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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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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Big 12 M5: 02.27.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma team is soundly in the field of 68. In some years, that’s considered enough, but with three games still to play, the Sooners have room to improve their seeding. Oklahoma should be able to fatten up. To wrap up the season, Oklahoma hosts Texas and West Virginia before heading to Fort Worth to play TCU. In other words, Monday’s game at Kansas was the final serious road test for the Sooners before the Big 12 Tournament tips off in two weeks.
  2. CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander crunched some numbers to illustrate the amazing continuity and eye-popping stats that Bill Self and Kansas have been able to compile over the Jayhawks’ reign of Big 12 dominance. Perhaps the most amazing factoid that Norlander pulled out is that eight Big East coaches have won their league over the last ten years while only Kansas has held court in the Big 12. Inevitably, someone will pick against the Jayhawks next season, but don’t look at us.
  3. Back on Big 12 Media Day in October, the league’s coaches named Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim to the preseason all-Big 12 First Team. Ejim was coming off a solid year, but since he was only named an honorable mention at the end of the 2012-13 season, it looked curious. Fast forward a few months, though, and not only can one make the argument that he belongs on the All-Big 12 First Team, but his conference player of the year case is strong as well – or so says Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg is understandably biased, but Ejim’s numbers (18.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game) on a very good Iowa State team speak for themselves.
  4. Speaking of Iowa State, the Cyclones soundly beat the Mountaineers 83-66 in front of a packed house at Hilton Coliseum. Georges Niang led all scorers with 24 points while Monte Morris dished out 12 assists without committing a single turnover. West Virginia was done in by poor ball-handling and a lack of tenacity on the glass. The Mountaineers have made a decent run in league play to make up for their lackluster showing in non-con play, but it’s looking more and more like they’ll have to do some damage in Kansas City to feel good about their chances for a tournament bid.
  5. In other Big 12 action, Baylor made things interesting on the road at Texas, but ultimately fell to the Longhorns, 74-69 to end the Bears’ four-game winning streak. Aided by five three-pointers from Javan Felix, Texas led by 15 at the end of the first half. The Bears had a chance to surge ahead in the last two minutes, but couldn’t hit shots down the stretch. In the final minute, a driving lay-up from Kenny Chery was rejected by Texas center Cameron Ridley and the Longhorns finished Baylor off from there. Projections on Baylor’s postseason future are mixed, as they currently sport a 6-9 record in league play with three games left. At this point, the Bears probably need to go 2-1 to finish off the regular season. Any less and they’ll likely need to win a game or two in the conference tournament.
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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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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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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Baylor in the Maui Invitational

Posted by Taylor Erickson on November 27th, 2013

With Feast Week already in high gear, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Big 12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: Baylor entered 2013-14 season sneaking in at #25 in the preseason AP poll, and jumped out to a 4-0 start with a 72-60 neutral site win over Colorado and a 66-64 home win over South Carolina. While neither of these teams are featured in Ken Pomeroy’s top 50, they both provided solid tests for the Bears while working in new point guard Kenny Chery after the departure of standout guard Pierre Jackson a season ago. Baylor followed up its first two wins with a blowout home victory over Louisiana-Lafayette and by squeaking by with a 69-64 home win over Charleston Southern. Center Isaiah Austin was solid on the offensive end for Scott Drew last year, and his work on the defensive end early this season appears to be taking shape after blocking 15 shots in a span of two games.

Baylor finds itself in the Maui Invitational Championship game against Syracuse on Wednesday night.

Baylor finds itself in the Maui Invitational Championship game against Syracuse on Wednesday night.

First Round Recap: After watching fellow Big 12 foe Texas fall in Maui to host school Chaminade a season ago, the Silver Swords certainly had Baylor’s attention entering Monday night. That focus translated into a 93-77 win, despite the fact that Chaminade made 11 first half three-pointers in the contest. A majority of those points from deep came by way of Christophe Veridel, a Florida Gulf Coast transfer who lit the Bears up for 31 points the first 20 minutes of the game before being limited to just 11 second half points. Baylor had a hot shooting night themselves, connecting on 44 percent of shots from behind the arc and led by senior guard Gary Franklin, who paced Scott Drew’s squad with 22 points on 6-of-10 shooting from three. While most teams may have been rattled early on after seeing Veridel unconscious from deep, Baylor showed good poise to weather the early barrage of threes before using their size and athleticism to break the game open in the second half.

