What a game. Before I get into the game recap, I want to take a moment to address a larger issue. Coming into this season, the Big12 was projected to be going through a down year. The best teams from last year sent a lot of talent into the NBA and there was a general thought that the teams contending for the conference title would be too young (or simply not good enough) to compete with the elite teams from around the nation (well, since the Pac12 is so bad, from around the eastern half of the nation).
This appears not to be the case. Sure, I think that Mizzou is going to fall in the rankings as teams with size are able to take advantage of their injuries to an already weak front court, but Baylor, Kansas State and Kansas are all very solid teams. Mizzou still belongs at the back of the first tier (and will make the NCAA) and they're followed by a second tier with intriguing teams in Iowa State, Texas, and Oklahoma. While this doesn't represent one of the conferences peak years, sending 5-6 teams to the NCAA Tournament in a down year isn't the worst thing...especially in a 10 team conference. Ok, on to the recap.
With all respects to the @BYU game and neutral site wins over Miss St and WVU, this is the most impressive win of the season so far. With the exception of the most elite teams, college basketball seems to be going through a year where home court plays an especially large roll in determining the winner. For those Tourney Experts who love to look at quality road wins, it doesn't look right now like you're going to find 30 teams that stack up well in this regard.
Manhattan was rocking tonight. The crowd didn't have the omnipresent zeal that comes with a heated rivalry, but they were loud at all of the big moments and tried more than a few times to will their team back into it. In this game that featured a lot of runs but not much time with either team holding a double digit lead, that home crowd was a great asset. I'm sure it helped, even if only subconsciously, with regards to...
The refs called this game close and it hurt Baylor. Watching the game online, there were few if any egregious calls, but there were a lot of close fouls that went against Baylor. I'm not complaining; this is something that great teams have to expect to happen on the road and learn to adjust and overcome. Baylor did not adjust. Kansas State got into the bonus and double bonus early on in both halves, while managing to keep their own foul tally low. In addition to the difficulty this created for Baylor to build and maintain a lead, this created difficulties down the stretch as 4 of Baylor's 5 starters had 4 fouls at the end of the game. To see them manage to overcome this in a very difficult setting significantly boosts my confidence (which seemed to lag behind the polls) that this is indeed an elite team.
Players of the game after the jump...
Player of the game: Pierre Jackson
Pierre Jackson, who only scored 10 points to Perry Jones III's 17, was quite clearly the player of the game for Baylor. While PJIII flashed brilliance here and there with his quickness around the basket and solid range, it was Pierre Jackson who ran circles in and around the Kansas State offense. He tallied 11 assists and forced Kansas State to alter their game plan and start trapping him far away from the basket late in the game.
His 4 fouls did affect his play, and he almost got the 5th foul twice, but his tenacious defense [and the fastbreak points that it lead to] was just as important as his offense. Perry Jones III is likely going to keep garnering attention as a national player of the year candidate in large part because of his likely draft spot in the 2012 NBA draft, but there is no doubt in my mind that Pierre Jackson has been just as, if not more, important to Baylor's success so far this year.
AJ Walton was able to keep the inertia going in the right direction a decent amount of the time when Jackson had to sit, but the step down to Gary Franklin (especially when teamed with Anthony Jones) was incredibly frustrating to watch. This is a deep team, but those guys against the starters for Kansas State was a mismatch that was almost disastrous.
Also, props to Scott Drew for sticking with his pregame plan as long as he could before switching from the zone defense that Rodney McGruder was carving up to the much more effective man defense. KSU still racked up free throws, but the ability to suddenly and effectively switch defensive schemes is quite encouraging.