USA TODAY Sports
Baylor has been good, but not great this year. Some little things could really get them to start consistently being great.
Baylor basketball has had points this season where they look like a team that has limitless potential and could make a lot of noise in March, but they have also had points where it seems like they are too young, or too inexperienced, or just not prepared well enough in order to be a contender in late March. It's not a lot of big things that are keeping the Bears from reaching their potential, but instead a collection of little things that can be fixed. I just hope the Bears fix up these problems and become more consistent quickly, because they are starting to get into the heart of conference play and there aren't going to be any more Hardin Simmons type schools on the roster to hold another practice on.
One of the things that sticks out to me when I watch the Bears is that they don't rebound as well as they should. With the presence of Austin, Jefferson, and Gathers, the Bears should be a dominant rebounding team. For whatever reason though, either the guys down low don't put a body on someone on the block, or the perimeter players are turning and watching the ball being shot instead of boxing out their man from getting a rebound. There are too many times where opposing teams get one, two, even three extra possessions due to poor rebounding. These are the types of possessions that separate good from great. If the Bears give a team like Oklahoma State or Kansas opportunity after opportunity to score points on the same possession it is going to hurt them in the long run. One thing that does affect the rebounding is when the Bears go to their 2-3 zone. One of the negative effects of the zone defense is that it makes it difficult for players guarding a zone to then find the five individuals wearing the opposite colored jerseys and preventing them from getting a rebound. It isn't easy, but it is a fundamental aspect of the game that the Bears need to take care of. With the big body of Cory Jefferson, defensive end build of Rico Gathers, and lengthy, lanky Isaiah Austin, the Bears should be able to do a much better job of rebounding the ball. More times than not, the team that wins the rebounding battle, wins the game.
The Bears are a very talented team offensively. Pierre Jackson can create pretty much anytime he wants, Isaiah Austin is a seven-footer with three-point range, and Cory Jefferson is a beast on the inside. Despite the previously mentioned players being very good on the offensive side of the ball, the Bears still have about a 2-5 minute lapse on offense that can sometimes grow to last much longer where it seems like they just can't get anything going. Baylor loves the high pick-and-roll. And with the pieces they have, I can't say that I blame them. It should set up where Pierre Jackson comes around a screen set by either Jefferson or Austin at the top of the key. If Jefferson is the screener, he is going to the basket after the screen with Isaiah Austin creeping in to the block on the opposite side of the lane, or possibly coming off an off-ball screen to get open for a 3-point look. While this is going on, Jackson can either drive to the hoop, pass to the two aforementioned players, or kick the ball out on the wings to AJ Walton or Brady Heslip. (This could also be Gary Franklin or Deuce Bello, with Rico Gathers being interchangeable with Jefferson) In theory the Bears have a lot of options to hit off of the high pick and roll, but teams have figured out that this is their bread and butter and have found ways to stop them from doing what they want to do. They are having their big man hedge over the screen very hard on Jackson and forcing him to go east and west with the ball instead of north and south which disrupts passing lanes for Jackson to dish the ball to his teammates. There have been multiple times this season where the Bears have a lull in offense where they try to do the same thing over and over again and nothing happens. This, combined with quick shots really tend to hinder this team on the offensive side of the ball. There are a lot of times where the ball movement stalls and, thus, the point production stalls. Scott Drew needs to have more plays that benefit his players more than the pick-and-roll, or at least have different variations of it to confuse defenses. Personally, I'm a fan on the back-door lob throws every once in a while that bring the house down, but I know that can only happen so much. Also, The Bears need to stop being so dependent on Jackson to do everything for the offense. Yes he is a focal point, but he is at his best when he is a facilitator. He's going to get his points, but when everyone gets involved, the ball is moved, and everyone is moving off of the ball is when the team is at its best offensively.
Starting Off Slow
I believe the Bears have fixed this as of late, but there was a stretch near the beginning of the season where it seemed like they started slow every game and dug themselves a hole that was very difficult to climb out of. For whatever reason Baylor has problems starting off on the right foot. I don't think it's that they are ill-prepared or nervous, I think that it may be that they are either too pumped for the game, or just that their focus isn't fully where it needs to be come game time. Although I will say that Baylor, more often times than not, does find a way to climb out of the holes that they dig. Just imagine if they played the way they did when they are down all of the time. A lot of people hate on Scott Drew for not being a great coach, but he has brought this Baylor team from a very, very low point in its existence to one of its highest so he has to be doing a lot right. He is a great recruiter no doubt, but if I were him I may try to instill a sense of disrespect into my players in order to get them to play with a chip on their shoulders the entire game. As a coach, and as a player, I would consider it a sign of disrespect that a conference rival would come into my house and expect to walk away with a W. I know the Bears have a ton of potential, and I know that if they play the way they do when they are down all of the time then they will be a very, very scary basketball team.
To close I just want to say how much fun it is to follow the Baylor basketball team. From seeing the guys on campus, to reading their twitter conversations, to seeing them play on the court. It's a lot of fun. (No, I'm not a creep or a stalker I promise, just hear me out.) I follow the men's team and know the players better than I do the women's, so this will just apply to them. They have to be some of the funniest guys as far as how they interact with each other. I can tell that they are a very loose team off the court, and this may translate a little bit on the court which could lead to some of the slow starts I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Every time you see Baylor basketball players interact with one another they are almost always laughing and having a good time. For example, I attended the first Baylor Basketball Chalk Talk session this past Friday which included a three person interview with L.J. Rose, Rico Gathers, and Odyssey Sims. It was pretty normal question and answer between the three of them until someone from the audience came up and asked who had the best "shoe game" on the men's team. (For those older readers let me break this down. Shoes are the most important part to a basketball player's attire. Almost every basketball player has multiple pairs of shoes they wear when they play and each pair has to look more flashy and more diverse than the last. Those that have the coolest shoes have the best "game" hence, "shoe game") I don't remember the exact quote by Rose but it was something along the lines of saying, "Yo, me, Pierre, Deuce, Brady,....and Chad got the best game. Don't let Chad fool you man he's got some nice shoes." At this point of the interview Isaiah Austin and Deuce Bello were in the crowd listening and cracking up at Rose's answer and Gathers' answer that followed when he simply said, "P-Jax and B-Hes". It was fun to see them interact with fellow students and the guy running the interview session. Also, when posed the question of how supportive the men's team is of the women's, Rose went on and on about how great it is to watch "the best point guard in the nation" in Odyssey Sims as she blushed and gave him a big hug afterward. As a recruit, I don't see why you wouldn't want to play for Baylor. Coach Drew keeps the team really loose, they have a fun time, Baylor is a great basketball program, and you get to interact with your fans on a weekly basis. Sounds like a pretty good place to be to me.
Oh, and expect to see me on ESPN in the BearPit with my Isaiah Austin goggles on today at the game when they take on Oklahoma State. It should be a great game and I can't wait for it.