There wasn’t much in the way of high-profile matchups or huge upsets Monday, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to catch up on the important action – and trash talking – from across the country. Here’s what you need to know, starting Baylor being…pretty good?
BAYLOR IS GOOD AND NO ONE KNOWS HOW
No one thought Baylor would be particularly good this season. In fact, most thought they’d be bad, having lost the two best players – Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil – off a team that wasn’t all that good a year ago. It wasn’t just media punditry, either. The Big 12’s coaches voted the Bears ninth in the league preseason poll.
So pretty much everyone was expecting Scott Drew’s team to languish through this season, and for the select few, probably none outside Waco, Texas or without a Baylor degree framed on their wall, that actually had some hope, they certainly let go of those dreams when Tristan Clark, this year’s team’s best player, was lost for the season with a knee injury early this month. Surely, that would extinguish any hope of a meaningful season for Baylor.
Well, Baylor just absolutely stomped Oklahoma, 77-47, in Norman on Monday night to win its fifth-straight game and improve to 5-2 in the Big 12, which, would you seriously look at this, is tied for the best record in the conference. It’s honestly amazing – the team picked to finish next-to-last lost its best player and now has the best record in the league almost halfway through the schedule.
If you’re still making Scott Drew Can’t Coach jokes, you really, really need to stop. He’s the Big 12 coach of the year right now, and probably will move into the national discussion if things keep moving in the same direction.
The Bears have morphed into – I kid you not – the Big 12’s best offense during league play, per KenPom. They’re grabbing about 40 percent of their own misses to help offset so-so shooting while hoisting 41.9 percent of their attempts from 3-point range. They’re also assisting on better than 60 percent of their buckets. Makai Mason, whose foot injury made him a true mystery before the season, is shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point range during Big 12 play while King McClure and Mario Kegler have helped fill the void over the last month.
So the question here is how real is this? The offensive rebounding, which is powering the offense, seems sustainable given Drew’s teams are always great on the boards. The defense is suspect, though, with Big 12 opponents clocking in at a league-worst 53.9 percent effective field goal percentage. The Bears’ opponents are making 40 percent of their 3s. Not great. Still, though, the Bears’ schedule seems awfully well set up for them to keep the momentum. They’ve got TCU at home this weekend before a trip to Texas, which has lost five of six. Then it’s home dates with Kansas State and the Sooners again. It’s really not too hard to see them at 9-2 or 8-3 there, is it? You get there by the second week of February in the Big 12, and the NCAA tournament seems attainable with just another win or two, no problem.
We’ll see if this magic evaporates, but given what we’ve seen already from Baylor, it would almost be more surprising to see the Bears collapse than it has been to see them get here.
As for Oklahoma, not exactly an ideal way to follow up a 31-point win against Vanderbilt. The team that spent November and December piling up a great resume now has home losses to Kansas State and Baylor along with road Ls to Kansas, Texas Tech and Texas. It’s hard to make sense of the Sooners, but their upcoming stretch (at West Virginia, vs. Iowa State, vs. Texas Tech, at Baylor, at TCU) should rectify that.
GIven how the highlight reel dunks have become commonplace and the presumption is he’ll go No. 1 in June’s NBA draft, sometimes you can lose sight of how good Duke’s Zion Williamson is. Look at what the freshman did in the Blue Devils’ 83-61 thrashing of Notre Dame in South Bend.
Williamson made 10 of 12 shots from the floor, including his only 3-point attempt, had nine rebounds, four assists and four blocks in 36 minutes. It’s wild what he’s doing, and even wilder that games like this aren’t all that noteworthy any more.
TEXAS TECH BUILDS MOMENTUM
You could be forgiven if your faith in Texas Tech had hobbled over the last couple weeks. That 4-0 start to the Big 12 looked a whole lot less impressive after the Red Raiders dropped three-straight – at home to Iowa State and then at Baylor and Kansas State – followed by a “meh” win at home against Arkansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday.
Texas Tech took a step toward rebuilding that trust Monday.
The 16th-ranked Red Raiders took care of business in Lubbock against TCU with an 84-65 win in which they controlled the game essentially from start to finish.
Undoubtedly the best sign for Chris Beard and Co. was an offense that didn’t rely on Jarrett Culver to do literally everything. Culver, whose usage rate of 32.3 percent is the highest in the Big 12 during conference play, got a ton of help against the Horned Frogs with Matt Mooney scoring 18, Tariq Owens 17 and Davide Moretti 11. Culver still got his with 18 points but the fact that he was 0-6 from 3-point range didn’t haunt the Raiders with the rest of the team going 9-15 from distance.
Culver is going to have to do the bulk of the work for the Texas Tech offense this year – that’s just reality – but if the likes of Mooney, Owens and Moretti can chip in with regularity, that’s going to ease things on the Red Raiders and put way less pressure on Culver to be great and the Texas Tech defense to be near-perfect.