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First Impressions of the Baylor Men's Basketball Team

Disclaimer:  I love basketball, but am not a basketball guy so any actual analysis is purely accidental.  I know Baylor has played two other games, but many of you may not have actually seen the Bears play yet.  

On Saturday night, I wandered into the Ferrell Center to catch the first Baylor Men’s Basketball game of the season.  The Bears hosted Texas Southern, the preseason favorite to win the SWAC and most likely an NCAA tournament team.  Considering that the #1 Lady Bears played at 6:00, I was hoping many of the "Blue Hairs" would stick around for the Men’s game, but apparently the 9:00 PM tipoff was past their bedtime and the FC was left rather empty, as in less than 5,500.  It should be noted that the student section was also very paltry.  What crowd was there was certainly into the game.  In case no one in Waco noticed, Baylor almost lost membership in an AQ conference this past summer . . . again.  Unless Baylor fans actually want to play in the SWAC, then I suggest Baylor Nation  attend Baylor games.  Why a top 15 basketball team and top 25 football team cannot compete for the affections of Baylor students over the infamous Scruffy Murphy’s is beyond me. 

Oh yes, the actual game.  Well if I could describe the new intro music and video I would, but I can’t and I won’t.  If you happened to like the introduction, good for you, it just wasn’t my cup of tea, mostly because I don’t drink tea anyways.   The starting lineup for the game was AJ Walton at the 1 (yes, I was nervous and should be too), the Canadian Brady Heslip at the 2, Quincy "YT" Miller at the 3, Quincy "The Cookie Monster" Acy at the 4, and redshirt freshman Corey Jefferson at the 5.  Remember that Perry Jones has to sit out the first 5 games because Cam Newton and Auburn were cleared of any wrongdoing and THE Vestless State University was allowed to win the Sugar Bowl last January with ineligible players.  The game got off to a rough start as Texas Southern opened up an early lead.  Back to back threes by Heslip and Anthony Jones put Baylor on top 6-4.  However, 7 of the first 10 shots by the Bears were from behind the arc.  That is not the type of offense we are looking for as it screams no inside game.  The Bears are better suited to shoot the 3 when they feed the high or low post and get a kickout a la Udoh to the wings.  The offense struggled for much of the first half (especially at the charity stripe), but Pierre Jackson was a Vitamin B12 shot when he came onto the floor and helped the Bears carve a 37-30 lead at half.  Outside of Ant Jones’s scoring and Jackson’s passing, the first half left a bad, stale concession popcorn flavor in your mouth.  

                Fortunately, this game was the Tale of Two Halves.  In the second half, Q Miller got going, igniting a run that put the Bears firmly in control of the game.  OK. You know what . . . you all read the AP write up so I’m going to stop wasting my time and yours and skip  summarizing the rest of the game.  Here my impressions of the team thus far:

AJ Walton:  Walton’s stat line wasn’t bad.  5 PTS, 6 AST, 2 STL, and 2 TO.  Granted this was against a SWAC team but that’s a much better assist-to-turnover ratio than he had last year.  The turnovers he did have were bad, including one where he overthrew Heslip before even crossing half-court.  Sure, Heslip is relatively short and Canadian, but that’s no reason for sending him a pass that makes him say "What’s that Aboot?" Overall, Walton is an incredible defender and I actually like him at the 2 better than the 1.  There simply is not a better perimeter defender in the Big XII than Walton and that alone demands minutes.  The combination of Pierre and Walton will be nasty on the defensive end and will lead to many a transition bucket.  Walton still seems a little hesitant to shoot and cannot really create his own offense.  I did not get to attend the Sunday night game, but it sounded like he played well again.  If he can eliminate the turnovers, he will be a solid and improved player this year.

Ant Jones:  Man am I glad that he decided not to redshirt.  Ant was the Bears sole source of offense in the first half and a solid contributor in both games thus far (11 and 12 in the first game and 11 and 5 in the second).  He simply has a knack for putting himself in the right place at the right time to either make a timely 3, get an offensive board, and even a steal now and then.  My only criticism of Ant is that he simply can’t add strength and thus still is not a great finisher.  If he could consistently get the proverbial And 1, then his value would be much higher in my opinion.  Nonetheless, he is a four-year player that brings invaluable leadership and experience.  He is one of the better role players in this league.

