Three Things to Watch in Tonight’s Kansas-Baylor Game

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 7th, 2015

It’s only the Big 12’s first full week of conference play, but without a runaway favorite and as many as six teams with hopes to win the conference, nearly every Big 12 game is going to have an impact. Tonight’s headliner pits Baylor against Kansas at the Ferrell Center in Waco. The Jayhawks were the last team to beat the Bears at home nearly a year ago (February 4, 2014), so Baylor is looking to avoid a repeat performance. In this preview, Brian Goodman breaks down the elements most likely to decide the outcome of tonight’s important battle.

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they'll have to neutralize Baylor's advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they’ll have to neutralize Baylor’s advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

  1. Kansas’ lineups and rotations. Over the last five games, the lineup of Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander has been the Jayhawks’ most effective one, but it hasn’t been the one Bill Self has most frequently deployed. Rather, Self has preferred a lineup with Jamari Traylor taking Alexander’s place, despite being an average rebounder and mediocre finisher (shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor). Thanks to his athleticism, Traylor can be an effective energy guy in spurts, but the Jayhawks have been at their best with the more efficient Alexander manning the paint alongside Ellis. This was the case during Kansas’ game-finishing run to put UNLV away on Sunday.
  2. Baylor’s bruisers. It’s no surprise that the Bears rank fourth nationally in offensive rebounding rate, corralling 43.7 percent of their misses on the season. That consistency is due in large part to the effort of Rico Gathers, who grabbed 15 rebounds over 39 minutes in Baylor’s two meetings against Kansas last season, and makes it easy for Baylor to generate offense despite suspect interior shooting. The Jayhawks had trouble creating separation against UNLV’s athletic core of big men until the last 10 minutes of Sunday’s contest and will struggle to leave Waco with a win if Gathers and freshman Johnathan Motley deprive Alexander, Ellis and Traylor of those opportunities.
  3. The battle of perimeter attacks. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip isn’t around to haunt Big 12 teams anymore, but the Bears still have some serious long-range bombers on their roster. Scott Drew’s rotation currently features five players who shoot at least 34 percent or better from beyond the arc, led by a 53.8 percent clip from Taurean Prince, perhaps the conference’s most improved player. On the other end of the floor, Kansas’ shooters have been streaky. One of the main reasons why Frank Mason has been such a huge asset this season has been his 51.4 percent three-point shooting, forcing defenses to guard him and in turn opening passing lanes. Kelly Oubre‘s smooth shot (48.1%) has been effective as well, and after a disappointing start to the season, Wayne Selden has embraced his role as a shooter (36.7%) who will occasionally attack off the bounce. Despite all of that shooting firepower, one of the things keeping Kansas’ offense from higher productivity has been a relative team-wide passivity from distance. The Jayhawks are the best three-point shooting team in the conference at 39.2 percent, but they take only 29 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, a level of frequency that ranks a dispiriting ninth in the Big 12 (and 292nd in the country). It therefore stands to reason that Kansas would benefit from centering its offensive attack on perimeter shooting rather than depending on Ellis and Alexander to generate most of the offense inside.
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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Baylor and Oklahoma State

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2014

We continue our breakdown of the Big 12 with the part of the league that will likely determine whether the conference matches its high water mark from last season, when it sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. If you missed it yesterday, you can find our thoughts on the bottom rung of the conference here.

Baylor

  • Key wins: at South Carolina, vs. Memphis (in Las Vegas), at Vanderbilt
  • Key losses: vs. Illinois (in Las Vegas)
Rico Gathers leads a Baylor rotation that dominates the glass.

Rico Gathers leads a Baylor rotation that dominates the glass.

People love to hate on Scott Drew, but the dirty secret is that the Bears have been one of the country’s most consistent offenses, finishing among the top 20 in adjusted offense in six of the last seven seasons. They’re trending that way again this year, which is especially impressive when you recall that they lost over half of their offensive production due to the departures of Isaiah Austin, Brady Heslip and Cory Jefferson. The strange thing is that despite their performance so far, the Bears have not been a good shooting team, with an effective field goal percentage of just 50.7 percent, but they have the nation’s best offensive rebounder in Rico Gathers leading a core of strong, athletic players who are just relentless on the glass and get tons of second-chance opportunities. Throw in a stingy defense and four regulars that shoot at least 34 percent from deep and the result is a team that will be able to hang with the best teams in the conference.

