Baylor: The Team Nobody Saw Coming…

Posted by Justin Fedich on January 7th, 2017

It’s only January 7, but with Baylor going into tonight’s game against Oklahoma State as one of two remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball, many are wondering where this team came from. The Bears started the season with a grand total of zero votes in the AP preseason Top 25, but through 14 games against an excellent schedule, no opponent has been able to touch them. Under longtime head coach Scott Drew, Baylor has never made the Final Four but his teams have gotten close. During a three-year stretch from 2010-12, the Bears made two Elite Eights but had the misfortune of playing the eventual National Champion on both occasions (Duke – 2010; Kentucky 2012). This year, Baylor is better equipped to make its first Final Four in school history, but it’s not because expectations in Waco will be high. On the contrary, it’s because expectations are not high, which is exactly how Baylor has thrived to this point of the season.

Baylor is Off to One of Its Best Starts Ever (USA Today Images)

Baylor is Off to One of Its Best Starts Ever (USA Today Images)

Baylor had plenty of question marks coming into this season. Senior forward Johnathan Motley was a preseason All-Big 12 pick, but beyond that was mostly unknown. The most notable concern was how Miami transfer Manu Lecomte would fare in his first season with the Bears. The answer is so far, so good. Lecomte is leveraging his additional time in Drew’s lineup by averaging 5.1 assists per game, ranking among the nation’s top 60 in assist rate at 32.3 percent. As outstanding as the possible Big 12 Transfer of the Year has been, he hasn’t even been the most pleasant surprise on the team. Junior center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. has gone from relative anonymity to averages of 11.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, pairing with Motley to create a formidable frontcourt that no team in the Big 12 — not even Kansas — wants to face. The starters have been exceptionally consistent to this point, and a bench of which little was expected continues to get better as the season rolls along. Sophomore wing Jake Lindsey contributed his first double-figure game of the season against Iowa State on Wednesday night.

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Which is Easier to Maintain: Offense or Defense?

Posted by William Ezekowitz on December 27th, 2016

There are certain teams you can count on to have specific strengths seemingly every college basketball season. The high-flying athletes of North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky will score in bunches, while the rigid defensive systems of Virginia and Louisville will keep their opponents offensively flummoxed. The coaches in nearly every instance are who get credit for this year-to-year consistency, but which skill is more reliable? Is it easier to be a really good offensive team every year or a really good defensive one? In order to find out, we turned to KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings to actually determine if the same teams — or, more accurately, the same coaches — always finish at the top of their respective area of strength. We defined this as being among the top 25 offensive or defensive efficiency teams for five years in a row. Here are the results.

Every year, it seems like Roy Williams has a fleet of athletes ready to score points at a breakneck pace. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Every year, it seems like Roy Williams has a fleet of athletes ready to score points at a breakneck pace. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Offensive Efficiency (Top 25)

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Defensive Efficiency (Top 25)

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Florida’s Mike White and Wisconsin’s Greg Gard are only second-year coaches at their programs, but both have already shown such an aptitude for defensively-effective basketball that it seems appropriate to include them. With or without those two, though, it seems that it is much easier to produce a great defense year in and year out than it is for offense.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 23rd, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue with Baylor in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Catching Up: If you really think about it, Baylor didn’t have a lot to overcome heading into this season. The Bears only lost a double-double machine to the NFL (Rico Gathers), an NBA lottery pick (Taurean Prince) and the 10th-best assist man in college basketball last season (Lester Medford)… wait a minute, they DID lose a lot. And yet, despite those enormous personnel losses, the Bears haven’t looked anything like a team in rebuilding mode, getting off to an impressive 3-0 start that includes a pounding of Pac-12 favorite Oregon. This week’s Battle 4 Atlantis is another chance for Baylor to get ready for Big 12 competition, as a loaded field awaits the Bears in the Bahamas.

Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte (#20) has dazzled in his first three games as the Bears' new point guard. (Raymond Carlin III/USA Today Sports)

Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte (#20) has been impressive in his first three games as the Bears’ new point guard. (Raymond Carlin III/USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Round Preview: Baylor will open the tournament against VCU in perhaps a preview of the style they will see from Texas. Shaka Smart may be the architect of the full-court pressing HAVOC defense, but the Rams have continued this style of play under second year head coach Will Wade. Through three games, VCU ranks among the top 15 nationally in steal rate (13.7%), per KenPom. Compare that with Baylor’s first three opponents this year: Oral Roberts is 242nd in steal percentage; Oregon is 255th; and Florida Gulf Coast checks in at 339th. It’s clear that the dazzling point guard Manu Lecomte (16.7 PPG, 7.0 APG, 1.7 TOPG) will face his toughest opposition since arriving in Waco.

Potential Later Round Match-ups: Regardless of what happens against VCU, Baylor is in line for a second resume-building game in Atlantis against either Michigan State — one of the youngest and most talented teams in America — or St. John’s, a program on the rise with enough talented pieces to spring an upset. This is one of those tournaments that will allow the eight participating coaches to return to the United States with a very clear progress report on their teams.  Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 70, Baylor 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2016

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Three key takeaways.

