How Johnathan Motley’s Supporting Cast Has Elevated Baylor

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2016

Three weeks into the new season, the best non-conference resume in college basketball belongs to Baylor. The Bears already have four wins against teams ranked among the KenPom top 50 thanks to a flawless run through the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and they’ll have yet another chance to score a victory over a marquee opponent when they host Xavier on Saturday afternoon. November served as a national breakout party for Big 12 POY candidate Johnathan Motley, whose length, footwork and range have keyed Baylor’s hot start. But one player — even someone the caliber of the 6’10” junior — doesn’t result in a 7-0 start with wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State and Louisville. While there’s no doubt Motley is keeping opposing coaches up at night, the unheralded pieces around him have helped the team flourish as well.

Johnathan Motley Has Had a Lot to Celebrate This Season (USA Today Images)

Johnathan Motley Has Had a Lot to Celebrate This Season (USA Today Images)

Motley makes the whole thing go in the paint, but junior center Jo Lual-Acuil has also been a force. The JuCo transfer owns the nation’s third-best shot block rate (15.6%) and already has 29 rejections on the year. For most big men, there are two potential costs to chasing blocks: foul trouble and getting caught out of position for the rebound. But Lual-Acuil is the rare breed of player who has both avoided the whistle (2.3 fouls per 40 minutes) and remained a presence on the defensive glass (team-leading 25.1% defensive rebounding rate). Big 12 play may cause some regression when Lual-Acuil faces players willing to challenge him at the rim, but that doesn’t make him any less important. On the offensive end, the attention Motley commands opens a number of close looks that Lual-Acuil is converting at an incredibly high rate. Two-way threats at the five don’t come around very often, but Baylor has one of them.

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Oregon vs. Baylor is the Best Daytime Marathon Game and That’s Fine

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 15th, 2016

One of the virtues of having a winning basketball program is when a school fearlessly schedules its non-conference slate of games. Participating in a multi-team tournament where the weather’s warm? Most definitely. How about playing a true road game or two before January? You betcha. After paying a trip to Eugene as part of last year’s ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, Baylor is set to host a top-five Oregon team in an otherwise blasé daytime portion of the event (3:30 PM ET, ESPN2). The Ducks, which return much of its Elite Eight squad from a season ago, can do just about everything and they aren’t even healthy yet — leading scorer Dillon Brooks (16.7 PPG) is still recovering from foot surgery. Both teams enter today’s game at 1-0. Oregon didn’t play its best against Army but did enough to keep distance in a 14-point win. Baylor wasn’t at full strength against Oral Roberts either, playing without the services of preseason First Team all-Big 12 forward Johnathan Motley (suspension), but still came away with a 15-point victory.

Baylor's Manu Lecomte (#20) had himself a night in Friday night's season opener versus Oral Roberts. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

Baylor’s Manu Lecomte (#20) had himself a night in Friday night’s season opener versus Oral Roberts. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

There are a lot of ways a match-up like this can be sliced, but three-point defense is the key variable here. After making nine threes against the Black Knights on Friday, Oregon will trot out a slew of outstanding shooters headlined by Tyler Dorsey (career: 40.8%) and Payton Pritchard (40.0%). Baylor, which made 10 threes of its own against the Golden Eagles, counters with the likes of Manu Lecomte (career: 42.6%) and Al Freeman (37.4%). The team that closes out on shooters effectively will triumph in this game. If neither team can stop the other from canning double-figure threes, however, then it will be a high-scoring, fast-paced game that will end after a minimum of two overtimes. Or six. The point here is that we, the viewers, cannot lose with a game like this.

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Big 12 Superlatives, Predictions and Storylines

Posted by Big 12 Team on November 11th, 2016

The 2016-17 Big 12 season is going to be an interesting one despite Kansas being the prohibitive favorite to win the conference yet again. The battle for second appears to be a three-horse race between Iowa State, Texas and West Virginia, while the middle and bottom tiers of the league will still feature teams capable of contending for NCAA Tournament bids. We’re beyond excited to see it all unfold, and with that, we unveil our Big 12 preseason predictions and superlatives (written by each voter).