I wrote earlier this month that it’d be wise to buy in on Baylor to make it back to the NCAA Tournament, and I still believe that, but there are a couple of things keeping the Bears from breaking into the top tier of the Big 12. Their free throw shooting has been horrific, and in a conference as competitive as the Big 12, I worry about that flaw impacting their ability to close out games. I also think that when the Bears get into conference play, their rebounding, while still strong, will regress some and force the team to get more creative on offense, which will be tough to do on the fly. I don’t think the Bears are as good as their #12 KenPom ranking suggests, but they’re definitely no slouch either.

The Bears haven’t made consecutive NCAA Tournaments at any point in their history and have been on an every-other-year pattern since 2008, but I like their chances to break that routine and go dancing as a #7 seed this year. Their ceiling will be closer to a #5 f they can shore up their free throw shooting and withstand the other rigorous frontcourts the Big 12 has to offer.

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Big 12 M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2014

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  1. Figuring out how best to utilize his team’s athleticism has been one of Kansas head coach Bill Self‘s biggest challenges this season, but he made a concerted effort to allow his Jayhawks to push the pace in transition during a 78-62 win over Kent State last night. After mustering just 18 points in the paint against Temple last week, Kansas scored 44 from that area on Tuesday. The adjustment (dare we call it a tweak?) also led to Cliff Alexander becoming more active, and as a result, more productive than we’ve seen in recent weeks. Kelly Oubre also continued his stellar play with four three-pointers on his way to a second 20-point performance in three games. The lefty finally appears to have a solid grip on one of the wing spots, which is a big step in the team’s development. The Jayhawks host UNLV in their final non-league game on Saturday before Big 12 play revs up, so it will be interesting to see if they keep the new look.
  2. Oklahoma State spent the first six weeks of the season putting together a decent resume with wins over Tulsa and Memphis away from Gallagher-Iba Arena, but they nearly negated that good will in a close call against Missouri in Kansas City last night. Up three with eight seconds remaining in regulation, Travis Ford instructed his team to foul in order to prevent Missouri from attempting a game-tying three, but they didn’t catch the Tigers in time and Tramaine Isbell sank a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. Faced with the same scenario in the closing seconds of the extra period, Oklahoma State successfully fouled Johnathan Williams to send him to the line for a pair of free throws, but the Cowboys failed to rebound the intentional miss on the back end. Luckily, DeAngelo Hall missed a close look at the buzzer and Oklahoma State escaped with the victory. We’ll have more on the Cowboys later today, but it looks like they’ll be involved in more than their fair share of close finishes this season, which means their NCAA Tournament fate could lie in the hands of a whistle here or a lucky bounce there.
  3. To this point, Baylor hasn’t been a very good shooting team, instead deriving a lot of their offense from second-chance points, but in their final tune-up before Big 12 play, the Bears got hot to the tune of a 68.8 percent shooting performance in the second half en route to a 92-51 drubbing of Norfolk State. Royce O’Neale led Baylor with 23 points on just nine shots thanks to a 5-of-6 effort from beyond the arc and Rico Gathers notched his sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. There isn’t much to take away from a beatdown over Norfolk State, but if Baylor can find a way to keep up a more consistent level of shooting in conference play, they likely won’t have to scramble in late February to make the NCAA Tournament the way they’ve had to in recent years.
  4. In their last game of the non-conference season, West Virginia overcame a sloppy first half filled with turnovers and fouls and turned their game against Virginia Tech into an 82-51 rout. The Mountaineers locked down the Hokies during a huge run during which Buzz Williams’ team scored just four points over a span of 10 minutes and 23 seconds. West Virginia wraps up non-league play with a 12-1 record and they’re far and away the most improved team in the Big 12, featuring an exciting defense and a potent (if sometimes unorganized) offense led by one of the best all-around players in the conference, Juwan Staten.
  5. On Monday afternoon, Texas struggled but ultimately pulled away in a 66-55 win over Rice. The most troubling sign for the Longhorns was that 6’7″ Rice junior Seth Gearhart gave Texas’ vaunted frontcourt a lot of trouble. Myles Turner received his first start of the year, with Rick Barnes sending Cameron Ridley to the bench, and while the blue-chip freshman continues to show exceptional promise, his identity on this team is still a question mark. For someone who can be an absolute force inside, Turner floats to the perimeter an awful lot on offense as well as on defense, and it’s kept him from being a more effective player. If that issue can be remedied and Isaiah Taylor can return to the team without skipping a beat, there won’t be anything keeping the Longhorns from making a run at Kansas at the top of the standings.
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Big 12 M5: 11.14.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

morning5_big12

 

