Baylor’s Final Four Dreams Died Yesterday

February 12, 2012

For a team that hasn’t lost a game to a team not ranked in the top 10, things sure are looking gloomy for the Baylor Bears. Yesterday the Bears lost in Columbia, Missouri to the fourth ranked Tigers, dropping them to 8-4 in conference play.

Baylor now is two full games behind both Kansas and Missouri in the Big 12 standings, and both teams hold the tiebreaker over them. Translation: their conference title dreams are dead.

That is disappointing enough, especially since there is probably only three or four more talented teams in the entire country. To make matters worse though, Baylor looks like a team destined for an early exit in the NCAA tournament.

At the end of an impressive, and unbeaten, non-conference season that statement wouldn’t have made much sense. Baylor boasted (still does) an army of long, athletic, skilled big men. Perry Jones could have been conference player of the year. Quincy Miller was arguably the best freshman in the conference. Quincy Acy the most fearsome dunker.

If Scott Drew could just squeeze some competent point guard play out of Pierre Jackson and AJ Walton, Baylor was going to be unstoppable.

Jackson has delivered, for the most part. Miller has been up and down, but has probably become Baylor’s best player.

So what has done Baylor in? Two things: Perry Jones and zone defense.

Jones is one of those special basketball talents. He’s super tall, super athletic, and has the skills to play both inside and outside. He would have been a top 5 pick in the draft last season, he might have been a top 5 pick this year as well.

His recent play, however, has raised a ton of questions and red flags. In his last two games, against the two best teams in the conference, Jones has shot 3-20 from the field. He didn’t even attempt a free throw against Missouri, despite the fact that he was being defended by a guard the whole game.

Jones has been exposed as a timid player, unwilling to bang inside with anyone. He drifts outside, content with jump shots that should be the secondary part of his offensive game. He shows flashes of brilliant post moves, only to shy away on the next possession. Jones is still probably going to leave school after this season, but his stock has taken a major hit, and his lackluster play is probably the biggest individual reason why Baylor won’t live up to expectations this season.

Drew has continued to ride his zone defense in big games, even as it blows the game right in front of his face. Against Kansas, the zone was exploited inside, center Jeff Withey essentially stood under the basket and waited for a pass, he wasn’t guarded the entire first half. Against Missouri, one of the best shooting teams in the nation, Baylor dared them to make three pointers. The Tigers did, made 14 in fact, and waltzed away with a 15 point win.

It is a point that has been beaten to death on this blog, but it remains painfully true. Baylor has the talent and the players to play an aggressive, strong man defense. Falling back in zone, especially when it is being exploited, is just lazy and dumb.

It’s too late to fix the zone defense problem, not that Drew has shown any interest in fixing it anyway. If Baylor wants to try to salvage its season, try to make a run to the Final Four, they need Perry Jones to become a new player. Need him to become an aggressive monster. That is what makes them a special team.

Short of that, Baylor won’t make it out of the first weekend in March, and 2011-12 will be just another season of underachievement in Baylor basketball.

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Kansas Takes Control of the Big 12

February 9, 2012

Last night the Kansas Jayhawks walked in to Waco, Texas, and took pole position in the race for the Big 12 regular season title. Their 68-54 win over Baylor means that all Kansas has to do to secure their eight straight Big 12 title is win the rest of their games.

Now 9-2 in conference, Kansas will be the favorite in every game they play from now on, including February 25th against Missouri.

Now 8-3, Baylor needs a ton of help. If the Bears fall to Missouri on Saturday, it will officially become a two team race. Either way, Baylor sits without a single tiebreaker over the two teams in front of them in the standings.

Baylor started the game on a 7-0 run, including a great lob play to Perry Jones to start the night. It all went downhill from there for both Jones and the Bears. Jones was a missing man the rest of the night, struggling to set post position on offense, and once again drifting too far off the block. He finished the night with five points, three rebounds, and his only made field goal was the dunk to start the game. Pretty bad for a guy who is supposed to be the best player in the conference, or at least the most talented.

