Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, March 16, 2012

Baylor Preview: St. Taddy's Day

I would be the world's worst liar if I tried to play it off that I imagined that I'd be sitting here on March 16th writing a preview for a 3rd round match with Baylor.  The past two weeks have existed in some sort of haze only a late-60s hippy would appreciate.  How is this happening?  Where did this come from? Dave's not here, man...

Hell, I would've been happy with a winning record and a return trip to the NIT.  Now, it's back-to-back 20+ win seasons, a miraculous run to a conference title, and a win in the Dance.  What could Coach Boyle possibly still have in his bag of presents to bestow on Buff Nation?

Any further than this, and I'm going to start running out of historical comparison points...

Tip-off against former conference mate Baylor is set for approximately 6:40 Saturday evening.  The television coverage is set for TNT, which I assume everyone knows how to find on their television package.  Radio coverage, and the dulcet tones of Mark Johnson, can be found on 850 KOA.  You can also catch the action online with March Madness Live.

Click below for my preview...

When last we met - 

I wouldn't exactly call Baylor a former Big XII "rival."  Still, their actions during the final days of the old conference certainly did breed some serious dislike between the two schools.  Since CU ended up with the better of the situation (straight cash, homey), I'll let it slide, but I still would like to see the Buffs get one over the snakes from Waco. Which is why last year's game with the Bears in Waco hurt so much. 

Up 14 at half, the Buffs seemed destined to grab a vital road win, one which might've boosted the resume enough to earn a trip to the Tournament.  The second half, however, was a horror show, as the Bears shot 60% from the field and refused to miss from the line.  Meanwhile, CU couldn't hit from beyond the arc, and generally struggled against the Bears' 2-3 zone.  As a result, Baylor played +18 ball in the second frame, and the final horn tolled a 70-66 Bear victory.

It was CU's 4th straight loss, dropping them below .500 in conference play for the first time.

The performance of the since graduated LaceDarius Dunn was just too much, as his 26/7/6 line helped carry Baylor to the win.  Dunn also shot 11-for-11 from the charity stripe.  In support, forward Quincy Acy chipped in 14/9 for the home team.
Dunn proved too much for the Buffs.  From: the Waco Trib
For the Buffs, the super duo of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins combined for 36/11 and a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line. Lone Star State native Andre Roberson provided 9/11 during his first return trip to his home state.  Of those 11 boards, an astonishing 10 of them came off the offensive glass.

It was losses like this one in Waco, and numerous other close road losses to inferior teams, that helped cost CU a rightful shot at the Tournament.  This one in particular hit hard because the Buffs were in such control at halftime.  A little revenge would be appropriate.

Opponents season so far - 

Baylor was a sexy darkhorse pick to win the NCAA title back at the start of the season.  Backing the talk up, the team rode a 17-game winning streak to start the season, which saw them through to the middle of January.  At that point they were a consensus top-3 squad, with plenty of people talking #1 seed, if not national title. 
Baylor made quick work of the first 17 games on their schedule.
But, as it is wont to do, the Big XII schedule turned out to be too hot for the Bears.  Back-to-back tilts with powers Kansas and Mizzou gave Baylor their first two losses on the season.  This would set the tone for the rest of the year, as they would go on to have a 1-5 record against the best two teams in the conference.

Losing to KU and Mizzou is nothing to be ashamed of, of course.  It's just that Baylor has proven to be a solid step below the cream of the Big XII's crop.  The finality of that gap was driven home when Mizzou thumped Baylor for the third time in the Big XII final.  The simple truth is that the Bears are a very good team, just not great.
Mizzou swarmed past the Bears in the Big XII Tournament.
Baylor is very good on offense, and boast the 14th most efficient offense in the nation.  In addition to solid shooting from the field (51% from 2-point, 38% from 3-point) they do well by utilizing their length to grab offensive boards.  They're 19th nationally in the category.  Combine with 75% free throw shooting, and they can put some serious points on the board.

