Had planned to sit down last night to write about OSU-ISU and A&M-Tech, but instead wound up heading to the Staples Center to watch Lebron James. I was going to share a few words on the experience, but Bill Simmons beat me to it. Worth reading if you attended or watched last night's game. On to Thursday's B12 quarters:
(9) Baylor Bears vs (1) Kansas Jayhawks
LAS VEGAS LINE: Not Yet Posted
Baylor decides to defend the perimeter, crash the glass, and focus on shot selection and what happens? They blow out by 19 the same Nebraska team which won in Waco a week earlier. I saw that one coming, and as athletic as are the Bears, with the ability to hit threes in bunches, and everything to gain/nothing to lose, Baylor has to be considered a live wire for this tourney's favorites. But Thursday their resolve to fight for 40 minutes will face a much stiffer test in the quarters against top-seeded Kansas. Will the Bears be out for the count the first time they get popped in the jaw? If Kansas builds any kind of lead at all, will Baylor fold?
Let's pretend 2009 hasn't been a trainwreck and that Scotty Drew's got a grip on this team and a plan for beating Kansas. What's got to happen for the Bears to pull the upset?
- Jerrells > Morningstar. The pesky, loud-mouthed Jayhawk got the better of Jerrells in Waco, rattling his confidence and leading him down the path to a night of self-defeating play and poor shot selection. That won't do if Baylor wants to win this time around, and the key for Jerrells is to use that purty crossover to get past Morningstar on penetration. From there good things will flow: Kansas breakdowns, Jerrells free throws, open jumpers for Carter/Dunn, etc. And what if Self throws Collins at Jerrells? Same thing: drive at him. Over and over. Collins is strong, but he's foul-averse and not outrageously quick. At his best, Jerrells is capable of playing MVP basketball. He'll need to tomorrow.
- Rogers & Lomers stay out of foul trouble. Baylor's going to get outrebounded tomorrow; the question is how bad it'll be. If Rogers (30+ minutes) and Lomers (20-25) can stay on the floor to keep Kansas from totally owning the paint, Baylor can survive. Rogers, in particular, can't spend time on the bench with fouls or it's gonna get ugly for the Bears.
- Convert turnovers into points. Sherron Collins is a gamer, but he and his backcourt mates are turnover prone. Tyshawn Taylor is a turnover machine with poor handles, while both Morningstar and Reed make terrible decisions when under pressure. Baylor needs to make life tough on Kansas' guards and, critically, turn some of those turnovers into transition baskets. Set in the halfcourt, Bill Self teams always defend well. Stealing 15+ points in transition would be huge.
THE PREDICTION: Oh, how I want to pick the Bears. If they put it all together, I have no doubt at all they can take down a beatable Kansas squad. Still, the percentage play is clearly with the Jayhawks -- they have a substantial frontcourt advantage, defend well with far greater consistency, and the better coach. Still, I'm expecting a fight from a Baylor team playing with nothing to lose. Kansas 80 Baylor 78
#5 Texas Longhorns vs #4 Kansas State Wildcats
TELEVISION: Big 12 Regional (Details)
LAS VEGAS LINE: Not Yet Posted
This match up provides for Texas fans a nice test that we'll call "Am I An '09 Skeptic?" See which side of the conversation sounds right to you and slap a label on yourself:
Optimist: Yes, K-State took down the 'Horns in Austin earlier this season, but the Longhorns are a different team now.
Skeptic: Oh, yeah. Totally. AJ Abrams' 5-21 night was an aberration we haven't seen since. Oh, wait...
Optimist: Okay, okay. AJ needs to play within himself, but when he does we actually look good. We were fine in Lawrence until the last 5 minutes when he started jacking. And anyway, what about Balbay and Pittman? Both have assumed greater roles since the K-State debacle.
Skeptic: Granted, but the Wildcats represent precisely the kind of team that gives this group trouble. They're reasonably deep and have athletes at every position. That spells turnover trouble, foul trouble, and no rebounding edge. And they'll be the fresher team. You like that recipe?
And so on... I of course want to be optimistic, and if Texas plays well they'll win this, but I'm not so foolish as to count on as much. How about this -- If I see Texas perform well in four of the five categories, I'll feel great:
- Texas penetrates the basketball regularly.
- Texas limits KSU to 10 or fewer offensive rebounds.
- No foul trouble for Pittman, Balbay or James.
- Texas limits turnovers to 15 or fewer.
- Atchley or Johnson is shooting well enough to give Dexy space down low.
There may be some stating the obvious here, but it's pretty much that simple. Those are the key areas with which Texas struggles and lead to losses. Clemente's not going to fill it up for 80 points again and the 'Cats just don't shoot well enough to win if they're not doing their usual excellent work on the offensive glass. This is one where Texas either does the important things well and wins, or BON becomes a sullen bicker zone one more time.
THE PREDICTION: I liked what I saw from both Johnson and Atchley today, I do think Dogus' increased importance since the teams' first meetings is relevant, and I hope to God that in reviewing game film from the first match up the coaches refuse to let AJ Abrams gun it indiscriminately once again. Prove me right, Longhorns. Please. Texas 69 Kansas State 66