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Player Of The Year

  • Drew Andrews: Monte’ Morris, Iowa State — While you could easily look at freshmen phenoms Josh Jackson and Jarrett Allen as potential Big 12 Player of the Year candidates, Monte’ Morris should win the award next March. With the departures of Cyclone stalwarts like Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay, Morris will be asked to bring a huge amount of the magic to Hilton Coliseum this season. The senior will need to carry more of the scoring load in addition to his league-leading 6.9 assists per game and second-place 1.8 steals per game if Iowa State wants to make its sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
  • Justin Fedich: Josh Jackson, Kansas — Unlike last season, the pick for this year’s Big 12 Player of the Year isn’t as obvious. I’ll take the most talented player on the best team, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson. The 6’8” wing from Detroit will benefit from playing with the experienced backcourt duo of Frank Mason and Devonté Graham. He might have some early growing pains, but Kansas will need someone to replace the void left by Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, the top two scorers from last season’s team.

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One Burning Question: Is Baylor Due For A Rebuilding Year?

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 31st, 2016

The fickle nature of the NCAA Tournament once again revealed itself to Baylor last season. After collapsing late in its 2015 Round of 64 game against Georgia State, the Bears dropped another early round game to a double-digit seed last season — Yale, this time around. On the heels of that disappointing upset and several important pieces departing, it brings up a worthwhile question: Is Baylor due for a rebuilding year? Most programs — even the high-major to elite ones — undergo a rebuilding process at some point. For many, a strong recruiting class gets things back on track; for others, the process can take a while longer. Between Elite Eight appearances in 2010-11, the Bears went 18-13 and finished seventh in the Big 12. With Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Lester Medford all now gone from Waco, this season appears to have more questions than answers.

Big 12 coaches named former Miami (FL)/ current Baylor sharpshooter Manu Lecomte as the league's Newcomer of the Year. (Rich Barnes/Getty)

Big 12 coaches named former Miami (FL)/current Baylor sharpshooter Manu Lecomte as the league’s 2016-17 Newcomer of the Year. (Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

The burning question for the Bears this time one year ago was whether they’d get consistent point guard play from Medford. Not only did he provide that support but he dropped more dimes (6.5 APG) than anyone in the Big 12 other than Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris (6.9 APG). As for this season, Baylor’s starting point guard situation is still in doubt. Scott Drew has not yet decided who his on-floor leader will be, but it’s not a stretch to assume sophomore guard Jake Lindsey is the front-runner. Lindsey averaged 6.3 assists per 40 minutes last year, which is a statistic Drew will surely contemplate. The other guard positions appear more certain: Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Manu Lecomte is expected to fill in the Brady Heslip-like role after nailing 43.4 percent of his three-pointers in two years at Miami (FL); Al Freeman on the wing is the team’s best returning scorer (11.3 PPG) and three-point shooter (38.2%).

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Handing Out Big 12 Superlatives

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2016

To say that the Big 12 had a good year would be a massive understatement. According to KenPom‘s advanced metrics, the league was the nation’s toughest. Not a fan of advanced metrics? That’s fine too, because the conference treated us to a surplus of intense games and is home of one of the two top contenders for National Player of the Year. Furthermore, the Big 12 is expected to propel seven good teams to The Big Dance — including a prohibitive favorite for the top overall seed — for the third straight season. It was a banner year regardless of what happens next, but before we look ahead to the postseason, let’s take some time for the Big 12 microsite to hand out some hardware.

