Baylor's Weak Showing (and Other Super Tuesday Notes)

Published: Feb 05, 2014 20:34pm EST
By mds2929, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Feb 05, 2014 @ 08:42pm EST


While "Super Tuesday" didn't deliver the same level of drama as did "Big Monday," plenty of storylines came out of the top-heavy slate of games. Here are five that stand out as potentially having a big impact come the stretch run of the regular season into tourney time in March:

1. "Baylor is soft" isn't a meme, it's fact.  

It may not be hyperbole to call the Bears the nation's most underachieving team not only in relation to their downward spiral since the start of conference play, but also given the spate of talent on the roster. Kenny Chery (JUCO), Gary Franklin, and Royce O'Neill were all added in recent years as high-profile transfers, adding to a talent pool built around star recruits Isaiah Austin, Rico Gathers, and Taurean Prince. When one notes that leading scorers Brady Heslip and Cory Jefferson worked themselves up to the point of being major contributors, Baylor's roster looks amazing on paper and imposing on the court.

However, despite a 12-1 start OOC that included neutral court wins against Colorado, Dayton, and Kentucky, BU has floundered to the tune of a 2-7 mark in Big XII. Coming off of a vital, potentially season-saving win in Stillwater against Oklahoma State, the Bears responded by dropping their fourth consecutive home game in what turned out to be lopsided fashion. While losing to Kansas is certainly no crime, the manner in which Baylor fell is an all too familiar tale for those in Waco.

Despite fielding a starting five with impressive height, including the 6'10" Jefferson and 7'0" Austin, the Bears are arguably as finesse-based a squad as you will find in the often rugged Big XII. The club's offense in the defeat to the Jayhawks was based around getting Heslip open for three-pointers and when those attempts stopped falling, that was the game. The story of the contest was Kansas' physical dominance in the paint, as the Jayhawks rebounded 47.6% of their own misses to Baylor's 28.6% while limiting the home team to that same 28.6% mark when it came to shooting from inside the arc - this despite star freshman center Joel Embiid being limited to 17 minutes played due to foul trouble.

This is not a one-off issue for BU, either, as the club ranks 193rd nationally in permitting opponents to grab 29.8% of their misses after permitting a mark of 31% last season. While Baylor's 38.1% offensive rebounding, 12th best in the country, might serve as a counter to the argument that they lack toughness, BU is just 197th in two-point shooting percentage, affording their bigs plenty of opportunities to chase their own misses. The biggest issue on offense is Austin, once one of the game's biggest recruits, yet now already deemed a questionable NBA prospect. That can happen when your seven-footer spends most offensive possessions floating around the perimeter despite shooting only 32% from downtown, with the sophomore's 42.4% mark from the floor being horrible for a player of his size and natural athleticism.

The Bears were able to beat a finesse team at its own game at OSU, but shrunk yet again when played tough by Kansas. Unless things unexpectedly change to a major degree, this club is looking like it's on the fast track to going from being ranked #7 to the ignominious distinction of being the most talented squad in the NIT.

2. Florida was arguably already the nation's top team - and they just got better.  

Astute observers noted before the season even started that the Gators could slide under the radar very quickly given that they opened play without three of the team's most talented players - transfer forward Dorian Finney-Smith, suspended point guard Scottie Wilbekin, and #10-ranked recruit Chris Walker. True to form, a three-point loss at Wisconsin and a one-point defeat at the buzzer at UConn saw Florida tumble all the way down to #19 in the polls. Since that point, however, the Gators have been an unstoppable wrecking crew.

A home defeat of Kansas and neutral court edging of Memphis have kickstarted a 14-game win streak that includes a 9-0 start in SEC, with UF weathering four road tests while winning each of their five conference home game by at least ten points. Included in that number is last night's 68-58 takedown of visiting Missouri in which the Tigers' 25th-ranked adjusted offense shot under 40% from the floor, while leading scorers Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson, who entered the contest combining to average just over 39 ppg, tallied a mere 29 points between them on 10-27 shooting from the field.