For Kansas it was all about the return of Jeff Withey. After speed basically took him out of the Missouri game, Withey looked like he was lacking confidence early in this game as well. That changed rather quickly though, and Withey finished with a career high 25 points. He was able to take advantage of the attention paid to Thomas Robinson, and slipped behind Baylor’s zone for easy layups and dunks. Withey was also 9-11 from the foul line. There is no denying that Kansas is at its best when Withey is active and involved on both offense and defense, mostly because it helps open up space for Thomas Robinson to operate.

So now we play the waiting game. The schedule sets up well for Kansas the rest of the way. If Missouri knocks off Baylor on Saturday (which seems likely), then the game on the 25th will be for the conference title. Trips to Kansas State and Oklahoma State could prove troublesome for the Jayhawks, but it seems unlikely anyone besides Missouri has a shot to beat them right now. Thomas Robinson is cruising to the National Player of the Year award (and deserves to win it over Anthony Davis if Kansas wins the Big 12), Kansas weathered the toughest part of their schedule and still emerged the favorites to win the conference. Things are looking up in Lawrence right now.

For Baylor, there is still some hope. Winning the conference is probably not going to happen, unless Kansas suffers two major slip ups, but they are still in great position to have a memorable season. A win over Missouri on Saturday would be a great confidence builder. The talent and ability are still there for a long run in the NCAA tournament, and honestly, Baylor might be built more for the NCAAs than the Big 12 grind. There aren’t going to be many teams as tough inside as Kansas, or overall as tough as Missouri, in the field of 64. Sure Baylor had a weak non-conference schedule, but they still breezed through it. It is very possible that Scott Drew still ends up in the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight.

Kansas returns home to face Oklahoma State on Saturday, Baylor plays Missouri in Columbia.


Kansas and Baylor Meet Again

February 8, 2012

A few weeks ago at Allen Fieldhouse, the Kansas Jayhawks made a loud statement. Their 92-74 win over previously unbeaten Baylor reminded the Big 12 who was boss. Since then, Missouri has taken charge of the conference race, with wins over both Kansas and Baylor, but tonight’s rematch in Waco will set one team up to take down the Tigers.

A Kansas win would give the Jayhawks the final tiebreaker over Baylor, and set them up well against Missouri as well, since the Tigers have to go to Lawrence in two weeks. A Baylor win sets them up to take complete control of the conference Saturday afternoon in Columbia.

Obviously, this game is important, which is why Perry Jones needs to show up tonight and play the best game of his season. In their first game, Jones reduced himself to a jump shooter, while Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey dominated inside. Jones remains the most talented player on the court nearly every night he plays (the exception probably being a hypothetical game against Kentucky). He doesn’t act like it though. Instead of attacking the basket and going hard after rebounds, Jones seems to take himself out of the game. Patrolling the outside and taking jumpers, leaving the hard inside work to Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller.

Like it or not, Jones and Thomas Robinson will be compared to one another all night long. On the surface, the comparison makes sense, as both are lottery bound big men who lead top 10 teams. In reality though, they couldn’t be more different. Robinson loves playing inside, thrives on contact, and just happens to have a decent outside shot. Jones relies on his shot first, and only drifts inside in the open court, or when set up by his teammates. If Jones can flip that script tonight, Baylor is going to have an excellent chance to win.

Kansas will continue to sink or swim with Tyshawn Taylor, who has been playing very well in conference play. He suffered a one man mental breakdown at the end of the Missouri game though, so it will be interesting to see how he responds. In years past, odds are Taylor would let his struggles carry over, should be interesting to see how much he’s matured. Also in need to a reclamation game, Jeff Withey.  Previously the Jayhawk’s secret weapon, Withey was completely useless against Missouri. Against Baylor, Withey will be playing against guys more his size, which should be a breath of fresh air. He pushed around the soft Baylor front line two weeks ago, and Bill Self is going to need him to do it against tonight.

Scott Drew is going to want to get Quincy Miller back on track, Miller has scored double-digit points just one time in the last two weeks. As long as Perry Jones continues to pussyfoot around the court, Miller has to be the Bear’s best player. He showed the ability to do it while Jones was suspended, and has shown flashes since. This would be a good night for him to get back on track.