All-Big 12 Team Selections

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Player Of The Year – Buddy Hield (unanimous)

Chris Stone: Perry Ellis and Georges Niang are a pair of worthy contenders, but everyone in the Big 12 is playing for second behind Oklahoma’s Hield. The Oklahoma senior averaged 25.1 points per game during Big 12 play and finished with a league-leading 65.2 percent true shooting rate, all while logging the conference’s second-highest usage rate. For a guard to attempt nearly 31 percent of his team’s shots while making them as efficiently as Hield did is exceptional, especially when you consider that almost 60 percent of his field goal attempts came from behind the three-point arc.”

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Big 12 M5: 02.17.16 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 17th, 2016

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  1. Texas defeated West Virginia on Tuesday evening in Austin, 85-78. Isaiah Taylor led the way with 23 points and freshman Eric Davis added 15 as the Longhorns turned it over just seven times in the win. Texas hasn’t lost a home game at the Erwin Center since December 29 and are one of only two Big 12 teams undefeated at home during conference play. In a league as tightly packed as this one this season, holding serve at home is vital to determining placement in the league standings. The Longhorns will be tested down the stretch, though, with home games still to come against Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas.
  2. With the Mountaineers’ loss and its Monday night home win over Oklahoma State, Kansas now owns sole possession of first place in the Big 12. The Jayhawks, winners of seven straight, have been bolstered lately by the play of junior forward Landen Lucas. Lucas has collected 36 rebounds in the last three games and now ranks third in defensive rebounding rate (24.2%) and second in offensive rebounding rate (15.0%) in the Big 12. Although Lucas is not going to produce like former bigs Joel Embiid, Jeff Withey and Markieff Morris, Kansas will be happy to get any significant numbers from the center spot given the talent it has at the other positions.
  3. Congratulations are in order for Iowa State forward Georges Niang, who became the Cyclones’ third 2,000-point scorer on Tuesday night (passing his former head coach Fred Hoiberg in the process). Niang also sat down this week for a rather candid Q&A with ESPN’s Jeff Goodman in which he discussed the team’s coaching transition to Steve Prohm, which college basketball player he’d start a team with, and the best trash talkers. Niang is always a joy in interviews and this one is well worth your time.
  4. While Niang delivered 24 points for the Cyclones on Tuesday night, it was Baylor that walked out of the Ferrell Center with a 100-91 overtime win — the Bears’ second victory over an RPI top 25 team this season. Sophomore Johnathan Motley delivered a fantastic performance while senior Rico Gathers missed the game with an illness. Motley tied his career-high in scoring with 27 points on 17 shots and grabbed 10 rebounds. Baylor will have plenty of opportunities to pick up a few more quality wins with four games remaining against ranked opponents, but this one is certain to help its seeding come March.
  5. The final Big 12 game ahead of the regular Saturday slate pits Oklahoma against a rising Texas Tech squad in Lubbock. The Red Raiders are coming off of two straight wins over ranked opponents while the Sooners have lost two of their last three outings. The stakes in this one are high for both teams as Oklahoma needs a win to keep itself in the Big 12 title picture while a victory for Tech would add another big win to its NCAA Tournament resume. The fact that the Red Raiders are even in the bubble conversation after finishing 3-15 in the conference last season is a testament to the job head coach Tubby Smith has done rebuilding the program in such a short period of time.
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Big 12 M5: 02.10.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas is back in first place in the Big 12 after a 75-65 win over West Virginia that pushed the Jayhawks into a three-way tie with the Mountaineers and Oklahoma in the standings. Perry Ellis led the team with 21 points, but Kansas also found help in the form of a cold shooting night from the Mountaineers. After a pair of uncharacteristically good outings where West Virginia shot a robust 44 percent from long range, regression reared its ugly head to the tune of a frosty 5-of-20 clip last night in Lawrence. Bob Huggins’ team also clearly missed the presence of suspended forward Jonathan Holton, from whose absence Jayhawks’ center Landen Lucas greatly benefited. The junior had a huge game on the glass, pulling down a career-high 16 rebounds while limiting second chances for the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. Up next for Kansas is another highly important game against Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday.
  2. Kansas State‘s journey back to the bubble will continue tonight when the Wildcats host Baylor in Bramlage ColiseumBruce Weber’s team lacks the shooters to extend Baylor’s zone and has struggled mightily with turnovers all season, but the Wildcats have shown they can set up teammates (57.9 percent of their field goals in Big 12 play come on assists) and convert during good possessions. Those skills will be important this evening, particularly if the defensive rebounding expertise of Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley renders second chances tough to find. On the other side, Baylor needs a quality road win in addition to its early January win at Iowa State to bolster its resume.
  3. The only other Big 12 action tonight pits Iowa State against Texas Tech in Lubbock, where the Cyclones will hope to find their focus. Iowa State will be without suspended center Jameel McKay for the second consecutive game, but his absence may not matter as much since the Red Raiders’ best rim-protector, Norense Odiase, will also sit with a broken foot. The Cyclones are playing on the road for the third time in their last four games, but they’ve reeled off three straight Big 12 victories away from Hilton Coliseum and will be favored to add to that streak this evening.
  4. The emergence of Texas as a legitimate contender over the last few weeks is one of the conference’s biggest stories. Its recent performance caught the attention of Washington Post writer Matthew Giles, who takes a deep look at Texas’ expedited turnaround. We dove into the subject ourselves here on the microsite last week, and Giles echoes many of our sentiments around the Longhorns’ performance. In particular, he notes the tremendous value that Prince Ibeh has provided in the wake of Cameron Ridley‘s broken foot, as well as the contributions of Texas’ revamped guard play. The Longhorns have several tough road games ahead but they’ve been a virtual lock for an at-large bid since the beginning of February, a milestone few prognosticators saw coming upon Smart’s hiring last April.
  5. Oklahoma State‘s season hit a nadir in Fort Worth on Monday night when the Cowboys were embarrassed by TCU to fall into last place in the Big 12. While the Pokes have faced many hurdles in the form of injuries this season, it didn’t seem possible that they could find themselves in such a position. Travis Ford‘s team has plenty of time to climb out of the basement of the league standings, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear for a coach who is likely to find himself on the hot seat in March.
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Lester Medford Has Been Baylor’s Solution at Point Guard