Such efforts have been commonplace for Florida's 8th-ranked defense, as is seeing different players step up offensively. With Mizzou limiting the impact of UF's deep frontcourt, guards Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II totaled 33 pts on only 17 FGA, thanks largely to Wilbekin's 13-16 night at the line.

As if Florida wasn't already deep enough given its talented guards and exceptionally capable post players, led by seniors Casey Prather and Patric Young, they are now able to add the ridiculously talented Walker to the mix. Finally cleared for action, the heralded freshman played just seven minutes, but quickly showed what he has to offer thanks to a pair of impressive blocks and a thunderous throw-down of an alley-oop just before halftime.

Given his late start and the experience of the big men on the roster, there shouldn't be huge expectations for Walker to carry the mail. However, by the end of the season, the freshman should bear some resemblance to Chris Wilcox during the forward's two years at Maryland, a truly scary proposition for opponents facing an already stacked lineup.

3. Iowa might wind up being the Big Ten's most overrated team.  

An inordinate amount of time has been spent picking apart the seasons of the Big Ten's top teams and for good reason. Michigan has already gone on a massive roller coaster ride, Michigan State is a major question mark as long as it suffers from injuries in the frontcourt, and both Ohio State and Wisconsin have fallen out of the rankings altogether despite being among the final teams to lose a game this season. Almost by default, the Hawkeyes have been the beneficiaries, as Fran McCaffery's junior-and-senior-laden team has soared as high as #10 in the rankings and entered Tuesday's action at #17. A closer examination shows that Iowa is more on an RPI darling than anything else, though.

Currently 11th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings with the #6 adjusted offense and #31 defense, it's hard to find fault with the Hawkeyes' statistics. However, Iowa played an absurd total of seven teams OOC that currently sit 191st or worst in Pomeroy's rankings, beating those clubs by an average score of 91.6-54.9. While all six of the squad's defeats have come against strong opponents, a sign that they haven't been taking any bad lossess, the results on the positive side are quite scant.

OOC, the best wins that the Hawkeyes can point to came against Notre Dame and Xavier, two clubs that have been trending in the wrong direction. The same can be said for conference victories vs. Minnesota and at Ohio State, although, bizarrely, the strength of victory for winning in Columbus was bolstered by the Buckeyes emerging victorious in Iowa City last night. Iowa was poised to hand Wisconsin its first defeat until McCaffery exploded on the referees, with the coach watching from the locker room as the Badgers rallied for the win. Just last week, shorthanded Michigan State was primed for the taking only for the Hawkeyes to let the visitors' lone healthy scoring options, Keith Appling and Gary Harris, carry MSU to an unlikely overtime road triumph.

And then there was the aforementioned loss to the Buckeyes, with the oft-horrendous OSU offense being permitted to shoot 51% from the floor and hang 45 points in the second half, surging to a victory that was basically gift-wrapped thanks to clueless endgame play by Iowa (failures to foul down multiple possessions, driving for a layup down six in the final seconds, et al). Despite rebounding nearly half of its misses against a rugged foe, a staple of the Iowa offense, the Hawkeyes still could not hold off OSU.

While its raw offensive numbers may look nice, Iowa is decidedly mediocre from downtown, its leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble is an inefficient volume shooter, and its most efficient player, rebounding machine Aaron White, has trouble creating his own shot against bigger defenders. Of its three remaining tough matchups (vs. Mich, vs. Wis, @ MSU), two are at home where Iowa has held serve, which could potentially lead to its profile being reinflated. However, it might be wise to delve a little deeper before immediately placing trust in this team come March.