  1. Yesterday, we talked about Iowa State‘s plans to play in a neutral court event next Thanksgiving. Late Thursday night, we learned about another team planning ahead. In 2016, Kansas will tip off its season against Indiana from a military base in Pearl Harbor as part of the Armed Forces Classic. One of the biggest ongoing storylines in college basketball is how the sport can better market the start of the season, and while this event doesn’t always have the fanfare of the Champions Classic or some of the other 24-Hour Marathon battles, it has helped bring the start of the season to the national spotlight.
  2. Oklahoma State blog Pistols Firing has 20 predictions for the Cowboys’ season. As discussed in our conference preview Thursday, we aren’t very high on Travis Ford’s team, we can definitely see some of the more positive predictions coming true, such as OSU outperforming its expectations to finish sixth, Le’Bryan Nash making first-team all-conference and Travis Ford holding onto his job.
  3. Outside of the conference, tonight’s Louisville-Minnesota match-up is getting headlines as it pits Rick Pitino against his son, Richard, but right here in the Big 12 is another father-son battle as Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Red Raiders will open their season against his Smith’s son, G.G. Smith, who is making his head coaching debut with Loyola (Maryland). Smith cut his teeth with the Greyhounds as an assistant under former Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos for six years.
  4. Remember last year when Kansas State lost three of its first five games (including its debut against Northern Colardo) leading to some warranted bubble conversation before Thanksgiving even hit? The Wildcats will look to avoid a similar fate when it tips off against Southern Utah tonight. As the 342nd-ranked team in the country according to KenPom, we don’t expect the Thunderbirds to pull this season’s opening night upset, but the Wildcats should now know more than anyone how important it is to take care of business early in the season.
  5. For a program the reached the Sweet 16 last year, there hasn’t been much chatter around Baylor. Part of that is because the Bears lost what had been the cornerstones of their program over the last two years in Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Brady Heslip, and another part of that is because the Bears don’t have the incoming star power that Kansas, Texas and Iowa State has. Still, Scott Drew is excited for the lights to come on tonight when his team squares off against McNeese State, as he should, because the Bears still have a lot of remaining talent in Rico Gathers, Kenny Chery, Royce O’Neale, Taurean Prince and redshirt freshmen Johnathan Motley and Al Freeman.
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Big 12 Season Preview: Baylor Bears

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 30th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Baylor.

Baylor Bears

We’re seven months removed from the 2013-14 season ending and I still feel as if Baylor underachieved. The Bears had a lot of the qualities that normally consist of a Final Four-type team: NBA talent, experience, rebounding, good-enough defense. They were brilliant in non-league action, started 2-8 in conference play, went on a late run, and finished with a loss to Wisconsin during the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Most are unsure of what to expect from Baylor this time around — the Bears were picked sixth in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll, marking the second time in the last seven seasons that the Bears have been picked to finish outside of the Big 12’s top four. Scott Drew’s team was picked 10th in 2009-10 and eventually found itself in the Elite Eight. But now, three of the Bears’ top scorers are gone and a slew of young players will take over in an, gulp, odd-numbered NCAA Tournament year.

Scott Drew goes into the 2014-15 season with the task of replacing three starters. (USA Today Sports Images)

Scott Drew goes into the 2014-15 season with the task of replacing three starters. (USA Today Sports Images)

Strengths: The Bears lost Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson yet the bigs they’ll have available still appear worthy of opponents’ game-planning. Let’s start with junior Rico Gathers, who managed to average the same number of points as rebounds (6.4) off the bench. It’d be silly to expect anything other than the 6’8″, 280-pound Gathers be a bully down low by giving him starter’s minutes. Perhaps the biggest question mark lies with redshirt freshman forward Jonathan Motley. Motley has bulked up with 15 pounds of muscle and will be counted on as the defensive enforcer that Austin and Jefferson have been over the past two seasons. On the wing, having Royce O’Neale grab a guaranteed five rebounds at 6’6″ isn’t too shabby either. It also helps to have a senior point guard like Kenny Chery returning in a deep point guard league like the Big 12. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Big 12 M5: Day After The Super Bowl Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 3rd, 2014