Posted by Chris Stone on December 17th, 2015

Coming into this season, the primary question that many analysts raised regarding Baylor was whether the Bears had a good point guard option. Nate Kotisso went so far as to say it was Baylor’s burning question during our conference preview series, and his concern was certainly valid. Scott Drew’s teams have consistently featured quality point guard play over the years, whether it was with Tweety Carter, Pierre Jackson, or most recently, Kenny Chery running the team. Drew entered this year with a major question still to answer, but he was prepared to rely on senior Lester Medford’s transition to the lead guard role. Through the first month of the season, here’s how the last two Baylor point guards compare.

medford

Medford spent last season operating out of the backcourt next to Chery. With a usage rate of 16.2 percent, he spent the year largely as a spot-up shooter, finishing with more three-point attempts than shots inside the arc. Still, he showed signs that he was prepared to make a full transition to point guard. Most notably, he assisted on 20.6 percent of the team’s shots when he was on floor. And although that number was six percent lower than Chery’s assist rate, it showed Medford’s knack for finding the open man and making his teammates better. This season, while playing the point guard spot full-time, Medford is outperforming Chery’s senior season on nearly all relevant metrics.

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Baylor’s Battle With Vanderbilt a Chance to Show Bears Belong

Posted by Chris Stone on December 6th, 2015

Baylor has jumped out to one of the more interesting starts in college basketball. The Bears entered the season solidly ranked in the Top 25 but now voters aren’t sure what to make of them. They smashed a solid Stephen F. Austin team by 42 points on opening night before falling short in a true road game against Oregon in their second contest. Since then, Baylor has recorded four blowout home victories over the softest stretch of its non-conference schedule but Scott Drew’s squad has another chance to prove itself against Vanderbilt tonight in Waco. This game, sprouting out of the two teams’ meeting in the 2014 Big 12/SEC Challenge, represents an opportunity for the Bears to pick up their first non-conference win over a ranked opponent since defeating Kentucky in 2013-14. A win here would establish the Bears as a league contender alongside Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State.

