Baylor Bears

Oklahoma State forward Leyton Hammonds, right, defends against Baylor forward Johnathan Motley during the first half of a NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
AP Photo/Brody Schmidt

No. 6 Baylor wins at Oklahoma State, but near-collapse raises concerns

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So much of this season has been about Baylor putting its reputation to rest. The Bears, under Scott Drew, have been the subject of so much ridicule over the years despite a high level of winning because they always seem to have a proclivity for doing some silly things on the court that costs them wins in inexplicable ways.

That’s mostly been a thing of the past this season as Baylor rose all the way to a No. 1 ranking and went into play Wednesday with a 20-3 record, though with some questions due to a two-game losing streak.

That skid was snapped in a 72-69 win at Oklahoma State, but the questions aren’t going anywhere after the Bears flirted with a meltdown of significant proportion.

After an up-to-that-point strong road performance, the final 4 minutes was a nightmare that the Bears woke up for just in time to secure a victory.

Manu Lecomte’s 3-pointer with just over four minutes to play seemingly sealed the game for Baylor when it put them up 14, but then the Bears just self destructed.

They went 0 of 3 from the floor with four turnovers in the last 4 minutes, allowing Oklahoma State to pull within one and actually have possession of the ball with a chance to take the lead with under a minute to play.

Baylor got a stop, two free throws from Lecomte and then survived a last-season heave from Phil Forte to finally close things out after needlessly turning a sure thing into almost-disaster. 

A road win is a road win, and Baylor has to be thrilled with the way it competed for 36 minutes. Johnathan Motley was unstoppable, scoring 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds. Lecomte had 15 points and four assists Jo Lual-Acuil had three blocks. It was a gutty performance against a Cowboys squad that has been on a tear, winning five straight.

Those last four minutes, though, have to concern Baylor. They went from unflappable to skittish. Turnovers were an issue in their back-to-back losses to Kansas and Kansas State that preceded their trip to Stillwater and they certainly were a culprit in the shellacking they took at the hands of West Virginia earlier this season. Seeing how Baylor nearly folded against Oklahoma State’s pressure late only stokes fear that Baylor’s got a ballhandling problem. That’s not something you want in the NCAA tournament.

For the Cowboys, it’s a missed opportunity as they try to pull out of hole their 0-5 start to Big 12 play created. Baylor was the superior team for the vast majority of the game, but when you get a chance to steal a victory in the final minute at home against a top-10 team, it’s going to sting when you don’t capitalize. That pain will be especially acute if Oklahoma State finds itself on the wrong side of the bubble in a month.

For Baylor, the task will be to ramp back up to a high level of play and consistency over the next week-plus ahead of Kansas’ visit to Waco on Feb. 18. The last week has been shaky for the Bears, but if they can steady themselves, that No. 1 seed is still very much in play.

Four takeaways from No. 1 Baylor suffering its first loss to No. 10 West Virginia

Fans celebrate West Virginia's first basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Baylor is now 0-1 as No. 1.

The top-ranked Bears were dominated by No. 10 West Virginia, 89-68, on Tuesday night in Morgantown in the program’s first-ever game being ranked No. 1 as they left Gonzaga as the country’s lone undefeated team.

West Virginia dominated for long stretches, but really put the Bears away in the second half, outscoring them 50-36. Press Virginia forced 29 Baylor turnovers.

Here are four things we learned from the game:

1. West Virginia is some bad dudes: I say that with the utmost respect, and certainly mean it as a compliment. West Virginia basketball is a 40-minute all-out assault. Forcing 29 turnovers from the nation’s No. 1 team is incredible. The Mountaineers’ intensity, aggressiveness and physicality makes them a nightmare for any team to play.

It also might be time to start looking at West Virginia as national title contender. As of this writing Tuesday evening, they’ve got a KenPom top-five offense and defense. The Mountaineers are shooting it better than other iterations of Bob Huggins’ Press Virginia teams, and that makes them dangerous.

They’ve now beaten Virginia by double-digits on the road and the country’s No. 1 team by 21 at home. That’s what Final Four teams look like.

2. This doesn’t really change anything about Baylor: Yes, the Bears are ranked as the No. 1 team in the country, but they were definitive underdogs in Morgantown. Getting beat in the WVU Coliseum, even by 21 points, doesn’t expose them as frauds or invalidate their heretofore perfect start.