Most important for Baylor, setting their defense from the start. Kansas shredded Drew’s zone early in the last game, and it proved useless. If Baylor starts in man defense from the start, and Drew keeps it going the whole game, they will have already improved their chances to win.

The game is in Waco, the Bears have revenge on their minds, and Kansas is coming off a tough, draining loss to their biggest rival. Still, Thomas Robinson is a monster inside, and nobody on Baylor seems willing to trade blows with him. I think Kansas gets the win, and sets up a conference title showdown with Missouri in two weeks.

Kansas 78 Baylor 69 


Baylor’s Undefeated Season Ends in Kansas

January 17, 2012

As we get deeper into the Big 12 season, one thing has become clear, it helps to be at home. It also helps to have Thomas Robinson. Kansas ended Baylor’s undefeated season in impressive fashion, using Robinson and the home crowd to win 92-74.

Robinson scored 27 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and spent most of the night frustrating a very good group of Baylor big men. He was helped on the outside by Tyshawn Taylor, who despite still having five turnovers, generally controlled the game. He finished with 28 points, including 4-6 shooting from three, and six assists. It was the kind of game Kansas needed from their point guard in order to beat the Bears.

Kansas got off to a hot start thanks to Baylor playing a weak zone defense. Robinson was able to do whatever he wanted inside, and didn’t show signs of being stoppable until Scott Drew finally switched to man defense. Switching to man helped Baylor get back into the game, and even take the lead for a few minutes. Bill Self responded by tightening up his defense, tempting Baylor’s big men into taking outside shots, and eventually Kansas pulled away.

This game is not at all a knock against Baylor though. Nothing I thought about them has changed based on last night. They are still a great team, they will still win a ton of games, they are still held back by their coach. Perry Jones is an incredible talent, though at times he seems to be hesitant to really bang inside. The same can be said for Quincy Miller, though he is at least more of a small forward than Jones. Still, the two of them combined for nine three point field goal attempts, which is too many.

Scott Drew will have to work on cleaning up his offense, and perhaps spend some time coaching man to man defense. His roster is stacked with guys that have defensive talent, he just needs to use it. He can play zone against Missouri on Saturday, but if the Tigers are shooting lights out from three, it will be another long day for the Bears.

For Kansas, there were things to be learned. Taylor’s continued development into a leader is crucial for the rest of the season. He’s been really good recently, not just as a player, but as a leader. He makes Kansas go from a one man show, to a legitimate threat to make the Final Four.

The play of Jeff Withey cannot go without mention either. He’s about as solid a defensive center as there is in college right now. His presence at the rim was part of the reason the Baylor big men were drifting outside all night, and his work on the offensive glass is stellar. He keeps possessions alive, which helps cover for the Jayhawks streaky shooting. His NBA future is questionable, but he is a great college center.

Kansas moves on to play at Texas this Saturday. Baylor goes home and will face Missouri.

Just remember, and this is important for fans of both teams, NCAA Tournament games are not played in Lawrence


Baylor Takes Down SDSU

November 17, 2011

Watching Baylor yesterday was a rare mid-day treat that won’t come back around until conference tournament time in March. There is just something about weekday basketball games starting at lunchtime that makes them more fun to watch. Playing San Diego State, a Sweet Sixteen team last year, the Bears passed their first real test of the season. The 77-67 win at home was an across the board showcase of everything I thought Baylor would be good and bad at.

Baylor sort of slugged their way through the first half, and only led by two. They then went on a run in the second half, took what should have been a commanding lead, and then slowly let SDSU back into the game. There were stretches of brilliant athleticism, amazing dunks, solid point guard play, and good three-point shooting. There were also stretches of out of control play making attempts, lazy defense, and overall disinterest in playing hard.

That last point is my real concern with Baylor this season. Forget their supposed lack of point guard play, especially since I think Pierre Jackson and AJ Walton will do a more than credible job throughout the season. Baylor goes on a mental break far too often for me to be comfortable. For most of the season, that won’t actually hurt Baylor, they are just too talented, but come March, it will.