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Observations From Baylor’s Sloppy Win Over South Carolina

Posted by Kory Carpenter on November 13th, 2013

If yesterday’s Baylor vs. South Carolina matinee was any indication, Big 12 fans will not enjoy the rule changes this season that have resulted in refs blowing the whistle after almost any contact on the perimeter. More fouls equals longer games, and on Big Mondays when the Big 12 game tips off two hours after the start of the ACC game, Big 12 fans might feel a little anxious. By the time West Virginia had blown a 17-point lead and lost to Virginia Tech by five on Tuesday, ESPN switched over to the Baylor game with 11:28 left in the first half. Baylor eventually outlasted the Gamecocks after a last-second foul was a tenth of a second too late and Frank Martin’s team was not provided a chance to tie the game at the free throw line. The following are some random thoughts about Baylor’s performance on Tuesday afternoon.

Brady Heslip Will Spread Defenses Out All Season.

Brady Heslip Will Spread Defenses Out All Season

  • There were 55 total fouls called in a game that lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours. Teams should eventually adjust to the new rules, but don’t expect that to happen before Christmas if it happens this season at all.
  • In true Frank Martin fashion, South Carolina attacked inside on nearly every possession and Baylor didn’t do much to stop them. Had the Gamecocks made three or four more of the dozen layups they missed (including a wide-open attempt on a fast break with under three minutes to go during a tie game), it could have been a different outcome. On a number of occasions, South Carolina grabbed the ball out of the net, made two passes and had a layup before Baylor could get anyone back on defense.
  • Baylor ran its patented 1-3-1 zone on several possessions, but its effectiveness depended on which player was stationed at the top on the perimeter. When 6’6″ forward Royce O’Neale was there, the Gamecocks struggled to get the ball inside. When 5’11” guard Kenny Chery was in that spot, it resulted in two passes and a layup. Two games in, it doesn’t look like Baylor’s defense has been addressed like it needs to for the Bears to jockey into the Big 12 race.

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Breaking Down Colorado vs. Baylor

Posted by AMurawa on November 8th, 2013

It’s New Year’s Day for college hoops fans. To help celebrate, Big Twelve correspondent Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) and Pac-12 writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) teamed up to offer this breakdown of an interesting opening night game: Colorado vs. Baylor in Dallas.

Baylor will win if… It feeds its stars and contains Colorado’s secondary options. The Bears’ offense under Scott Drew has always been among the nation’s best, and this season should be no different. There may not be a big man in the country that can stretch a defense like Isaiah Austin can, and Cory Jefferson‘s 41-of-56 shooting mark during the NIT should put Colorado on notice. Throw in Brady Heslip‘s three-point prowess and the Buffs will have their hands full. Defensively, it’s hard to say whether Baylor’s guards can contain Spencer Dinwiddie. Heslip has never been known for his defense, Kenny Chery is the Bears’ newest undersized point guard who will be playing his first Division I game, as will heralded freshman tweener Ish Wainright. I’m not sure either of the three can be counted on to keep Tad Boyle‘s emerging star in check, so Baylor’s defensive gameplan should lean more heavily towards containing Colorado’s other options. If Austin, Royce O’Neale and Rico Gathers make Xavier Johnson think twice about driving and keep Josh Scott and redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon from getting easy looks in the paint, it probably won’t matter how well Dinwiddie plays.

