Brady Heslip

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Big 12 Tournament: Baylor lost, but the Bears are still dangerous

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Baylor’s legs finally gave out on them.

Playing their fourth game in four days after four weeks of what was essentially win-or-go-to-the-NIT-again basketball, you could also see the Bears tire down the stretch of their 74-65 loss to Iowa State in the finals of the Big 12 tournament.

After forcing the Cyclones to miss their first 13 shots of the game and taking a double-digit lead early in the first half, Baylor’s defense became a sieve, allowing the Cyclones to shoot 68.6% from the floor the rest of the way. It goes without saying that, for a team with some issues on the defensive end of the floor already, this was not one of their premier performances.

But that also doesn’t change the fact that Baylor has been playing some of the best basketball in the country over the last four weeks.

RELATED: Fred Hoiberg’s rebuilt Iowa State into a Final Four contender

Remember, this was a team that was 2-8 in the Big 12 heading into a February 12th game at TCU. They had lost eight of their last ten games and were on the wrong side of the bubble, but that win over TCU sparked a run. Baylor won seven of eight to close the regular season before knocking off TCU, Oklahoma and Texas en route to the Big 12 title game.

What has changed?

Well, for starters, Kenny Chery has played like one of the best point guards in the country ever since he snapped a three-game funk with a triple-double in the double-overtime win at Kansas State exactly one month ago. Brady Heslip refound his three-point stroke. Jefferson and Austin are finally playing like everyone expected them to play four months ago.

In other words, this group finally decided to play up to their potential.

And as a result, there is a chance that they could end up getting a No. 5 seed when the brackets are released.

Big 12 Tournament: Baylor advances to title game with sixth straight victory

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The early portion of Big 12 didn’t go well for the Baylor Bears, to say the least. At one point Scott Drew’s team lost five straight and seven of eight Big 12 contests, going from a team some thought to be a contender for the league title to one that looked destined to simply sit above TCU in the standings.

But there’s something to be said for a team that gets hot at the right time, and it’s clear that Baylor fits that description. The Bears have now won six in a a row and ten of their last 11 after whipping Texas 86-69 in a Big 12 semifinal Friday night. Brady Heslip shot 6-for-11 from beyond the arc and scored 24 points, leading four Bears in double figures.

As a team Baylor shot 12-for-24 from deep and 24-for-30 from the foul line, outscoring the Longhorns by 21 points from deep and 22 points from the charity stripe. And with their starting front court outplaying the Texas big men, Baylor led by 15 at the intermission and by as much as 24 in the second half.

Cory Jefferson racked up 20 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, with both Isaiah Austin (ten points, five rebounds and seven blocks) and Royce O’Neale (eight points, ten rebounds) chipping in.

Another key for Baylor during this run has been the play of point guard Kenny Chery. Chery, the replacement for Pierre Jackson, has averaged 13.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists during this 11-game stretch with all three averages being higher than his season averages.

One reason for Baylor’s struggles early in conference play was the strength of the Big 12, and when a team isn’t playing well in a conference that difficult issues have the potential to snowball. But instead of getting frustrated and splintering off, thus allowing the season to get away from them, Baylor tightened things up and continued to work. They’ve turned things around as a result, and now Baylor has the look of a team capable of winning multiple games next week.

Unless No. 12 Baylor’s defense improves, they’re not a Big 12 contender

Baylor  v Texas Tech
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Jaye Crockett led five players in double figures with 19 points for Texas Tech as the Red Raiders blew out No. 12 Baylor at home.

The final score was 82-72, but trust me when I tell you, that doesn’t do the beatdown justice. It took 30 minutes for the Bears to show up on Wednesday night, and by then they were already down 20 points. Tech was up 43-22 at the half, having held Baylor to 7-for-27 shooting. Baylor didn’t have an assist in the first 20 minutes.

Tubby Smith’s boys deserve all the credit in the world. They came out and simply out-worked the Bears. Baylor looked half-asleep in the first half, which is something that can happen on the road in league play, and the Red Raiders took advantage.