Other notes from Baylor-SDSU

1) I really don’t like Baylor having to use Anthony Jones at small forward. Sure he made both his three’s yesterday, but he didn’t look comfortable with the ball in his hands. Other teams are going to strip him every time he dribbles. I know Jones is a veteran, and certainly is a solid player, but I’d rather Quincy Miller play on the outside, giving him a chance to make plays off the dribble.

2) Quincy Miller has stepped up big time with Perry Jones out, and looks like the real deal. He showed a number of good post moves, and was able to make plays off the dribble multiple times.

3) Quincy Acy can play for my team everyday. He’s an aggressive rebounder, has solid post moves, and brings great emotion to the game. I’ll be hard pressed to find a more impressive dunk this season than this one by Acy.

4) Pierre Jackson was out of control at times, but looks to be the answer to the Baylor point guard question. He had nine assists, and played down the stretch. Scott Drew clearly wants to trust him, and knows that Jackson gives his team the best chance in the final minutes.

5) Once Perry Jones gets back, this team will create more highlights per minute than any team in the nation this side of UNC and Kentucky. Going to be fun to watch.


Preseason poll – four teams get a 1st place vote

October 14, 2011

Basketball season starts this weekend.

For the next couple days, college basketball will consist of loud player introductions, flashing lights, dunks and “practice sessions” that might look nothing at all like a real practice.

It’s time to take a look at how the Big 12 COACHES voted in the league’s poll of the ten teams. Coaches could not vote for their own.

——

Dash Harris and his Aggie teammates would like to unseat Kansas as the league's best team. Photo thanks Chron.com.

This year’s preseason poll has co-favorites: KANSAS and TEXAS A&M. The Jayhawks got the most first-place votes from the coaches (5), while Texas A&M got two. However, each team garnered 73 points total from the ballots.

The Jayhawks have at least shared the conference title for seven straight seasons. But while they are accustomed to losing talent, there is less depth in place at the moment than there has been in some prior years. Greg, one of this blog’s authors, has mentioned Thomas Robinson as a likely POY. I agree, but the Morris twins were just awesome and those two alone will be tough to replace.

Texas A&M has a new coach this season, Billy Kennedy. The Aggies, if not great in recent years, have been consistently solid.

The three of us at this blog have a running joke called “The List,” of college players who seem like they should have graduated and yet are still playing. (Typically these are just guys who played a lot as freshmen and stayed around.) Fortunately, A&M has two candidates for The List in guard Dash Harris and forward David Loubeau. That bodes well for experience.

They also add 6’7″ junior Khris Middleton, a big scorer last year. He has played in every game during his career.

Kansas State was last year’s preseason No. 1.

Team No. 3 is BAYLOR, which received two first-place votes. Baylor returns four seniors, super soph big guy Perry Jones and a really hyped guard in Deuce Bello. I expect Baylor will once again be one of the league’s most athletic teams (as is often the case). The Bears have underachieved two of the last three years and made the Elite Eight the other year. This is a VERY interesting team.

MISSOURI, you’ll recall, is still part of the Big 12. The Tigers were picked fourth and received one first place vote, despite a seemingly devastating recent injury to forward Laurence Bowers which will keep him off the floor all year. Bowers has been arguably Mizzou’s best player over the past two seasons. I look forward to seeing whether Missouri’s tempo shifts from the frenetic press, now that Frank Haith is coach. Either way, a lot will be required of senior big man Ricardo Ratliffe on offense and defense.

Perenially talented TEXAS takes the No. 5 spot. A team that spent part of last year in the Top 5 nationally seeks to improve its recent NCAA tournament struggles. The Horns are extremely young with six freshmen. Names you’ll recognize include 6’10” senior Clint Chapman and 6’1″ junior J’Covan Brown. Alexis Wangmene (6’7″ from Cameroon) is also a senior.

Korie Lucious (34) and Chris Allen are now Cyclones and might solidify Iowa State's best team in a decade. Photo thanks to Des Moines Register.