It does, though, illustrate some weaknesses they have Outside of Manu Lecomte, the Bears’ ballhandling is pretty shaky and that’s what led to a lot of their troubles. You can’t be iffy with the ball against West Virginia and expect to keep it close, let alone leave with a win.

The Bears also didn’t respond well to the physicality of the game, either. West Virginia is just going to out-tough a lot of people this year, but Baylor just couldn’t respond at all. That’s a little concerning, but not by itself a major indictment given, as previously noted, West Virginia is some bad dudes.

3. The Big 12 is going to be a grind: The ACC probably has more really good teams, but the Big 12 is going to be an absolute monster for teams to navigate this season. West Virginia lost on the road to Texas Tech, which hasn’t finished higher than seventh in the league since Bob Knight was the coach, and then turned around and smashed No. 1 Baylor. There doesn’t look to be any gimmes in the league, especially when the likes of Oklahoma and Texas might be the weakest in the league.

Coming into the year, the thought was the Big 12 was going to take a step back. It’s clear that’s not the case.

4. Get rid of the hanging-on-the-rim technical foul: It’s time, right?

Daxter Miles, Jr. got tagged with a T for pulling himself up on the rim some on a tip-dunk that put the exclamation point on the evening in a statement performance by West Virginia. It looked awesome and was awesome. So, of course, Miles got penalized for it with a technical foul and some less than happy words from Huggins.

The spirit of the rule has its heart in the right place to preserve sportsmanship, but in 2017, it feels a little antiquated. For a sport that needs as much pizzazz and buzz as possible, adding a little extra flair to a dunk isn’t a bad thing.

Saddling a guy with an extra foul and giving the opposition free throws seems like overkill as a punishment anyway. If a team sees a guy swinging on the rim, get the ball and get down the floor for a transition opportunity. That seems like punishment enough.

And as an avowed #TeamTrashTalk member, I can only heartily endorse a player emphasizing the awesomeness of his dunk.

Ban the hanging-on-the-rim technical.

Ending perfection: Team that nearly beat both Gonzaga and Baylor gives their thoughts

AMES, IA - DECEMBER 13: Head coach Steve Prohm of the Iowa State Cyclones coaches with Monte Morris #11 of the Iowa State Cyclones during a time out in the second half of play against the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions at Hilton Coliseum on December 13, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions 78-64. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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And then there were two.

Baylor and Gonzaga stand as the last two undefeated teams of the 2016-17 season with matching 15-0 records. The Bears have ascended to No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 while the ‘Zags are fifth. Together, they’ve played a combined eight games that have been decided by single digits as they’ve run to their perfect records.

One team nearly gave both their first L of the season, playing them to a one-possession game with an opportunity to take the final shot of the game.

Iowa State has come as close as anyone at topping the nation’s last blemish-free programs. The Cyclones lost to Gonzaga, 73-71, in November, and to Baylor, 65-63, last week.

“They’re 30-0,” Cyclones coach Steve Prohm told NBCSports.com, “and we were in a possession game with both of them.”

Baylor faces its toughest test of the season tonight at No. 10 West Virginia while Gonzaga has Loyola Marymount on Thursday before hosting No. 21 St. Mary’s on Saturday.

Here’s what Iowa State had to say about the two teams still hanging on to perfection.

What’s allowed them to remain undefeated?

Prohm: “The length, the size up front, the skill. When you’re building a team, that’s what you look at. You want a skilled four, you want a five with motor, back to the basket and then guards who can make plays off the dribble and make shots. I think Gonzaga’s guards are terrific. They shot it really well against us. We gave them too many threes.

“Both coaches do a great job. They both recruit really, really well. They’ve done a great job.”

How to beat Gonzaga

Prohm: “Gonzaga really, really wants to get that thing up and down the floor. The biggest thing against Gonzaga is you’ve got to slow them down and then you’ve got to decide how you want to guard (7-foot center Przemek) Karnowski. Do you want to play him one-on-one, double him? The one thing we had success is we were able to run them over some and slow them down with some three-quarter court pressure to slow the game down a little bit.

“The more you can slow them down, change defenses is big.”

Point guard Monte Morris: “It’s going to be a night where they’re not shooting it great.”

How to beat Baylor

Prohm: “They don’t attack all night. Gonzaga wants to be in the 90s. Baylor’s OK with 65-63 because they’re going to slow you down on their end of the floor defensively because they’re going to make you work against their zone.”