But the bigger concern for Baylor is that this may not have simply been a bad outing.

The Bears haven’t done much of anything since beating Kentucky on December 6th. Part of that was their schedule. Like any other coach in the country, Scott Drew went ahead and put together a December full of cupcakes. The Bears had beaten Colorado and Kentucky and finished in second place in the Maui Invitational in November, looking every bit the part of a top 15 team that could compete for the Big 12.

But during that month long sabbatical from quality competition, the Bears seem to have lost their rhythm. They were run off the floor at Iowa State last week, with nothing but a blowout home win over TCU in between the two losses.

Here’s the question I have: can their issues actually be corrected? The concerns for Baylor entering the season were in their back court, but Kenny Chery has been a revelation while Brady Heslip is back to being one of the nation’s most fearsome snipers. Throw in the recent performances from Taurean Prince, and the Bears have plenty of weapons on the perimeter.

The issue is that Baylor’s front line was supposed to be one of the best in the country, but it has disappointed all season long. Isaiah Austin is a better shot-blocker than he was as a freshman, but the rest of his numbers are significantly down from a year ago. Cory Jefferson is still doing what he does, but he’s at his best in a complimentary role. He’s not a focal point as a low-post scorer, he’s a rebounder that will throw down a couple of thunderous dunks a night.

What’s worse is that despite having those two — plus one of the nation’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers — the Bears are still getting waxed on the defensive glass. I get it, they play a lot of zone and rebounding is difficult to do out of a zone, but it’s still unacceptable for the nation’s second-best offensive-rebounding team to fail to corral more than 32% of the available defensive rebounds.

In fact, the Bears simply are not a good defensive team. Before giving up 82 points to Texas Tech, they ranked outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. They don’t force turnovers, they can’t end possessions by getting defensive rebounds, and they’re struggling to defend the three this season.

Unless the Bears make some serious strides on the defensive end of the floor, this quite simply is not a team that can be put in the same sentence as Kansas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State.

The Chase for 180: Tale of two games for Stanford’s Anthony Brown

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Who is the best shooter in the country?

It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Does being a “shooter” simply mean merely being a high-level marksman from beyond the arc? Can a player who thrives in the mid-range but rarely ventures out into three-point land be eligible? How heavily should we be valuing stats like efficiency and effective field goal percentage when taking all of this into account?

One number that we like to use is “180″. How do you become a 180 shooter? By shooting 50% or better from the field overall, 40% or better from three and at least 90% from the charity stripe. From this point forward we’ll track this until the end of the regular season, providing weekly updates as well as a look into how some of the nation’s best find (and connect on) their quality looks.

When looking at the improvements made by Stanford redshirt junior guard Anthony Brown, it’s best to compare this season’s numbers to the ones he produced as a sophomore in 2011-12. Brown played just five games last season due to a hip injury, leaving the Cardinal without a key option in their attack. As a sophomore Brown, who was a Pac-10 All-Freshman Team selection in 2011, averaged 8.7 points per game while shooting 39.6% from the field and 35.0% from beyond the arc.

According to hoop-math.com Brown attempted just 17.2% of his shots at the rim, making 56.5% of those attempts. And one of the big reasons why his overall field goal percentage (51.9%) has improved are the increased number of opportunities he’s found in that area of the floor. Through 15 games nearly 35% of Brown’s field goal attempts have come at the rim, and he’s converted 61.7% of those shots. Brown’s percentage at the rim may also provide a clue as to why his two performances in Oregon last week were so drastically different.

Against then-No. 17 Oregon on Sunday afternoon Brown was outstanding, shooting 10-for-12 from the field and scoring a game-high 24 points to go along with six rebounds. Four of Brown’s 12 field goal attempts could be classified as layups and he made all four to go along with hitting six of his eight jumpers (1-for-2 3PT). That wasn’t the case in Stanford’s 81-72 loss at Oregon State on Thursday night, as Brown shot 1-for-10 from the field and scored just seven points.