Rico Gathers and Baylor can establish themselves in the Big 12 race with a win over Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Rico Gathers and Baylor can establish themselves in the Big 12 race with a win over Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Vanderbilt, a team that should challenge Kentucky for the SEC title, will quite literally be a big test for Baylor, as the Commodores are anchored by seven-footers Luke Kornet and Damian Jones. Although the Bears boast one of college basketball’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers, the senior big man has rarely faced the kind of size he’ll see tonight. To date, Gathers and fellow forward Johnathan Motley have helped Baylor collect 42.2 percent of their own misses, a mark that ranks sixth best nationally. If Kornet and James can succeed in keeping the Bears off the offensive glass, Baylor could be in for a difficult night that has to rely on forcing turnovers and its half-court offense.

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Big 12 M5: 11.25.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on November 25th, 2015

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  1. Iowa State handled Chattanooga on Monday night, 83-63, in its final tuneup before heading off to the Emerald Coast Classic. Once again the Cyclones received limited contributions from their bench, but that won’t matter much as long as their starters are putting up impressive numbers. Jameel McKay grabbed 17 rebounds while Naz Mitrou-Long continued his recovery from hip surgery this summer by knocking down six of his nine three-point attempts. “My shot’s been really coming together,” Mitrou-Long told Ames Tribune writer Travis Hines, “I’ve been able to get in the gym more and it just feels really good right now.” Now, the focus shifts to Florida where the Cyclones will face Virginia Tech on Friday with a potential revenge game against UAB lined up for the tournament final. “We know who we want,” Georges Niang said, “but we’ll handle Tech first.”
  2. Oklahoma picked up their third win of the season on Tuesday night with a 96-63 thrashing of Incarnate Word. Senior guard Buddy Hield scored 22 points on 12 shots which dropped his scoring average to 25.3 points per game this season. Hield is on pace to outdo his junior campaign’s offensive performance. Our unanimous Big 12 Player of the Year Selection, Hield has so far been relied upon to be even more of a scoring option for the Sooners now that TaShawn Thomas is no longer around. Despite the added load, Hield’s efficiency numbers are up. While he likely won’t maintain his 58 percent 3-point shooting, Hield should put together another great offensive season in a slightly larger role.
  3. Kansas advanced to the final of the Maui Invitational with a 92-73 victory over UCLA on Tuesday. Outside of their on fire 3-point shooting, the Jayhawks have showcased impressive ball movement on offense in Hawaii. Kansas entered Tuesday’s contest having assisted on 68 percent of their makes this season and that didn’t shown signs of slowing down against the Bruins. 19 of the Jayhawks’ 32 field goal makes were assisted against UCLA. Kansas’ offense will face a stiffer test when they take on Vanderbilt and their top 20 defense in the final on Wednesday.
  4. In another late Tuesday contest, Kansas State fell to North Carolina in the finals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, 80-70. The Wildcats, powered by a breakout performance from freshman Kamau Stokes, led for much of the game, but couldn’t close out one of the country’s preseason national title favorites. Still, Bruce Weber’s Kansas State squad has been much more impressive than expected after the team’s mass exodus during the offseason. Boasting a top 30 defense according to KenPom, the Wildcats won’t make for an easy out during Big 12 play this season.
  5. Baylor is predicted to have one of the best frontcourts in the country this season and they showed why in a 100-61 demolition of Savannah State. Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers, and Johnathan Motley combined to score 57 points and grab 24 rebounds in the win. The play of the Bears’ big men will be important for a team that’s still searching for answers at the point guard spot after losing Kenny Chery in the offseason.
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