4. Kentucky shows the importance of patience.  

Few things in sports are as insufferable as hype, but among that select number are the reactions of individuals when a hyped-up team doesn't immediately live up to expectations. Such has been the case for the Wildcats this year, as yet again UK was installed as the preseason #1 due to fielding a lineup full of McDonald's All-American freshmen/sophomores and yet again every Kentucky defeat has been spun as a failure. Even worse, the lazy narrative that John Calipari's team "can't win on the road" has been trotted out three years after it should have been buried for good.

Frankly the similarities between Kentucky's loaded 2010-11 team and this year's iteration are startling. In 2010, the club's lone OOC defeats came on a neutral floor vs. UConn and at North Carolina, while 2013's squad took neutral court losses against (then #2) Michigan State and (#20) Baylor with another road loss to UNC tossed in. The 2010-11 team went 8-0 in SEC play at home, but just 2-6 on the road, including a regular season-concluding victory at Tennessee that allegedly saved their season. This year's club is currently 5-0 at home after pounding Ole Miss last night and 2-2 on the road, although an overtime defeat at Arkansas and falling short at LSU (both bubble teams) have attracted more scorn than this weekend's win at Mizzou netted praise.

Ignored in all of this panic was that both teams also grabbed their share of neutral court triumphs and wins over quality opponents, with yet another similarity being that each took out arch-rival Louisville. For all the sturm und drang about the 2010-11 team's woes, they looked fairly proficient on a neutral floor come March. Not only did Kentucky win its games in the SEC Tournament by an average margin of 13 ppg, they upset #1 overall seed Ohio State on the way to the Final Four before falling by one against eventual champion Connecticut in the National Semifinal. That can happen when you allow NBA talents like Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight a full season to mature, and is why writing off a team led by still-developing freshmen Julius Randle, James Young, and the Harrison twins would be pure folly.

5. Providence is living out Groundhog Day.  

For a school that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since the halcyon days of Ryan Gomes in 2004, it's easy to hope that this year is the year that things will change. To Ed Cooley's credit, he has most certainly improved the program at Providence after Keno Davis' disastrous tenure. However, despite being extremely talented, something seems to go askew every year to derail what could be, if not should be, the Friars' return to the Big Dance.

2011-12: After opening the season 11-2 in Cooley's first season, Providence was rudely welcomed to Big East play with four straight losses - only to then crush visiting Louisville by 31 points. The Friars' response to establishing themselves as a potential bubble team? Losing nine of the next ten contests and later getting destroyed 79-45 in the first round of the BECT to miss out on the postseason altogether.

2012-13: Despite playing a weak slate early, Providence was 8-2 entering a five-game stretch in which they were favored in three of the games. The Friars dropped all five contests, including road losses to in-state foes Brown and Rhode Island, and a shameful home defeat to DePaul. Despite having topped Villanova, Providence was down-and-out at 10-11 before suddenly ripping off a 7-1 stretch that included a road takedown of the Wildcats and a home victory over Cincinnati. As the darkest of darkhorses entering the BECT, the club again flopped, scoring a mere 44 points against the aforementioned Bearcats.

2013-14: This takes us to the present in which a veteran Friars team followed up a pretty mediocre OOC slate by ripping off five consecutive Big East victories, including devastations of both Creighton and Georgetown. In good shape heading into last night's home tilt with a St. John's team that Providence had beaten in double-overtime in NYC, the Friars imploded defensively. Three members of the Red Storm scored at least 18 points, while the visitors shot 50% from the floor to help negate Bryce Cotton's stellar performance for Providence (32 pts, 6 asts).

Despite having an elite volume scorer and distributor in Cotton, along with steady contributors Kadeem Batts, Tyler Harris, and LaDonate Henton, the Friars don't excel in any particular area. As a result, they tend to be mercurial, which is not a characteristic that one wants when fighting for an NCAA bid. The big positive for Providence is that it has five road games and a home date with Villanova left on the slate, meaning that opportunities will be there to offset last night's disastrous showing. Unfortunately for the Friars, it's impossible to tell when, if ever, they plan on stepping up to the plate.

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