Morris: “Guys making shots out of the zone. It’s about guarding them well, slowing (Johnathan) Motley down and making other guys make plays, and your guys making plays.”

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Villanova is the new No. 1

Villanova head coach Jay Wright shouts instructions to his team during the first half of N NCAA college basketball game against Miami in the regional semifinals of the men's NCAA Tournament in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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1. Villanova (14-0, Last Week: No. 2): It feels like what Villanova is doing this season is still flying under the radar despite the fact that they are undefeated and the No. 1 team in the country while staking claim as the reigning national champions.

2. UCLA (14-1, 3): UCLA lost on the road on a game-winner with 0.7 seconds left to a team that I now have in the top ten, a team that was in the preseason top five before we realized that Dillon Brooks, who is now healthy and mowing down opponents, wasn’t at 100 percent to start the year. I’m not concerned in the least.

3. Kansas (12-1, 4): The Jayhawks survived a scrappy TCU team in their Big 12 opener thanks to a punishing performance from center Landen Lucas. He has suddenly turned into the most important player on the Kansas team now that Udoka Azubuike is out for the year with a wrist injury.

4. Kentucky (11-2, 5): Kentucky put together their most complete performance on the season last week when they beat Ole Miss in Oxford. Isaiah Briscoe put up a triple-double, Bam Adebayo played his best game of the season and Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox did the things that Monk and Fox do.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

5. Duke (12-2, 1): So what do we do with the Blue Devils? I’m still in the camp that says that Duke has the highest ceiling of any team in the country, and I also think we’ve underrated just how good Virginia Tech is this season; the Hokies would be undefeated right now if they hadn’t choked away a loss to Texas A&M in the Wooden Legacy semifinals. This isn’t like Duke going to Boston College and taking a beating.

But Duke still took a beating, and the biggest concern was that the Blue Devils seemed to lack the effort and the intensity to make the plays they needed to make defensively. They almost looked selfish offensively, as the lack of a point guard on that roster was glaring. They played without Grayson Allen, who was serving the first game of his suspension, but the issues Duke had on display were much bigger than Allen.

Put another way, Saturday made me think that Duke may not ever get to their ceiling. But hey, at least Harry Giles III finally scored a point.

(UPDATE: And now Coach K will miss up to a month to recover from back surgery.)

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Takeaways

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6. Gonzaga (14-0, 8): The Bulldogs were pushed by both Pacific and Pepperdine this week, but came out unscathed with double-digit wins. There is a real chance that Gonzaga could head into Moraga on Feb. 11th as the lone undefeated team in college basketball.

7. Baylor (14-0, 9): The Bears keep rolling along. On Saturday, they opened up Big 12 play by mollywhopping Oklahoma in Norman. It is going to be fun when the Bears get together with Kansas this season, on Feb. 1st and Feb. 18th.

8. Wisconsin (12-2, 11): While Indiana lost twice last week and Purdue dropped a home game to Minnesota, the Badgers continue to roll along. Since Nigel Hayes made the change to being a point forward, the Badgers have looked like a totally different team.

9. Louisville (12-2, 7): Outside of Duke, Louisville is the hardest team in this poll to rank. They beat Kentucky, but they beat Kentucky by three in a game they were favored by two on their home floor, the same home floor where they were smacked around by Virginia just five days ago. But then the Cardinals turned around and gave Indiana a similar whooping in Indiana. Wherever you have them ranked, here’s what you need to admit: the Cards are, right now, as good as, if not better than any team in the ACC.

10. Oregon (13-2, 21): Oregon vaults up to No. 10 in our poll for one, simple reason: they’re back.

11. West Virginia (12-1, 12)
12. North Carolina (12-3, 6)
13. Creighton (13-1, 10)
14. Florida State (14-1, 25)
15. Virginia (11-2, 18)
16. Xavier (12-2, 16)
17. Saint Mary’s (12-1, 17)
18. Arizona (14-2, 22)
19. Cincinnati (13-2, 20)
20. Butler (12-2, 13)
21. Purdue (12-3, 14)
22. Virginia Tech (12-1, UR)
23. Notre Dame (12-2, 23)
24. USC (14-1, 19)
25. Indiana (10-4, 15)

DROPPED OUT: No. 24 Seton Hall
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Virginia Tech

Baylor cruises past Jackson St 82-57 in return to Fort Hood

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears looks on in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) Al Freeman appreciated a second chance to play in front of the soldiers and their families at Fort Hood.