Corey Jefferson:  This kid is going to be an absolute beast.  We got a taste of what Corey could do two years ago in Lawrence and I have anxiously awaited to see what he would do this year.  The redshirt year was a definite plus for Corey as he must have added at least 25 lbs. of muscle to his frame.  He has good post moves, a nose for the ball off the glass, and already has great timing (5 blks in two games).  If Corey can average double-double (and I think he can) we will be in good shape on the glass.  The Bears lacked a post scorer last year and while Corey is not a true post (neither is Perry or Acy), he seems capable of playing with his back to the basket.

Sidenote: Everybody in college is in such a hurry to get to the NBA they forget to let their bodies and their game mature.  Corey will be better for having sat out a year and developed his game and added muscle to his frame.  Even though he sat out because of transfer rules, no questions how much Udoh benefitted from having sat out a year.  Why the redshirt is not used more frequently in college is beyond me.  DO kids enjoy going to the NBA and riding the pine or playing limited minutes before they start to contribute?  Perry will benefit from coming back his sophomore year and Sullinger at Vestless State will as well.  Regardless of what the NAB does, I really hope the 2 and done becomes the norm.

Pierre Jackson:  He is silky smooth and a great passer.  When he is running the point, the offense seems to move at a quicker pace and swings the ball around the arc faster.  He has the ability to get the ball into the post, which will also help Baylor’s outside shooting and mid-range game.  In case you haven’t seen his dunks at whatever they called Midnight Madness this year, then you may not be aware that he has serious ups.  Pierre can create, he dish, and he defend.  He is a Big XII PG and I am thrilled to have him in the Green and Gold. 

Quincy Acy: For a guy whose motor is said to always be revved, it sure did not seem like it in the first half on Friday night.  I know Acy is starting, but I wonder if he really needs to come off the bench.  Not because he isn’t capable of starting, but because his energy level is better when he sees the game start and can interject his chaotic-fury into the flow.   Acy is an athletic freak and MUST be a, if not THE leader of this team.  We know he can dunk and block shots, but I want to see his turnaround shot fall with more consistency this year.   When he gets to the line, Acy is generally consistent.   He has the unique ability to quickly swing momentum on both sides of the floor and I hope he has a great Senior year as he is undoubtedly one of my favorite players to put on a Baylor uniform. 

Fred Ellis:  Really? On occasion, Fred can provide good minutes, but I’m not sure he will see the floor much with the depth that we have.

Brady Heslip:  The rumors have been that he can hit the shot off the Statue of Liberty that Jordan had to use a green screen to do.  Well? I’m waiting!  In seriousness, Baylor fans need to be patient here.  We tend to forget that although Heslip transferred from BC, he had never played in a live college game until last Friday.  His shot will begin to fall on a more consistent basis, especially when Perry and QMiller are both in the lineup and demanding so much attention.  Heslip seems to have a really high basketball IQ and I hope he can be a [insert cliché here] for the Bears.  We need his ability shoot the 3 and I think he will fill that role well.

Quincy Milller:  Sure he started off slow both games, but he has led the Bears in scoring with 17 each game.  He is an absolute stud.  He is a leader.  He has a will to win and the Bears are going places if he stays healthy.  All Baylor students should be required to leave Sing and whatever nonsensical activities they may be engaged in like eating yogurt and attending Antioch Life Group exorcism classes and see this kid play before he leaves.  Coming back from the ACL is going to take time, but Miller will consistently put up double figures.  Once he hit his first 3 in the second half, you could just see, correct you could feel his confidence level go up.    How are teams going to defend him and Perry AT THE SAME TIME?  

Perry Jones: Cannot wait to have this outstanding young man back.  But Perry, Bears don’t wear Orange regardless of the shade to any athletic event.  However, if your only other clean shirt was Maroon, then I completely understand.