  1. Kansas extends its run of success against Baylor. Kansas has had Baylor’s number in recent years, having won eight of the last nine meetings heading into Friday night’s Big 12 semifinal. Although they had to withstand a frantic last-minute rally, the Jayhawks extended their domination of the Bears with a 70-66 win. Bill Self’s offense didn’t execute at the level to which it has gotten accustomed, but they proved once again who the kings of the Big 12 are.
  2. Baylor fails to cash in on opportunities. Bill Self, who espouses the importance of toughness at every opportunity, wasn’t pleased with his team’s rebounding effort in its last meeting with the Bears. Self clearly got through to his team, as Baylor, which entered Friday’s contest with the nation’s third-best offensive rebounding rate, pulled down just two of its 14 misses in the first half and finished with a season-worst 20.9 percent offensive rebounding rate. The Bears also shot themselves in the foot by failing to capitalize at the free throw line (56%), reducing their margin for error in the other facets of the game. By failing to build on Thursday’s inspired offensive effort against Texas, Baylor showed that scoring will remain a huge question mark for them entering the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason continue to give Kansas a two-headed monster at the point. Self said earlier this week that he would continue to approach recruiting with the goal of playing two point guards at the same time, and the play of Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham has been a big reason behind that attitude. Though the Jayhawks scored just 21 first-half points, Graham was seemingly everywhere on the floor. The Jayhawks made only nine baskets before halftime, but the junior scored or assisted on seven of those and finished the game with a versatile stat line of 14 points, eight assists and five steals. While Mason wasn’t Kansas’ best player Friday night, he continued to be an asset, finishing with nine points and hauling in six rebounds despite a huge disparity in size. Having to account for Mason and Graham’s respective playmaking abilities will be one of the biggest challenges for any team facing Kansas from here on out.

Star Of The GameDevonte’ Graham. Without Graham’s steady play, Baylor’s furious second-half run may have been enough to send the Jayhawks home without the Big 12 Tournament title for the third straight year. He was the only Kansas player to have a solid first half, and though he finished with four turnovers, his positive contributions far outweighed his miscues.

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NCAA Bound Big 12 Teams Have Plenty Still to Play For

Posted by Chris Stone on March 9th, 2016

The Big 12 is in a bit of a unique position heading into the conference tournament. The league already appears poised to send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, so unless something completely unexpected happens, the Big 12 Tournament will have very few, if any, bubble implications this week. The conference’s bottom three teams seem to have their futures largely set in stone as well. Kansas State looks poised for an NIT berth while both Oklahoma State and TCU are largely playing for pride. There will still be plenty on the line in Kansas City this week, as all seven NCAA-bound teams are playing for seeding and geographic considerations. Let’s examine what each of those top seven seeds has to gain over the next five days.

big 12 bracket 2016

The 2016 Big 12 Tournament bracket. (Credit: Big 12 Conference)

1. Kansas – Although Kansas already owns 14 wins against the RPI top 50, the Jayhawks are still in a battle to be the overall #1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. If they can knock off the winner of Kansas State-Oklahoma State in Thursday’s quarterfinals, they’ll have a chance to pick up a couple more impressive victories on Friday and Saturday. In order to get there, head coach Bill Self will hope for continued consistency from center Landen Lucas, someone who has provided the Jayhawks with quality inside minutes late this season.

2. West Virginia – The Mountaineers are currently slated as a #3 seed according to most bracket projections, but assuming Texas Tech defeats TCU in their play-in game, they could pick up as many as three additional RPI top 50 wins to support a #2 seed. West Virginia enters the Big 12 Tournament on a four-game winning streak during which it has made 38.2 percent of its three-pointers. If the Mountaineers can keep up that pace, they’re a very dangerous team.

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Big 12 M5: Oklahoma vs. Kansas Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 4th, 2016

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  1. So… there’s a little game going on in Lawrence tonight. The implications of OklahomaKansas are enormous considering the game is likely to feature the top two teams in this week’s Associated Press poll. It is also a tiny bit disappointing that the first of two games in this epic clash will be played so early in the conference season. It’s sort of like having really good chocolate for breakfast. Not exactly a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate (not that there’s anything wrong with a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate) but Oklahoma at Kansas would qualify as a higher class of chocolate (Ghiradelli-esque). Let’s try to save some of the good chocolate for February 13 (lunch) and March 12 for the Big 12 Tournament title game (dinner).
  2. On Saturday, the Jayhawks dropped a triple-digit offensive effort on a Baylor team well-known for their defensive prowess. Spearheading that effort were Kansas’ two point guards Frank Mason and Devonté Graham who are natural complements to each other’s talents and inconsistencies. In addition to their games, the two players assert themselves differently on the floor. Graham is the more emotional player while Mason is the player who will let his game do the talking for him. It’s not a surprise these two mesh well on arguably Bill Self’s deepest team since arriving in Lawrence.
  3. We knew going into tonight that Sooners coach Lon Kruger and the state of Kansas were connected considering his memorable tenure at Kansas State in the late 1980s. As The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel notes, the personal ties go much deeper than that. The journey for Kruger in Manhattan, Kansas, to Norman, Oklahoma, has gone through more than a few stops along the way. Still, the journey from Kruger’s introductory press conference at Oklahoma in April 2011 to national title contender in January 2016 is one to marvel at. It took time, it took a few beatdowns and close calls at the hands of Kansas but now, Kruger’s chance to disrupt Big 12 hierarchy is as good now as it has ever been for him.
  4. What’s sure to play a pivotal role in tonight’s proceedings is the fan environment of Allen Fieldhouse. It will be loud and it will be uncomfortable for the Sooners just as it was for Baylor on Saturday afternoon. The Bears dropped their ninth game at Allen Fieldhouse in the Scott Drew era which insanely equals the amount of times Kansas has lost at home in the Bill Self era (Drew and Self both entered the Big 12 head coaching ranks in 2003). Oklahoma will attempt to pull off something schools like Texas A&M, San Diego State, Oklahoma State, Texas and a few others were able to do in recent years — win in The Phog.
  5. The Sooners were able to remain undefeated entering tonight’s game by edging out Iowa State on Saturday night. A large part of the victory came via senior big man Ryan Spangler,who battled through banging knees with Iowa State’s Matt Thomas and a trip to the locker room, in order to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds. It’ll be interesting to see how a nicked-up Spangler deals with long and versatile frontline of Kansas, the shot-blocking Hunter Mickelson, floor-spreaders like Perry Ellis and Carlton Bragg and the quickness of Cheick Diallo. Needless to say, we’ll be waitin’ all day for Mondayyyyyy Nightttttt. Or something.
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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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Big 12 Power Rankings: We Don’t Know Anything Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 10th, 2015

Welcome to what is certain to be an exciting and perplexing year of our Big 12 Power Rankings. Most of the fun found in doing weekly power rankings is to watch the progression of each team from December to March. The other fun part is being given the license to be dead wrong in December because conference play hasn’t yet started. Since we’re less than a month away from league play, join us as we are free to drive off of the road with our rankings and crash into as many mailboxes before our front bumper is no longer a front bumper. Remember to buckle up.

We're not sure what Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is telling his players at this moment. It's likely he is sharing something basketball related here but I wouldn't rule out Kruger explaining to him the lyrics of "Coconut" by Harry Nilsson. (CBS Sports)

We’re not sure what Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is telling his players at this moment. It’s likely he is sharing something basketball related here but I wouldn’t rule out Kruger explaining to him the lyrics of “Coconut” by Harry Nilsson. (CBS Sports)

Power Rankings

1. Kansas (tie) — 6 points (Brian & Kendall — 1st, Chris & Nate — 2nd). Comment: Bill Self‘s best teams have been known for their intensity and defensive toughness, but this might be the best offensive team he’s ever had in Lawrence. The Jayhawks are shooting a white-hot 47.2 percent from three, mostly without the help of Brannen Greene, whose five-game suspension just ended.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)

1. Oklahoma (tie) — 6 points (Chris & Nate — 1st, Brian & Kendall — 2nd). Comment: “The Sooners absolutely demolished the Big East’s best team in a convincing 78-55 win over Villanova. Meanwhile, Buddy Hield is taking more shots and knocking them down at a more efficient clip than last season. Barring a major slip up, Oklahoma should enter Big 12 play still undefeated.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »

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Baylor’s Man-to-Man Defense a New Wrinkle With Promise

Posted by Kendall Kaut on December 8th, 2015

Baylor scored its biggest victory of the young season on Sunday night, beating Vanderbilt, 69-67. The Bears played to a key strength against the Commodores, forcing 17 turnovers in an effort that has propelled Scott Drew‘s team all the way to seventh nationally in turnovers forced per 100 possessions. But Baylor wasn’t proficient in every area on the defensive end, as Vanderbilt made 10 of their 21 relatively clean looks from three-point range. Moving forward, Baylor’s focus should be to design a defense that still allows it to play to its strength in forcing turnovers but avoids giving opponents open opportunities from three-point range. Drew is sure to switch between zone and man to find the perfect amount of each strategy, but a full-time man-to-man approach may be most likely to maximize turnovers while also defending the perimeter.

Rico Gathers and Baylor pulled off the victory Sunday against Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Rico Gathers’ And The Bears Snuck By Vandy On Sunday. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Baylor has primarily been a zone team over the last seven years. Drew’s current defense of choice is a 1-3-1 zone that is usually anchored by one of the country’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers. After a rough start against Oregon in Eugene three weeks ago, Baylor switched to man-to-man and nearly came back and won. In four home blowouts of less talented teams, Baylor stuck with the man-to-man. On Sunday, the Bears mixed defenses against Vanderbilt, switching from zone to man as part of a strategy that included alternating looks on the first eight possessions.

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