Brown shot 0-for-7 from two, with three of the misses being layups. On some nights things just don’t click, and missed opportunities at the rim can certainly add up when that’s the case. Was that game an anomaly for Brown? It likely was, because the junior’s shot lower than 40% from the field in just five of Stanford’s 15 games to date. If Brown can continue to get to the basket and, just as importantly, continue to convert those opportunities other parts of the floor should open up for him.

While scoring options such as Chasson Randle and Dwight Powell receive the majority of the attention and rightfully so, Brown’s return (especially with the loss of Andy Brown to another knee injury) was an important development for a Stanford program looking to break through and reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

THE TOP TEN (Note: Players much be eligible to be ranked in FG%, 3PT% and FT%. And here’s a glossary that includes the stats you’ll see used in these posts. Tempo neutral numbers per kenpom.com.)

1) Austin Tillotson (Colgate)
63.5% FG, 60.0% 3PT, 71.2% FT = 194.7
Shot %: 18.4
eFG %: 71.8
True shooting %: 72.4

2) Jason Calliste (Oregon) 
48.8, 56.1, 88.8 = 193.7
Shot %: 13.9
eFG %: 61.4
True shooting %: 71.5

3) Riley Grabau (Wyoming)
48.1, 51.9, 89.8 = 189.8
Shot %: 16.5
eFG %: 67.0
True shooting %: 71.9

4) Matt Kennedy (Charleston Southern) 
48.6, 52.3, 86.8 = 187.7
Shot %: 18.2
eFG %: 59.7
True shooting %: 64.5

5) Anthony Brown (Stanford) 
51.9, 52.9, 81.3 = 186.1
Shot %: 18.9
eFG %: 61.9
True shooting %: 65.3

6) Keawe Enos (Utah Valley) 
48.8, 50.0, 85.0 = 183.8
Shot %: 15.0
eFG %: 65.5
True shooting %: 67.9

7) Michael Frazier II (Florida)
49.2, 47.3, 86.2 = 182.7
Shot %: 21.5
eFG %: 65.4
True shooting %: 67.8

8) Doug McDermott (Creighton) 
49.5, 43.4, 89.6 = 182.5
Shot %: 37.3
eFG %: 56.8
True shooting %: 62.3

9) Nic Moore (SMU)
50.4, 51.5, 80.0 = 181.9
Shot %: 20.1
eFG %: 63.7
True shooting %: 66.3

10) Jarvis Summers (Ole Miss)
52.4, 51.8, 77.4 = 181.6
Shot %: 26.0
eFG %: 61.1
True shooting %: 65.1

Five Perimeter Marksmen (20 or fewer two-point attempts) 

1) Ethan Wragge (Creighton)
50.0% 3 PT (2-for-6 2PT)

2) Jeff Elorriaga (Boise State) 
50.0% 3PT (5-for-9 2PT)

3) Ben Cherry (Charlotte)
50.0% 3PT (5-for-15 2PT)

4) Brady Heslip (Baylor) 
49.4% 3PT (7-for-20 2PT)

5) Jordan Potts (UNCG) 
47.9% 3PT (9-for-15 2PT)

Previous Installments
November 11
December 4
December 11
December 18
January 8

Baylor bests Kentucky for second straight season

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After graduation claimed do-it-all point guard Pierre Jackson from last year’s Baylor team, many wondered if Kenny Chery– a Junior College transfer from State Fair Community College in Missouri — could fill the void. Scott Drew was going to give Chery the keys to the car, but could he drive it?

Chery answered that question in Baylor’s season-opening win against Colorado, and his performance tonight in a 67-62 win over Kentucky confirmed he’s more than capable to lead Baylor.