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  1. We’re not wrong when we say Saturday in the Big 12 was more Super than the so-called Super Bowl. Kansas brought its perfect conference record to “The Drum” in Austin and left imperfect. Jonathan Holmes’ jumper with 16:38 left in the first half gave Texas a lead it would never relinquish. This makes it six wins in a row for the Longhorns, and while it’s still a surprise considering what the Longhorns went through a year ago, we shouldn’t really treat it as a surprise. Think about Rick Barnes’ best teams from the 2000s: Barnes had multi-year players like T.J. Ford, Brandon Mouton, A.J. Abrams and Damion James that took the program to the next level. This year, the junior Holmes and a crop full of sophomores continues to defy logic while shooting up the national polls.
  2. One of those heralded Texas sophomores will be out for Tuesday’s game against TCU. The school announced that Javan Felix will be unavailable because of a concussion he suffered in the team’s win over Kansas two days ago. Texas will try to extend its winning streak to seven without Felix’s 12.0 PPG in the lineup. I should the mention that the game will take place in Fort Worth, and with all the craziness that’s gone down in conference play so far, the Horns had better be on Upset Watch headed into this one.
  3. Speaking of craziness, Baylor ran into problems just making its way to Stillwater for a weekend tilt with Oklahoma State. According to Jimmy Dykes, who worked color commentary on the game for ESPN, their flight was re-directed to Oklahoma City due to icy conditions near the Oklahoma State campus. The bus from OKC to Stillwater cautiously braved the ice with high speeds topping out at five miles an hour. On top of that, starting point guard Kenny Chery was out because of a turf toe injury. So it only made sense for the Bears to win their first game in three weeks, right? Gary Franklin and Brady Heslip stepped up big-time, combining for nine threes between them, and we also got to see Rico Gathers start and finish a sweet fast break dunk. It was that kind of day for the Bears and who knows, maybe this is the turning point in the season that Baylor fans have been waiting for.
  4. On the other sideline, backup point guard Stevie Clark was arrested and charged with “outraging public decency” early Sunday morning. This marks the second arrest for Clark in a little more than a month after he was caught with possession of marijuana around New Year’s Day. Most of us also remember that Clark was suspended for four games and sent home from the Old Spice Classic for another undisclosed reason back in November. Travis Ford has yet to comment on Clark’s status but it will be interesting to see how he rules on his talented but troublesome freshman this time around.
  5. Can you guess the team that sits in fourth place in the Big 12 ahead of Iowa State and Oklahoma State? It’s OK if you had to Google it for the answer, but yes… it’s West Virginia. WVU took down Kansas State on Saturday to get to 5-4 in Big 12 play (K-State also has a 5-4 record but they might as well be fifth with the Mountaineers owning the head-to-head advantage). This win coupled with their road victory at Baylor appears to have brought some at-large possibilities back to life. If they’re able to beat Oklahoma this week and continue to add a few more good wins, that might be able to offset the missed opportunities the Mountaineeers had in non-conference play to earn a Tournament bid. Could we be talking about EIGHT teams dancing from the Big 12? Wow!
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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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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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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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Assessing the Season: Baylor Bears

Posted by KoryCarpenter on April 11th, 2013

I don’t know who Baylor’s biggest basketball rival is, but I imagine whoever it was laughed at the Bears for winning the NIT last week — something about being the 69th best team in the country. Of course there are worse things than winning the NIT —  like losing in the NIT — so the Bears have that going for them. But those taunts from rival fans still have some merit. For schools like Memphis (2002 champs) or Wichita State (2011), winning the NIT can become a stepping stone to bigger and better things. But for big boy schools, schools like Baylor with top recruits falling off the bleachers, it’s hard to gauge how it feels to win its last game of the year and not capture the National Championship. In its 74-54 NIT championship game win over Iowa, Baylor played a former five-star center (Isaiah Austin), an honorable mention All-America guard in Pierre Jackson, and a quartet of former four-star recruits. That roster lost 14 games this season (including a 9-9 mark in conference play) and couldn’t beat out teams like La Salle and Ole Miss for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. There was no reason the Bears should have been in the NIT in the first place, but for the sake of this column, we’ll take a look at the highs and lows of the 2012-13 Baylor Bears.

It Wasn't the Championship Baylor Wanted, But the NIT Was a Nice Consolation Prize

It Wasn’t the Championship Baylor Wanted, But the NIT Was a Nice Consolation Prize

Highs

  • Beating Kentucky in Rupp Arena, December 1: In early December, Kentucky wasn’t the team that would eventually fall to Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT. Or at least, that wasn’t yet the perception. The Wildcats were #8 in the country at the time and pundits still believed their band of high school All-Americans could make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor’s patented zone frustrated the Kentucky freshmen into a 29.6% shooting performance from the field. Pierre Jackson scored 17 points as the Bears rebounded from their loss to Charleston in the game prior.
  • 86-79 Overtime Win Over Texas, January 5: With a tough non-conference season then behind them, the Bears avoided back-to-back losses with an overtime win over Texas in the Big 12 opener thanks to big games from Cory Jefferson and Pierre Jackson, who combined for 49 points.
  • Senior Night Win over Kansas, March 9: Losers of eight of their previous 11, the Bears still had a chance to deny Kansas the outright regular season conference title on its Senior Night. That’s exactly what they did after Pierre Jackson scored 28 points and added 10 assists to give Kansas its worst loss in five years.

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