On defense, expect the 2-3 zone.  In spite of the back-heeled nature of the set, they play efficiently, with KenPom having them at #31 nationally.  Opponents score near 30% of their points from beyond the arc, which makes sense.  I hope CU brings that 50%-plus 3-point shooting to the court again tomorrow night.

The bottom line is that Baylor is, hands down, the best opponent CU will have faced this season.  They have the length, athleticism, and skill to make any team in the country sweat, and far more in each category than the Buffs can muster to match. 

... also, the Bears decided that this was a good look:
And you thought Oregon St's turquoise uni's were bad...

Coaching - 

Stolen from last year's Baylor preview:

Head Coach Scott Drew is the son of Valparaiso legend Homer Drew.  Living in Chicago in 1998, I couldn't help but get caught up in his father's Valpo Crusaders run to the Sweet Sixteen.  The younger Drew was on the sidelines as an assistant to his father during the run that was built around the sharp-shooting of his younger brother Bryce (Note: now head coach at Valpo.  I'm old).  The Drew family is well known and respected in basketball circles, and this has turned out to be a near-perfect hire for Baylor.

Coach Drew has been a Godsend for the Baptists in Waco.
Coach Drew completely revived Baylor Basketball in the wake of the '03 murder-related scandal that nearly ruined the program.  Arriving in Waco shortly after the scandal took place, he salvaged what he could from a terrible situation, jumped-started the recruiting in a big way, and made the program very respectable.

The turn-around took four rather shaky years, where the team finished at or near the bottom of the league each year, but the program is rolling now.  Coach Drew has taken the Bears to postseason play in each of the past 3 years (note: they missed last season), and continually gets top-level talent to commit to Baylor (which is no small feat, considering how shitty Waco is).

Star players - 

The good news is that the most dominating hoops player at Baylor is Brittney Griner.  The bad news is that they still have plenty of talent on the men's side worthy of mention.

Quincy Acy is still there.  The 6-7 senior is still a load in the paint, and averages near 12/7 per contest.  With an eFG over 57%, he's one of the more efficient players in the country.  On defense, he's a terror with near two blocks and a steal per contest.  He's a solid, all-around player.
Acy has been a good player for quite a while now.
Re-joining Acy on the front line is 6-11 sophomore Perry Jones III.  The former top-10 recruit has averaged near 14/8 this season.  Throw in 6-9 freshman Quincy Miller (another top-10 recruit), and the Baylor forward corps is about as talented as it gets in the country.
Those ugly uni's do a disservice to the beautiful performance of players like Jones III.
Brady Heslip, a 6-2 sophomore, has emerged as a deadly outside shooter, and sits just seven makes shy of 200 made 3s on the year.  Via an excellent eFG in the mid-60's and a very low turnover rate, he can boast as one of the top-5 most efficient players in the country.  The kid is a 3-point specialist, who needs to be guarded through every inch of the court.
Jackson and Heslip hold down the back-court while the talent forwards go to work.
Pierre Jackson runs the whole show as the true-point guard.  The 5-10 junior averages near six assists while still scoring over 13 per game.  A sharp 3-point shooter (43%), and equally as effective from the line (82%), Jackson has helped turn the Bears into one of the best teams in the land.

Prediction - 

Baylor is crazy long and athletic in the paint, and should brutalize forwards not named Andre Roberson.  As South Dakota State proved yesterday, hot 3-point shooting will keep a team close against the Bears, but only for so long.  There's just too much efficiency on the court, and the Bears should pull away in the second half.

Baylor 81 - CU 69

But... this is March.  While I may have nailed the score yesterday, I'm as lost on this as anyone in Buff Nation; the round of 32 is out of my depth.  I hope the Buffs take my prediction, and shove it up my ass.  As Coach Boyle said yesterday “It’s going to get harder as we go, we know that. But I believe in this team. They believe in themselves, and as long as you do that this time of year, you’ve got a shot.’’


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