He led all scorers with 18 points on 8-15 shooting from the field, to go along with five assists to two turnovers. Moreover, he picked his spots well — nothing was ever forced. In the final minute, with Baylor clinging to a 63-61 lead, the Kentucky defensed sagged on Chery, and he drilled a 15-footer to make it a two-possession game and all but put the Wildcats away.

Chery aside, who would have thought Baylor could have realistically come away with a win tonight if Brady Heslip and Royce O’Neale would combine for a mere eight points on five shots? Heslip looked like he was in a funk the entire night. The cast up front consisting of Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, and Rico Gathers were instrumental in the win, and neutralized Kentucky’s frontcourt.

The trio tallied 32 points and 27 rebounds between each other, and Austin turned aside five shots by himself. Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress were dominated by Gathers on the boards as he had 13 total rebounds, eight of which were offensive. For Kentucky to get out-rebounded 41-25 is simply inexcusable. For Alex Poythress to barely even show up — he picked up three fouls in six minutes — and John Calipari to receive all of two points from his bench is of serious concern.

Baylor will seemingly always have their skeptics. There is a stigma surrounding Scott Drew that he is a first-class recruiter, but still very much developing as a game coach. Things looked bleak for Drew and Baylor midway through the second half as Kentucky had a 50-41 lead after a Julius Randle dunk, but the Bears closed the game on a 26-12 run to earn the win.

Things don’t get much easier for Kentucky as their final four game of the non-conference portion of their schedule come against Boise State, North Carolina, Belmont, and Louisville. It’s hard to say Kentucky is in trouble, but there are holes in this team that Cal needs to fill — he has made this known several times during the first month of the season.

As for Baylor — a team that was a fringe Top 25 team in the preseason — they are looking like a legitimate Top 15 team with their only blemish a 74-67 loss to Syracuse at the Maui Invitational. They have the pieces with Chery running the show, and Isaiah Austin seemingly coming into his own as a force on the defensive end and improved offensive player.

While Drew has had considerable success at Baylor — he did make it to the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012, this is arguably the best win in Drew’s career. There have always been questions about his in-game abilities, but he had Baylor more ready and prepared for the game tonight than Kentucky, and it showed. With wins over Kentucky, Dayton, and Colorado; that’s a pretty good looking resume for early December.

Brady Heslip expected to play Saturday against Kentucky

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Ten days after an emergency appendectomy, Baylor junior shooting guard Brady Heslip is expected to play Saturday against Kentucky at Rupp Arena.

CBSSports.com Senior Basketball Writer, Jeff Goodman tweeted the news just after 3:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Heslip has been out since Nov. 20, only missing one game – a 63-59 loss to Charleston. Without Heslip on the floor, the Bears shot a miserable 4-of-17 from behind the arc.

Heslip returning to the lineup could turn out to be huge for Baylor, who is looking to capture an early season win after suffering a pair of bad losses – Colorado and Charleston – to start the season. It will be a tall task heading to Lexington, in an arena Kentucky has yet to lose in since John Calipari took over the program. The 6-foot-2 sharpshooter could hold the advantage for Baylor over Kentucky.

In Kentucky’s two losses this season – to Duke and Notre Dame – the Wildcats were hurt from deep on both occasions. In Nov. 13 loss to Duke, Kentucky allowed the Blue Devils to shoot 8-for-18 from three, including a trio of three’s from Seth Curry, who ended the night with 23 points. Rasheed Sulaimon added three of his own.

Thursday night against Notre Dame, as part of the Big East/SEC Challenge, the Irish’s slow-down offense consistently got open looks from deep, spreading the floor with multiple shooters. Notre Dame shot 53 percent from three (8-of-15) to pull out a 64-50 win.

With Heslip on the floor, even if he is coming off a 10-day hiatus, spreads the floor and gives Pierre Jackson more room to create. On the heels of a disappointing loss, the young Kentucky team is still trying to find an identity, trying to figure out the point guard position and more importantly looking for a leader on the floor. Both teams can get a key win to kick off the month of December in an important bounce-back game for each side.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne