Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Northwestern came into the game as ten point underdogs and left with a double-digit victory over a Baylor team more interested in preening after beating Kentucky than actually playing good basketball.
Northwestern 74, Baylor 70. Baylor is now 5-3, with the three losses coming to College of Charleston, Colorado, and Northwestern. There has never been a team in Baylor history that more obviously played to its opponent than the 2012 Bears. There has never been a more 2012 Baylor Bears play than Gary Franklin bricking a layup down 5 with our team still having a chance.
I wrote most of this post with the Bears down by double-digits, before they started to actually play like a team that, as my dad likes to say, knows its ass from its elbow, so that raw frustration is going to show through. You've been warned.
Watching our defense in football is frustrating because you know our team will never take the next step without better players. You want them to be better than you have any reasonable right to expect because you do. Watching our basketball team is even more frustrating because they have those players. Isaiah Austin is going to be a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft this year. Pierre Jackson is a candidate for National Player of the Year. Rico Gathers was a top-50 recruit in the country last year. Brady Heslip has literally unlimited range. Having better players than most of the teams we play is how we've gone to two Elite Eights in three years.
Tonight the same team that just beat the defending national champions lost to Northwestern in a game they were favored to win by 10. Even worse, it happened as the other end in a loss-win-loss sandwich where both losses came at home. With the other loss being to Charleston. At one point tonight, we were down by 18. 18! Eventually we lost by only 4, but we were still outrebounded, outshot, out-assisted (not a real thing, but whatever), and for the most of the game completely out-played. They didn't look interested, much less prepared, for most of the first half. Everything that could go wrong went wrong, but it wasn't bad luck. It was awful play. The fact that the Bears were able to close the gap like they did underscores the point: they should have blown this team out from the get-go.
We started the game in a zone defense we know isn't any good because it surprised Kentucky and that means we have to do it OMGALLTHETIME. Things improved when Rico Gathers came in and we switched to man before 8 minutes passed between Baylor field goals, a display of masonry that may compromise the structural integrity of the floor at the Ferrell Center. The only semi-plausible explanation for our failure to turn up the defensive pressure for 31 minutes against a team running the Princeton offense is that Drew expected them to expect it and out-smarted himself. The logic of that sentence makes me question my own sanity. Watching this game made me long for Phil Bennett's crew so I could watch people fail while actually giving a crap. At least they try hard for the entire game, even if the results don't go their way. You never have to doubt that Sam Holl cares even while wide receivers streak by him; it's not his fault that he's not very good. Do you think this basketball team cared every second of tonight's game? I don't, and that's a serious problem.
Today was supposed to be a happy day with Baylor Football securing its future. I'm actually still pretty happy about that. But good Lord is it hard not to be disheartened by the kind of performance we saw for 3/4s of the game. A team that had every advantage over a supposedly-lesser foe laid a turd in the middle of the floor. Sure, it's just one game in a season with 30+, but the fact that it's December doesn't mean this game counts for something less. You're supposed to improve every time you take the floor, not vacillate between amazing and putrid depending on the name on the other team's jersey.