No. 7 Baylor finally got a test, and they passed with flying colors.
Playing on the road in one of the toughest venues in the country, the Bears overcame a 13 point first half deficit to knock off a better-than-you-think BYU team at the Marriott Center 86-83.
And believe me when I tell you that the Marriott Center is an extremely difficult place to get a win. They routinely pack that arena with 20,000-plus fans that are just as rowdy and boisterous as the students at Maryland or Kentucky or anywhere else in the country. And they do it without being liquored up.
At this point, we can pretty safely say that the Bears are legit, that the hype this group had heading into the season was warranted.
PJIII is going to be a superstar. Brady Heslip is the kind of shooter that can be a difference-maker for this team. Pierre Jackson is a dynamic play-maker at the point. Their size and athleticism is extremely difficult to matchup with.
But if this game did anything, it exposed what could end up being Baylor’s fatal flaw.
Simply put, this team gets beat up on the offensive glass.
Coming into the game, Baylor was 208th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, which is a stat that measures the number of available offensive rebounds Baylor allows their opponents to get. That came against the 341st toughest schedule played by any team in the country. Against BYU, Baylor was even worse. They allowed the Cougars to grab 19 offensive rebounds and notch an OR% of 47.5.
And while BYU’s front line is good, its hardly considered one of the best in the country.
The issue is that Baylor approaches the defensive glass the same way they do the offensive glass. The Bears play a zone, which is always a difficult defense to rebound out of. Since the Baylor players are assigned a man to defend, when a shot goes up, they simply head to the rim without laying a body on anyone. This opens up lanes for their opponents to get to attack the back boards.
Last season, Baylor’s achilles heel was their lack of perimeter shooting and the struggles they had at the point all season long.
This season, Baylor has Brady Heslip to help spread the floor and a trio of point guards in Gary Franklin, AJ Walton and Jackson.
But until Scott Drew can find a way to shore up how this team, which is as big and athletic as anyone, rebounds on the defensive end of the floor, Baylor is going to have issues any time they face a team with a big front line.
What We Learned:
– PJIII looks much-improved from last season, as he is starting to grow into the potential that has made scouts drool for the last half-decade. He was unstoppable in the post. He went 2-2 from three. He hit pull-up jumpers. He blocked a few shots. Obviously I want to see him rebound the ball on the defensive end of the floor better, but right now I’d say he’s one of the top five players in the America.
– Don’t let Brady Heslip get hot. Seriously. Don’t. He’s the only guy on this Baylor team that is capable of hitting three or four threes in a row. And while that was LaceDarius Dunn’s role last season, Heslip doesn’t need to take 15 threes to hit six in a game.
– Everyone was talking about Gary Franklin’s debut in this game, but I think that Pierre Jackson is going to be the guy that Baylor uses at the point. He’s a better playmaker offensively, he understands that he is a point guard and he is a pest defensively.
– Quincy Miller has essentially made Anthony Jones obsolete. Same size, same length, same ability to shoot, but Miller can do so much more offensively.
– No. 7 Baylor has enough talent on their roster to be considered a favorite for the Final Four and a legitimate national title contender. Baylor’s star Perry Jones III was on fire, finishing with 28 points and making play after play down the stretch — including a tip-in with 15 seconds left that gave Baylor a three point lead late. The Bears also hit 13 threes and got 13 points seven assists out of point guard Pierre Jackson. And BYU still had two opportunities in the final 15 seconds to force overtime. That’s impressive.
– Matt Carlino is going to be a star for the Cougars. He came off the bench to score 18 points in his debut for BYU after transferring in from UCLA. He hit big shots late in the game, and while he missed the biggest — a good look at a three that would have tied the game in the final 30 seconds — his play will add a dimension to this BYU team that they lost when Jimmer graduated: a dynamic offensive threat at the guard spot.
– BYU’s big men are much better than they have been given credit for. Brandon Davies had 18 points and 13 boards. Noah Hartsock added 15 points and nine boards. Charles Abouo had 17 points and five boards. They combined to grab 14 offensive rebounds. With the way Elias Harris is struggling, the Cougars probably have the best big men in the WCC.
– Gonzaga’s beatdown of Arizona is impressive, but I think at this point I’d put my money on BYU as the favorite in the league. With Carlino, this team is more complete.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.