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 Preview: Baylor’s Burning Question

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 5th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will Baylor find consistent point guard play without Kenny Chery?

Rico Gathers made two free throws to give the Bears a 12-point lead with under three minutes to go in regulation. Baylor had finally built some separation from a pesky Georgia State squad after trading punches for much of the second half. It looked like this #3 seed — the conference’s other #3 seed, Iowa State, was already heading home — was going to advance to the Round of 32. Everything from that point happened so fast. R.J. Hunter scored 12 of Georgia State’s last 13 points, capped off by an insane three from an insane distance that gave us all a reason to remember Ron Hunter’s name forever.

Baylor's Lester Medford will be the replacement for Kenny Chery at point guard. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images North America)

Baylor’s Lester Medford will be the team’s new starting point guard. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images North America)

But that’s over and done with; this is a new season. Baylor returns a large portion of its rotation even though the loss of its veteran leadership — Royce O’Neale and Kenny Chery were first and second in minutes played on the team last season — looms large. O’Neale’s size and brilliance from the perimeter will be missed, but perhaps the biggest question mark on this year’s team will be in replacing Chery at the point guard position. While turnovers often plagued the two-year starter, Chery averaged 5.6 assists per game in 35 Big 12 contests. His replacement must be as steady at the controls as he was.

Without even looking at Scott Drew‘s roster, you could make a reasonable assumption that his frontcourt will be long, rebound, block shots and make basketball no fun for anyone who dares to enter the paint. Along with the senior Gathers, Johnathan Motley appears poised for a huge sophomore campaign. You knew him as a rebounder and last year’s leader in blocked shots, but the 6’9″ jumping jack is quickly becoming a reliable offensive player as well. In three international games over the summer in Canada, Motley averaged 20.6 points per game as his NBA Draft status continues to rise. Taurean Prince‘s star is also expected to shine brighter than ever during his senior season. In addition to leading Baylor in scoring, draft evaluators salivate over Prince’s wingspan (6’11.5″), his ability to shoot (39.5 percent three-point shooter in 2014-15), defend multiple positions, run the floor and crash the glass (8.5 rebounds per 40 minutes last season). DraftExpress lists Prince as a late first round pick in this June’s draft. He’s the NBA wing of the future, today.

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Big 12 Takes Three on the Chin, But Today is a New Day

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 20th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Well, that could’ve gone better.

 

In the Big 12’s latest opportunity to reverse its NCAA Tournament fortunes, the conference fell flat on its face, losing all three of its games on Thursday. Were this the regular season or the conference tournament, I’d say that Baylor and Iowa State both losing by a single point shouldn’t be huge a cause for concern, and analytically, that remains true. If the Bears and Cyclones played their games again today and every day after that, they’d come out on top in an overwhelming number of those games. But it’s a different game this time of year where variance trumps all, and this was the end of the road for two teams that, at minimum, were expected to make it through the weekend. The same can’t be said for Texas, but that’s only a reflection of the Longhorns’ massive letdown of a campaign.

Three favorites, three losses, all in time for Happy Hour.

The Cyclones knew going into Thursday’s game against UAB that they could no longer afford to fall into double-digit deficits if they wanted to survive. They lived up to one end of the bargain, as the biggest hole they faced was just three points. But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take away from the fact that the Blazers didn’t have much business hanging around with the Big 12 Tournament champs, let alone knocking them off. UAB has a tall, athletic lineup, but the Cyclones outscored the Blazers 36-32 in the paint. Instead, Iowa State’s undoing came down to poor rebounding and relying too heavily on jumpers, shots that head coach Fred Hoiberg has become famous for despising. More than one-third of their attempts were jump shots, and star forward Georges Niang was most responsible in that department, attempting 10 jumpers and connecting on just two. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas 62, #16 Baylor 52

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Here are some key takeaways from Kansas’ 62-52 semifinal win over Baylor in another game marked by shaky offense but highlighted by the return of Perry Ellis and a breakout effort from Wayne Selden.

Kansas (USA Today Images)

Kansas Comfortably Moved On to the Championship Game Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Perry Ellis showed his rust but found ways to be productive: Sporting a surplus of padding that would make Barry Bonds nod in great approval, Ellis showed some lingering signs of the knee sprain he suffered two weeks ago but he was still effective in contributing 11 points and six rebounds. It wasn’t the most efficient outing for the junior, but by hitting a three-pointer shortly after the opening tip, his return appeared to set the tone for the night. Ellis was confident in his shot, but as Baylor struggled to put points on the board, he could stay in the flow of the offense without taking many risks. In the second half, the Jayhawks maintained a big enough lead to allow head coach Bill Self to be cautious with his all-conference player, sitting him for the last 7:50 of action.
  2. Baylor’s three-point shooting failed them. The Bears have been a very good three-point shooting team all year, helping their offense stay above water in spite of making two-point shots look like a trip to the dentist. It seemed as though Kansas transmitted their three-point struggles to the Bears on Friday night, as they made just one of 10 tries from deep in the first half and finished the game an ugly 4-of-22 from distance. While head coach Scott Drew has had a fantastic year on the sideline, his fanilure to coax a positive adjustment from his team against a vulnerable Kansas frontcourt may have cost the Bears this game and and an appearance in the Big 12 Tournament final for the third time in the last four years.
  3. Wayne Selden broke out with a huge second half. When Wayne Selden arrived in Lawrence a year and a half ago, he was seen by many as a one-and-done type of talent. Between injuries and significant struggles on the court, however, the sophomore has had a tough time consistently producing. Tonight was a different story, as he stepped up with 16 second half points on his way to 20 overall to go along with a team-high eight rebounds against Baylor’s physical front line. The Massachusetts native was active all night, which couldn’t always be said for his career to this point. Effectiveness from Kansas’ backcourt can be difficult to find this year, so if Selden can continue produce, only good things can come of it.

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Rushed Reactions: #16 Baylor 80, #18 West Virginia 70

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 12th, 2015

rushedreactions

Here are some key takeaways from Baylor’s 80-70 Big 12 quarterfinal win over a West Virginia team that was still without Juwan Staten and Gary Browne.

Rico Gathers had 15 points, nine rebounds and two powerful second-half dunks in Baylor's win over West Virginia (West Virginia Metro News).

Rico Gathers had 15 points, nine rebounds and two powerful second-half dunks in Baylor’s win over West Virginia (West Virginia Metro News).

  1. Selection Sunday Impacts. Baylor should be poised for a happy Selection Sunday. The Bracket Matrix, which aggregates NCAA Tournament projections from across all corners of the web, had the Bears as a solid #3 seed going into the game. The win against a good West Virginia team, even without Staten, should keep them from falling off that line. That’ll especially be the case if fellow #3 seed (or better) hopefuls Iowa State and Oklahoma fall in games later today. This could also set the Bears up for a spot in the South regional in Houston.  Regardless of seed, this year will mark the first time in program history that Baylor will make back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, which is somewhat surprising considering the success Scott Drew has enjoyed over the last decade in Waco.
  2. Bears Bench Deepens. Ish Wainwright may have earned himself more playing time the rest of the way. Early foul trouble in the first half forced Drew to play the little-used forward heavy minutes and the junior did not disappoint. He ended up with seven points and six rebounds and did a good job battling the Mountaineers’ physical frontcourt. It was an undeniably good day for the local native who got the most playing time he has received in a single game since early February. Drew has not utilized an incredibly deep rotation this year — often giving only six players significant minutes — so it’s a great sign that Wainwright has proven he can contribute on a big stage.
  3. Undermanned Mountaineers. West Virginia needs Staten and Browne back. That’s not exactly a groundbreaking thought but the effect of their absences played out in real time today against the Bears. The Mountaineers benefited from some hot shooting from deep for much of the game — including four threes and 18 points from Jaysean Paige — but they didn’t score a field goal over the last six minutes when Staten would have been most useful. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles had two costly back-to-back turnovers with under four minutes left that Baylor used to build a multi-possession lead it would not relinquish. Having Staten and Browne in those pressure situations instead of two freshmen may have made a difference in this quarterfinal matchup. On the other hand, Carter and Miles had an opportunity to learn from the increased playing time and those mistakes, with an opportunity to apply it next weekend when the games matter even more.

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Big 12 Season Superlatives, Part I: First Team, POY & COY

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2015

This year’s Big 12 Conference will go down as one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory. Kansas held on to the championship belt despite fielding what most of its fans would admit was not Bill Self’s most talented team. The Jayhawks withstood challenges from a revolving door of contenders who were capable of outstanding performances at their best and mind-numbing displays at their worst. Over the course of the next couple of days, we’ll look back on the league’s best efforts, both on the floor and on the sidelines. Today: our RTC All-Big 12 Team followed by our POY and COY.

All-Big 12 First Team

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Player of the Year

  • Brian Goodman: Perry Ellis, Kansas – Somewhere along the line it became popular to criticize Perry Ellis for what he wasn’t than to accept him for what he was (I’m not afraid to admit that I was equally guilty of it). Ellis’ pro potential at age 21 is still a big question mark and his lack of any real back-to-the-basket game makes him very different than many of the terrific big men who preceded him in Lawrence, but none of that matters here. Ellis was the best all-around player in the Big 12 this season due to his craftiness inside, his range out to the three-point line (where he shot 37.5 percent in 40 attempts) and his very good rebounding. The junior also had to shoulder a bigger workload due to the inconsistent play of frontcourt teammates Cliff Alexander, Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas.
Perry Ellis outpaced a slew of worthy candidates to take RTC Big 12 POY honors.

Perry Ellis outpaced a slew of worthy candidates to take RTC Big 12 POY honors. (AP)

  • Nate Kotisso: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – If you were in a lab and your goal was to come up with the perfect basketball player, you’d have a laundry list of things to consider. He would have to be someone who can shoot the lights out, can get to the rim, will lead by example and become the classic “first to practice, last to leave” guy. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has been the most machine-like player in the Big 12 this season. He’s scored in double figures in all but three games on the season, and more often than not, you’ll get a premium effort from the junior wing.
  • Chris Stone: Perry Ellis, Kansas – Ellis is the most important player on the best team in the conference. While Buddy Hield has been a more impressive scorer in conference play, the gap between Hield (22.1 PPG) and Ellis (20.6 PPG) isn’t large when adjusted for efficiency. Ellis also ranks among the Big 12’s top 10 in defensive rebounding and top 20 in block percentage. While Kansas played well against Oklahoma on Saturday, it’s tough to imagine the Jayhawks making any sort of deep run in March without their star big man in the lineup.

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Big 12 Weekend Preview: Road Map to the Most Thrilling Finish Possible

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2015

For roughly 46 hours between Kansas State’s upset over Kansas on Monday and Iowa State‘s deflating loss to Baylor on Wednesday, the Big 12 race had more intrigue than at any point in the season. But after the Bears took down the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum thanks to some deadly shooting down the stretch, the standings returned to an all-too-familiar position: the Jayhawks all alone at the top with a logjam behind them. The race isn’t yet over, but Iowa State’s loss definitely removed some of the buzz surrounding the finish. As it stands, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State — each one game behind Kansas — all need to take care of business and get some unlikely help if any of the three wants to make history. The Sooners still have a game left against the 10-time defending conference champs — their home finale on March 7 — but they will likely have to win their next two games in order for that match-up to mean something. More on that in a minute.

It will take a home loss by Kansas for the Big 12 race to become a race again.

The Big 12 race isn’t over, but it will take a Kansas loss in this building to restore the chaos that has encapsulated the conference all year long.

West Virginia also has a game left against Kansas, but with two of its last three games coming on the road — including next Tuesday’s tilt against the Jayhawks — the Mountaineers are at a big disadvantage. Lastly, not only do the Cyclones not have any remaining games against the Jayhawks, but they’ll also play two of their last three games on the road. Meanwhile, Kansas plays two of its last three games in the cozy confines of Allen Fieldhouse, so the odds of Bill Self’s team winning that 11th straight Big 12 title in outright fashion look favorable.

As great a story as that would be, however, where’s the fun? As a die-hard college hoops fan, I want as much meaningful basketball as possible. Sure, if Kansas puts a bow on it by this time next week, everyone will still be playing for valuable postseason seeding; we’ll still watch; and then the postseason will be here. But throughout its relatively young history, the Big 12 has lacked a climactic final day of action in the truest definition.

I’m talking about one game to decide the conference race and the fate of the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title streak all wrapped up in one tidy package.

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Big 12 M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 27th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. And just like that Kansas is back in the driver’s seat as the favorite to win an 11th straight Big 12 championship. The situation looked a bit bleak for the Jayhawks following their recent 70-63 loss to Kansas State, but Baylor’s 79-70 win over Iowa State on Wednesday night put Kansas ahead again. A win would have drawn the Cyclones even with Kansas in the standings, but a barrage of second half threes from the Bears sealed the Cyclones’ fate. “We didn’t talk about any championships that were there,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The guys understand it. They read it. But it’s just going out there taking care of today, and obviously we didn’t get that accomplished.”
  2. Wednesday marked the first win ever in Ames for Baylor, and the big road victory should help the Bears immensely with seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. A lock for an at-large bid, this year will mark the first time that Baylor has made consecutive trips to March Madness in school history. Much of the Bears’ recent success should be attributed to Scott Drew. The 12th-year head coach of the Bears takes a great deal of criticism from the college basketball community, but he has molded a roster that was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 into a Top 25 team with high postseason expectations. Drew rightfully appears to be the clear front-runner for Big 12 Coach of the Year at this point in the season.
  3. Drew’s biggest competitor in the race for Coach of the Year comes from West Virginia’s Bob Huggins. The Mountaineers were also picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll but have utilized a change in playing style to now sit just one game behind Kansas in the standings. After getting blasted by Baylor in Morgantown, West Virginia will seek revenge on the Bears in Waco this weekend. If the Mountaineers pull of the win, we could have a new name leading the Big 12 Coach of the Year race come Monday.
  4. A day after the Jayhawks’ loss at Kansas State, Kansas junior Perry Ellis and sophomore Wayne Selden called a players-only meeting back in Lawrence. There was no trip to Henry T’s like back in 2008, but Ellis and Selden took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of winning another Big 12 championship. Sporting a 3-3 record in its last six games, Kansas is engaged in some soul-searching ahead of March this season. “We got to figure out what’s wrong,” sophomore Brannen Greene said. With three remaining contests against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 25, the Jayhawks will need to figure it out quick, starting with a reeling but dangerous Texas squad on Saturday.
  5. Finally, while much of Twitter was abuzz yesterday attempting to determine the colors of this dress (hint: it’s white and gold), Adidas was drawing its usual ire for releasing its latest line of jerseys. With Baylor having switched to Nike this season, Kansas remains the only Big 12 team to receive an stylistic update, which the Jayhawks are likely wear for at least one game in the Big 12 Tournament. Baylor received its new look last week, and its tempered color scheme will likely disappoint fans of their glowing highlighter look.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Oklahoma, Where Wins Come Sweeping Down the Plains Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

The regular season can be a long, drawn out-proposition. Around 12 to 15 games are typically played during the pre-conference season, and even though it’s impossible to survey each team correctly, people like us try it anyway to avoid doing something else that’s actually mind-numbing. Case in point with Oklahoma. While some prognosticators pegged them as an early darkhorse to make the Final Four, no one told Creighton about that as the Bluejays beat the Sooners by two points in their second game of the season (RPI: #130). Lon Kruger’s team made up for that defeat by winning two of three out in its trip to the Bahamas, including a key neutral-court victory over a much-improved Butler team (RPI: #18). December resulted in another hiccup, though, with the Sooners losing to a ranked Washington group on a neutral court. The Huskies had started the year 11-0 with several nice victories before losing nine of their next 12 games. Now that loss is looking a lot more iffy (RPI: #80).

Don't be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Don’t be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Thank goodness for conference play, right? Every team welcomes the chance to start all over again. After beating Baylor and Texas by a combined 31 points to tip off Big 12 play, bad Oklahoma paid a return visit. Starting with a crushing home loss in the final seconds of overtime to Kansas State, the Sooners would move on to lose four of their next five contests. But in recent weeks, it now appears that good Oklahoma is back in action with a four-game winning streak. Through the ups and downs has been a talented crop of players but perhaps the best of this group is Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield. His game was far more perimeter-oriented last year, but Hield has become a dangerous offensive weapon from anywhere on the floor this season. So given all of these ups and downs, the Sooners are poise to leap into sole possession of second place in the Big 12 and become the newest challenger to Kansas’ throne. But they have to win tonight.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Jayhawks control their own destiny despite Saturday’s loss in Stillwater, but the allocation of minutes across their frontcourt continues to baffle me. Cliff Alexander played 16 minutes and was fantastic around the rim while Jamari Traylor set a new career high in turnovers (six) in his 23 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Landen Lucas contributed a forgettable two rebounds and no points in 12 minutes.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Iowa State — 7 points (Chris & Nate — 2nd, Brian — 3rd) Comment: “The Cyclones blasted Texas Tech 75-38 this week, as Jameel McKay found his way into the starting lineup due to Bryce Dejean-Jones’ tardiness. After finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds, McKay might be proving himself worthy of a permanent spot.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Baylor Demands Your Attention Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 3rd, 2015

It’s a near-consensus this season that the Big 12 is considered the best conference in college basketball. As we approach the halfway point of league play, drawing a line between NCAA Tournament contenders and the rest has become an easier task. We all expected Kansas and Iowa State to reign at the top and Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech rounded out the standings (sorry, guys). But the middle five conference teams have been the tough to forecast all season long. West Virginia is 6-2 in league play but still somewhat unproven, with four of those six wins coming against the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State have all left something to be desired. The only middle five team to exceed expectations so far has been none other than Baylor.

It's possible: You can respect Scott Drew's grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

It’s possible: You can respect Scott Drew’s grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

After finishing sixth last year, Big 12 coaches picked Baylor sixth again before the season began. At the moment, the Bears are in, you guessed it, sixth place. So how are they exceeding expectations? Because they lost Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip — three of their top four scorers from a year ago — and a slew of role players has been charged with taking on greater responsibility. Rico Gathers has been an anchor inside, grabbing more rebounds in a starter’s role (12.0 RPG) while sharing the wealth among veterans Royce O’Neale (6.3 RPG), Taurean Prince (5.7 RPG) and freshman Johnathan Motley (4.6 RPG). The graduation of sharpshooter Heslip left a gaping hole in the team’s outside shooting but that role has been supplanted by another trio of Bears. O’Neale has been a consistent outside shooting option since arriving from Denver (42.4%) and Prince is also capable from distance (40.5%), but the most improvement has come from point guard Kenny Chery (32.5% last season to 40.5%).

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