Sunday, December 4, 2011
Dizzying Baylor talent dominates N'western
By Eamonn Brennan
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Just minutes after Baylor's dominant 69-41 win over Northwestern on Sunday, Baylor forwards Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller sat down in the Welsh-Ryan media room next to guard Pierre Jackson.
One reporter, confused about the personnel on hand, addressed a question to Miller as "Perry" -- or Perry Jones III.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Miller said, feigning offense but taking the slight in stride. "I'm Quincy. Quincy Miller, by the way. That's crazy."
You can forgive the confused reporter, who at that moment must have felt a lot like the Wildcats team Baylor had just thoroughly dispatched. With Acy, Jones, Miller, and even reserves Anthony Jones and Cory Jefferson, Baylor's frontcourt is loaded with extremely long, extremely athletic, and extremely gifted basketball players. If one of them doesn't block your shot or dunk on your head -- or show up to your postgame press conference, for that matter -- another surely will.
It's a dizzying array of talent. Crazy, even.
That talent was on full display Sunday. By the time Baylor had opened up a 12-4 lead after just five minutes, it became clear that Northwestern's best chance of beating the Bears was to make as many open 3s as possible. The looks were there, but the makes never came: NU shot just 14-of-58 from the field and made only four of its 26 3-point field goal attempts on the afternoon.
As the game went on and Northwestern lost confidence in its outside game, the Wildcats tried to drive the paint. Usually, they found Acy -- who finished with six blocks on the afternoon -- waiting to send their attempts the other way.
The Cats, who never cut Baylor's lead to less than 20 points in the second half, were overwhelmed.
"They're definitely the most athletic team we've seen this year," Wildcats freshman guard Dave Sobolewski said.
Acy was willing to go one step further: He believes this team is deeper and more athletic than the one he played on in 2010, which featured future NBA draft pick Ekpe Udoh and reached the Elite Eight before losing to eventual national champion Duke.
"Big Josh Lomers [former Baylor forward] was big, but he wasn't too athletic," Acy said, laughing. "We've got a lot more depth this year, a lot of guys who can do a lot of special things."
Pierre Jackson missed only one of his eight shots on his way to 16 points.
The Bears have proven that much. They've also proven a certain level of balance, one borne out by the box score Sunday: They got balanced and efficient scoring from Jackson (7-of-8 from the field, 16 points) and Acy (8-of-10, 16 points) in addition to 12 points from the just-returned Jones III and 6 assists from Miller, one of the most highly touted freshman additions in the nation. Many of those buckets were easy finishes around the rim, the product of size, quickness, leaping ability or some combination of the three.
Of course, that doesn't mean this team is necessarily better than the 2010 version. Just more athletic. The question is where the Bears can go from here -- whether this team, with all this talent, can make an even deeper run toward a national championship in 2012.
It may be too early to tell. After all, Baylor will face its fair share of athletic groups in Big 12 play, even if none can quiet match the depth and breadth of this team's talent along the front line, they could press the Bears in ways Northwestern was simply too outmanned to accomplish. Perhaps the thrashing delivered in Evanston was as much a function of a particularly favorable matchup (Northwestern may well be the most below-the-rim team in the country) or a particularly out-of-character shooting night. (It was that: John Shurna came in averaging around 43 percent from beyond the arc, but shot a dismal 0-for-7 on Sunday, many of those misses coming on open looks. Drew Crawford was the only Wildcat to make more than one 3 in the game, and he didn't exactly set Welsh-Ryan alight with his 3-of-8 day.)
Perhaps that's why the win, despite its impressive dimensions, doesn't quite feel definitive. There is much more to learn about this Baylor team, and it surely has learning of its own to do along the way. The Bears are off for finals until Dec. 14, and their beefed up 2011-12 schedule includes three more nonconference games of note -- at BYU on Dec. 17, versus Saint Mary's and West Virginia in Las Vegas on Dec. 22-23 and against Mississippi State in Dallas on Dec. 28 -- before they begin their chase of a Big 12 title in January.
Baylor coach Scott Drew acknowledged the early date, but he likes what he sees so far.
"Sometimes people say 'How do you manage a lot of people that could have egos,' or whatever," Drew said. "We just really have good kids. They buy into team.
"With us having a lot of new guys and with just getting Perry back, I think we'll be a much better team come February than we are now. What I've really been impressed by is the unselfishness of the players. [...] As long as we defend, play hard and stay unselfish, I think good things can happen."