both teams were ranked for the first time in what seems like forever (26 years), and the sold-out Hilton Coliseum crowd was rewarded with an 85-82 Cyclones’ win over the Hawkeyes. Georges Niang had 24 points, telling Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune: “I felt like it was my night.” Iowa State improved to 8-0 with the win and barring a home upset against George Mason or Northern Illinois over the next two-plus, will enter 2014 and Big 12 play undefeated.
  2. If you haven’t seen Kansas center Joel Embiid’s Hakeem Olajuwon/Dream Shake impression yet, drop what you’re doing and watch the GIF at the bottom of this SI.com piece, or check out the full video here. It’s amazing that Embiid was a soccer player until just a few years ago who is still relatively new to playing basketball. He shot up the recruiting rankings during his last year of high school and is shooting up NBA mock drafts this season. Don’t be shocked if he becomes a top-three pick next summer.
  3. Marcus Smart appears to have changed his game following Oklahoma State’s loss to Memphis two weeks ago. “I’m just trying to focus and make sure I don’t force a lot of things because I do have a talented group of guys around me,” he told John Helsley of The Oklahoman after the Cowboys’ 70-55 win over Louisiana Tech Saturday. Smart had 13 points, five assists, and four steals in the win.
  4. CBSSports.com NBA writer Matt Moore updated his 2014 mock draft over the weekend and Andrew Wiggins fell to the second pick overall behind Duke freshman Jabari Parker. Joel Embiid was fourth, Marcus Smart seventh, Wayne Selden eighth, Perry Ellis 25th, and Isaiah Austin 29th. Second round selections included Cory Jefferson at 44th and Le’Bryan Nash at 51st. Moore had this to say about Nash, the former five-star recruit: “Such a highly touted high school player doesn’t seem to have enough to offer a sure player to make a roster, but he’s not bad enough to fall out of the draft completely, right?”
  5. Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid have gotten most of the national spotlight this season, and rightly so, as both players are likely top-five picks. But it’s no coincidence that as Perry Ellis goes, so go the Jayhawks,  Jeff Borzello at CBSSports.com writes. As he notes, Ellis has struggled in Kansas’ bad games and been great in big wins, most notably his 24-point, nine-rebound performance in the Jayhawks’ 94-83 over Duke last month.
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Loss To Baylor Exposes Kentucky’s Inexperience

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2013

John Calipari‘s system of corralling the best high school talent and molding it into a championship-level college team was put to the test Friday night against a more experienced Baylor team. In a 67-62 loss at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Kentucky learned that for all the future lottery picks that litter its roster, there are plenty of kinks to be straightened out before the Wildcats can knock off the best squads the college level has to offer.

Julius Randle and the Wildcats were done in by Baylor’s defense Friday night. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Julius Randle and the Wildcats were done in by Baylor’s defense Friday night. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Wildcats’ lack of concentration was exposed throughout the game. Kentucky struggled to defend Baylor’s ball screens, giving junior college transfer Kenny Chery space at the top of the key, where the junior adeptly picked his spots with long jump shots and high floaters. On the rare occasion that another defender switched on to Chery on a pick-and-roll, missed assignments elsewhere on the floor allowed Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin to break to the rim untouched. Perhaps the most telling defensive possession for the Wildcats was the shot that sealed the win for Baylor. With less than a minute remaining, star forward Julius Randle inexplicably sagged off of Chery, allowing the junior to hit an open midrange jumper to give the Bears a four-point lead. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Observations a Month Into the Season

Posted by Taylor Erickson on December 6th, 2013

With a month of action in the 2013-14 college basketball season now under our belts, the natural question becomes what exactly have we learned so far? We’ve been treated to some impressive performances, by both Big 12 teams and individuals, and a good number of less-than-impressive efforts. And while the buzz of Christmas season is firmly upon us, we’re also in the meat of a non-conference slate with several high-profile games involving the Big 12’s elite, allowing us further opportunity to draw more concrete conclusions. For the time being, though, four weeks into the season, here are a few observations worth keeping an eye on.

Smart showed he is human after a sub-par performance against Memphis in the Old Spice Classic (Credit: Orlando Sentinel).

Smart showed he is human after a sub-par performance against Memphis in the Old Spice Classic (Credit: Orlando Sentinel).

  • Marcus Smart is actually human after all.  Seriously, after exploding for 39 points against Memphis, Smart followed that up with 25- and 30-point performances against South Florida and Purdue, and left many in college basketball wondering if he had transformed into some sort of Space Jam Monstar in the offseason. The Oklahoma State point guard struggled in the Cowboys’ second match-up with Memphis, finishing with 12 points and two costly turnovers in a close game down the stretch. I’m not sure there’s another player in college basketball who seems to be better at harnessing his emotions in a positive way than Smart, so if there’s one thing worth betting on this season, it’s that the sophomore from Flower Mound, Texas, will find a way to bounce back quickly from a disappointing performance.

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