KANSAS STATE is team six. The Wildcats’ early months last year were an absolute disaster. Denis Clemente’s absence was noticeable, but K-State got a huge upset win at home over Kansas and turned things around somewhat. They didn’t live up to preseason expectations but I think they can exceed them this year. K-State returns a lot of guys you will remember, including guards Rodney McGruder (junior), Shane Southwell (sophomore) and Will Spradling (sophomore). They also bring back 6’7 senior forward Jamar Samuels.

That group has plenty of talent, so don’t assume K-State will be average just because Jacob Pullen is gone.

OKLAHOMA STATE takes the No. 7 spot. Travis Ford brings two seniors, guard Keiton Page and JUCO forward Darrell Williams. Williams led the team in rebounding last year. J.P. Olukemi will be important again as a junior. Freshman Le’Bryan Nash is a McDonald’s All-American.

IOWA STATE, in its second year under Fred Hoiberg, is the eighth choice. This is another team I look forward to watching. Finally Royce White, the 6’8″ redshirt sophomore from Minnesota gets to play. Adding instant experience are senior Michigan State transfers at guard – Chris Allen and Korie Lucious. It’s been a long time since Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley made ISU a contender but perhaps the Cyclones are on their way.

OKLAHOMA and TEXAS TECH are tied for ninth and last in this year’s poll. The Sooners have three seniors who have played sparingly. T.J. Franklin sees little floor time. The other two, C.J. Washington and Barry Honoré, are JUCO transfers who were reserves last year. Oklahoma looks very different than it used to and is clearly still in a phase of change from the Kelvin Sampson era.

6’10” Robert Lewandowski is the only senior for the Red Raiders of Texas Tech, now coached by Billy Gillispie. There are eight high school freshmen on the roster along with several JUCO transfers, which is exciting when your team has recently struggled. Hopefully Tech can perform a little better than last year and work toward improving that program.

We will have our own Big 12 preseason poll before the season starts.


Texas A&M at Baylor preview

February 25, 2011

No. 21 Texas A&M at Baylor – 8 p.m. ESPNU

Baylor limps into Saturday having lost three straight Big 12 games, while Texas A&M enters the first of two difficult road tests with the hope of securing a No. 3 seed in the league tournament.

Coach Mark Turgeon hopes Texas A&M can win its rematch Saturday with Baylor. Source: Big 12 Journal

Texas A&M: The Aggies have won five consecutive games since their February 5 home loss to… Baylor. Those wins came against arguably the league’s five weakest teams. Texas A&M (22-5, 9-4) isn’t a high scoring team, but is consistent, having averaged around 70 points per game this month.

A&M and Baylor are different in that while the Aggies don’t have a go-to player, Baylor relies too much on one. As we’ve written here before, Texas A&M can get a big lift from several different players. It’s not surpring to see David Loubeau, Nathan Walkup, B.J. Holmes or Khris Middleton make the most significant contribution in a game.

If we assume a loss at Kansas and a win against Texas Tech to close out the season, a win here would put the Aggies in position to finish 11-5. An 11-5 record would guarantee the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament based on their overtime win over Missouri earlier in the season.

Baylor: Meanwhile, the Bears (17-10, 6-7) rely too much on LaceDarius Dunn for offense. With such a tall frontcourt, they ought to get more easy baskets than they do. They were outrebounded at Missouri, a poor rebounding team, thanks largely to the first half effort of the Tigers’ Ricardo Ratliffe. At the same time, Dunn struggled offensively, and the Bears’ brief run to start the second half was the only time they didn’t look overwhelmed. Throughout the game, they missed a ton of baskets inside.

At the moment, it’s unlikely Baylor would make the tournament. A win Saturday would bring the team’s conference record to .500, but the Bears are left with a road game against Oklahoma State and a home game against Texas. Both games will be challenging.

In the previous matchup, won by Baylor by two points in OT, the Bears shot 52 percent from the field while holding Texas A&M to 43 percent. Baylor made 7 out of 16 three-pointers, which hasn’t been replicated enough since then.

Bottom Line

The Oklahoma win was probably Texas A&M’s most complete win in a month. Baylor should look better at home than it has lately, but I anticipate the Aggies sneak away with a win in Waco. Expect a good effort from Baylor which must start winning games for a chance at an at-large NCAA bid.

Texas A&M 71, Baylor 65