Baylor went 13-3 when Cory Jefferson and A Potent Baylor Offense Could Give Colorado's Defense Fits (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

Cory Jefferson and A Potent Baylor Offense Could Give Colorado’s Defense Fits. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

Colorado will win if… Their veteran backcourt can make life miserable for a couple of Baylor perimeter guys – Chery and Wainright – who are making their Division I debuts. Between Dinwiddie and his junior backcourt mate Askia Booker, the pair of Colorado guards has been through a lot of battles. Dinwiddie has turned into a rock solid presence at the point, capable of creating for himself or finding his teammates in good position. Booker, however, has taken plenty of heat as a guy who is a bit too wild and a bit too in love with his own jumper. With more offensive weapons on this year’s squad, the hope is that Booker dials back his shot-hunting a bit and dials up his shooting percentages in turn. Either way, both of these guys are capable of causing plenty of trouble for young Bear ballhandlers like Chery and Wainright. In a big game right out of the gate where emotions are high, the calming presence of a pair of backcourt greybeards who have been through their fair share of battles may be enough to tip the scales in the Buffaloes favor. Oh, and not to pile on or anything, but in a battle of wits between Boyle and Drew, gimme Boyle.

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Big 12 Preview: Baylor Bears

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 6th, 2013

This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Baylor. 

Where We Left Off: They were playing for their NCAA Tournament lives late last season. Baylor faced a tough test in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament against Oklahoma State — not to mention an 18-point halftime deficit. They managed to trim the Cowboys’ lead to two with seconds remaining but Pierre Jackson’s running three-pointer careened off the mark as the buzzer sounded. The Bears, who had struggled to find consistency all season, hoped their 9-9 record in Big 12 play was enough to prove to the committee they were worthy of an at-large bid. But they were left on the bubble and had to settle for an invitation from the NIT. It was there when we saw the Baylor team most had expected in the preseason, ripping through five games to bring home the first NIT Championship for a Big 12 school. Jackson has since graduated, but a combination of players returning and the addition of several touted incoming recruits could result in a more promising finish this season.

Scott Drew loses his best player from a year ago and could possibly have a better team in 2013-14. (John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)

Scott Drew loses his best player from a year ago and could possibly have a better team in 2013-14. (John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)

Positives: Almost everybody’s back! Isaiah Austin put his NBA future on hold by returning to campus after averaging 13 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game as a freshman. If there was one thing the 7’1″ Austin could improve on this year, it’s his outside shooting. It’s weird saying that about a center but the outside shot is a potentially lethal weapon of his offensive arsenal (33 percent from three-point range in 2012-13). The most important player returning is Cory Jefferson because his play usually indicated how competitive Baylor was in big games. I attended Texas-Baylor back in January and saw firsthand the kind of monster Jefferson can be when he’s playing his best. His 25 points and 10 rebounds were a big reason why the Bears won that day and went 13-3 in games where Jefferson scored at least 15 points. The best trait of these Bears is their frontcourt. In addition to Austin and Jefferson, Rico Gathers at 6’8″ and 270 pounds was a space-eater on the floor who scored the same amount of points as he did rebounds per game (5.7) off the bench. Their recruiting class also brought in four-star guard/forward Ish Wainwright (6’6″, 245 pounds) of Missouri who turned down offers from Ohio State, St. John’s and Texas to come to Waco; three-star big Johnathan Motley (6’9″, 210 pounds) of Houston decided to come to Baylor despite offers from Marquette, Oregon, Wichita State and his hometown school, Houston. News also came down within the last week that Denver transfer forward Royce O’Neale (11.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG in 2012-13) has been granted a waiver and will play immediately. This might be the best frontcourt in America. Everybody’s favorite Canadian sharpshooter Brady Heslip is also back for his senior season and fellow countryman Kenny Chery is expected to step in as the starting point guard.

Negatives: Pierre Jackson is gone. He was the heart and soul of the team, leading the Bears in minutes played, points, assists and spectacular plays, although I’m sure that last one isn’t a real stat. Another big loss is A.J. Walton, who wasn’t a big offensive presence but did serve in better roles as a second distributor and designated defensive stopper. Who will emerge this year to guard guys like Marcus Smart or quick guards like Naadir Tharpe or Buddy Hield? It might have to be Gary Franklin. With all their depth at the forward and center positions, there are five pure guards on the team and freshman Allerik Freeman‘s hand injury stretches those guards even thinner until his likely return in late November or early December.

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