November 15, 2011
You either view them as the team you saw in the first half — An incredibly talented bunch that will likely underachieve and be maddeningly inconsistent, much like Scott Drew's club did last season.
In the second half, though, a focused Baylor bunch turned a close game into a runaway in the closing minutes, gave regular flashes of that limitless potential and, well, looked like it actually deserved its ranking.
Chances are, Baylor will likely show glimpses of both versions at times this season. They just need the latter to overshadow the former.
Just what was the difference, though, in that second half?
Frankly, it was defense.
SDSU, though still legitimately a top-three team in the Mountain West, doesn't resemble Steve Fisher's loaded squad from a year ago, which won 31 games, won the program's first ever NCAA tournament game and featured arguably the best front court trio in the nation. But the Aztecs hung around, bothered the bigger and more athletic Bears on the defensive end and were down just two at the half.
Baylor was too sped up and too sloppy on the offensive end in the game's first 20 minutes. And while they didn't necessarily look disciplined with their shot selection and execution after the break, the results on offense looked much better when the Bears truly applied their athleticism on defense. Putting SDSU on its heels helped Baylor find a flow, and honestly, the Bears have enough talent to do that to everyone they face this season if they feel like it.
Even without Big 12 preseason Player of the Year Perry Jones III, who is serving a five-game suspension to start the season, Baylor's length was imposing against the overmatched Aztecs. In the end, SDSU only had eight assists on 21 made field goals, while turning the ball over 21 times.
So defense will clearly be a key moving forward for Baylor. Here are a couple more, based on what we saw Tuesday …
• Quincy Miller needs to continue to be fearless on the offensive end, and it doesn't look like that will be a problem. He's averaging 18 points over Baylor's first three games and on a roster full of veterans, he already looks like the team's most seasoned scorer. It also doesn't hurt that he's 6-of-10 from long range so far, helping keep defenses honest against him. When Jones III returns, that front court goes from scary-good to, well, whatever is better than that.
• Point guard play must remain consistent, especially from highly-touted juco transfer Pierre Jackson. Though he still showed on Tuesday that, at times, he can get a bit out of control, he was solid overall, finishing with seven points, nine assists and only four turnovers in 25 minutes. Last season, while Baylor grossly underachieved and finished 18-13 and missed the NCAA tournament after being a preseason Top-20 team, the lack of quality point guard play was the obvious achilles heel.
• Sophomore Boston College transfer Brady Heslip needs to continue to stretch opposing defenses with his 3-point shooting. He hit four of them on Tuesday and is now 8-of-20 in three games. Baylor lost a prime outside shooter in LaceDarius Dunn to graduation, but he also had a tendency to shoot his team out of games when it just wasn't clicking for him. It doesn't appear that will be an issue with Heslip.
Baylor is just an odd team right now, because it could either become a Final Four contender or again be agonizingly frustrating to watch. Tuesday's showing on national TV proved that it's likely a more mature group than the one Scott Drew worked with a year ago.
So … stay tuned.