The Baylor guard showed it with his best game of the season.

Freeman scored a season-high 19 points and made a career-best five 3-pointers and the fourth-ranked Bears returned to the sprawling Army post about an hour’s drive south of their Waco campus with an 82-57 victory over Jackson State on Saturday night.

A year ago, Freeman scored 12 points in a 104-59 rout of Division III Hardin-Simmons. This time he was 5 of 8 from long range in the first game featuring a pair of Division I teams at Fort Hood, one of the nation’s largest Army posts covering about 340 square miles and housing more than 40,000 soldiers.

“I know that this is the first time some of the soldiers have seen their families in 18 months, 24 months, however long they had their tours,” Freeman said. “It’s a really cool experience to be the center focus of why they come back and the center focus of them, like, seeing their family again, to be the entertainment for them and their family for the night.”

The setup was similar to a year ago, with a slightly larger and near-capacity crowd at 2,400-seat Abrams Gym, which has a large American flag on the wall behind the benches opposite the only permanent set of stands.

And just like a year ago, Baylor players signed autographs after the game at one end of what looks like a high school gym except for the larger space behind each basket. The Bears enjoyed last year’s “thank you” and wanted to do it again .

“I think everyone feels the same way, especially around the holidays when we get to go home to family and friends and so many of them don’t get to see loved ones because they’re out protecting our freedom,” coach Scott Drew said.

Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil had a season-high 17 points with six rebounds and five blocks – slightly better than his 4.3-block average that ranks second nationally. The Bears are 10-0 for the first time since starting 17-0 in 2011-12.

Edric Dennis scored 21 points for Jackson State (3-8), which stayed close until a 24-6 Baylor run that started late in the first half and ended with the Bears up 58-38 with about 12 minutes remaining.

Jackson State’s Sherron Wilson was ejected for flagrant foul that sent Johnathan Motley sprawling to the floor midway through second half, not long after Derek Roscoe was given a technical for saying something to Terry Maston after blocking Maston’s shot.

Wilson’s foul was the third technical in about 5 minutes for the Tigers.

“This is the most frustrating part of our season because we’ve have three season-ending injuries to three starters,” Jackson State coach Wayne Brent said. “So right we’re just trying to scratch and claw. Even with our other guys, we’re still short-handed because they’ve got such good talent.”

PUTTING ON A CLINIC

For the second straight year, Drew and his staff conducted a clinic for the kids of soldiers about a week before the game. “I love the clinic, coming down here and helping kids because dads that can’t be here to work them out because they’re deployed,” Drew said. “To know that their 6-year-old, 8-year-old, had a good chance to run around with the ball and get out of mom’s hair for an hour is probably a good thing.”

SPECIAL MOMENT

Jackson State guard Paris Collins briefly lived at Fort Hood while his dad spent time there. He dad was in the Air Force for 22 years. “It was a dream playing for my dad tonight,” said Collins, the other double-figure scorer for the Tigers with 16 points. “He’s done so much for me. I had `Pop’ coming to watch me, you know what I’m saying. It was a blessing for him to be here.”

BIG PICTURE

Jackson State: The three Brent referred to that are out for the year are guard Chace Franklin (shoulder), Treshawn Bolden (broken foot) and Charles Taylor (knee). The Tigers had to feel a boost by the way they played without three starters in the first half.

Baylor: The Bears were a little flat after taking a big early lead against another SWAC opponent in Southern earlier in the week. But Baylor looked like a team with three wins over Top 10 teams in a 10-minute stretch that started late in the first half.

UP NEXT

Jackson State: Tigers visit Duquesne on Monday, take an 11-day break before playing Fisk at home Dec. 30 and open SWAC play at Alabama State on Jan. 2.

Baylor: Bears have rare case of playing on consecutive days in different facilities, with a game at home Sunday against John Brown. There’s just one nonconference game left after that Wednesday at home against Texas Southern before the Big 12 opener Dec. 30 at Oklahoma.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

CBT Roundtable: College Basketball’s Biggest Surprises

Baylor's Johnathan Motley goes up for a shot after getting past Southern's Jared Sam (12) and Shawn Prudhomme, rear, in in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Rob Dauster: Be honest with me for a second, I promise I won’t tell anyone. Before the season started, how many players on Baylor could you name? I’m guessing you probably knew Scott Drew because everyone knows Scott Drew – he’s the running joke that pulled a hammy. If you’re a fan of a Big 12 team, you probably knew Johnathan Motley’s name, too. Motley is a talented dude that has never found the consistency to live up to his potential. Beyond that, however, unless you played high school ball with someone on that roster, you Baylor was probably an afterthought for you back in October.

Hell, they were an afterthought for me entering the year.

And man, what a difference a month makes, right? The Bears have put together what is, to date, the most impressive résumé in college hoops. They beat Oregon by 17. They beat Xavier by 15. They have wins over VCU and Michigan State. They beat Louisville despite trailing by 22 points in the first half. Point guard Manu Lecomte is one of the nation’s most improved players. Jo Lual-Acuil, one of the nation’s leading shot-blockers, has teamed with Motley to give Scott Drew one of the longest and most athletic front lines in college basketball. Baylor myriad of wings – Ish Wainwright, Al Freeman, Jake Lindsay, King McClure – have all played their roles well. The Bears are justly ranked in the top five and look like they will actually give Kansas a run for the league title. If you say you saw this coming a month ago, you’re a liar and we all know it.

Travis Hines: The season Luke Kennard is having for Duke. We all knew he was good. The kid was a five-star recruit who played over 25 minutes a game as a freshman for Mike Krzyzewski. That doesn’t happen on accident. The thinking went, though, that potential National Player of the Year Grayson Allen might have to take a backseat to freshmen phenoms Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden, let alone Kennard. But with those three youngsters sidelined due to injury, Kennard has emerged as perhaps the Blue Devils’ best player of the year candidate. He’s shooting 52 percent from the floor and 40.9 percent from 3-point range while averaging 20 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists for a team, despite being shorthanded or feeling its way through lineup changes this season, looks to be, maybe, head-and-shoulders above the rest of the country. Kennard being good is certainly no surprise. His being one of – if not the – frontrunners for National Player of the Year is shocking given the situation we expected him to be inhabiting.

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Terrence Payne: Notre Dame has reached the Elite Eight in back-to-back seasons, yet when the ACC preseason poll was released in October, the Fighting Irish were pegged to finish seventh in the conference. A month later, Mike Brey’s team finds itself in the top-25 nationally, sitting on a 9-1 record with the only blemish coming to No. 1 Villanova. Despite going undefeated through the first nine games – its best wins were over Colorado and Northwestern – Notre Dame didn’t prove it was the real deal until its first loss of the season, falling to No. 1 Villanova 74-66 on a neutral floor. The game was closer than the final score indicated, as the Irish had an 11-point lead at one point over the reigning national champions.

A big part of this is the play of experienced upperclassmen. Junior Bonzie Colson, the undersized forward, is having a breakout year averaging 16.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem, two seniors, are averaging 16.6 and 15.5 points per game, respectively. But the biggest surprise has been the emergence of Matt Farrell. When Jerian Grant graduated in 2015, Brey was left with the assurance that he had another future NBA Draft pick, Demetrius Jackson, to fill the void. When Jackson left, it was up to Matt Farrell, a junior guard who was in-and-out of the rotation last season.

Not only is Farrell averaging 13.0 points and 5.5 assists per game (an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3:1), his best games have been against Villanova and sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson and during the Legends Classic, where he earned MVP honors. It’ll be a tall feat to unseat Duke atop the standings this season, but Notre Dame looks the part of a top-five team in the loaded ACC.

Scott Phillips: To me, the story – not just the biggest surprise – of the 2016-17 college basketball season is UCLA. We knew they had as good of a shot to be good as they did to crash and burn again. Some people had them ranked in the preseason, many others didn’t. But nobody except Lavar Ball could have predicted this. The father of UCLA’s star freshman point guard, Lonzo Ball, predicted a national championship for a team that finished 15-17 last season, and then the Bruins back up that sentiment by going into Rupp and winning. This UCLA team is changing the way we watch college basketball by playing a blistering, three-point oriented attack that is overwhelming opponents. They could, statistically, turn out to be the best three-point shooting team ever. UCLA passes my patented “Friends and Family Test” with wild outlet passes and flying colors. If someone I know shows even the slightest bit of interest in an orange bouncing ball, I force them to watch this team play. They never regret it.