College Basketball Nation: LaceDarius Dunn

Summer Buzz: Baylor Bears

August, 18, 2011
8/18/11
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Our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive preview with some analytic fun. Today's subject: Baylor.

In retrospect, there were three real candidates in the contest for 2010-11's Most Disappointing Team. (Believe it or not, there is no ESPY for this. But there should be.) Those candidates were Michigan State, Kansas State and Baylor. To me, the winner is Baylor, and I'm not sure it's even close.

Michigan State was mediocre, but at least the Spartans rallied in time to keep Tom Izzo's NCAA tournament appearances streak alive. Kansas State was massively disappointing on and off the court, but Jacob Pullen caught fire late in the season, the Wildcats easily secured a tournament bid, and Frank Martin's team fought to a valiant, prideful end in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Loss or no, Pullen and Co. could walk off the floor with heads held high.

Baylor, on the other hand, never got there. For all the expectations and talent -- the Bears were a popular preseason Final Four pick thanks to the arrival of touted recruit Perry Jones and the return of star guard LaceDarius Dunn -- Scott Drew's team just never seemed to sort it out.

[+] EnlargePerry Jones
AP Photo/Jerry LarsonPerry Jones (5) averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season.
Earlier this year, during the glorious height of Bubble Watch -- my body still hasn't recovered from the circadian disruptions -- my editor Brett and I would frequently get on the phone and hash things out. Who deserved to drop off? Who deserved to stay on? Why or why not? Each week, it seemed, brought some measure of discussion about Baylor. Every week, we kept waiting for the Bears to give us a reason -- besides the general softness of the bubble -- to warrant serious bid consideration. Every week, Baylor disappointed.

It was a weird, frustrating experience. I can only imagine how Baylor fans felt. Eventually, the Bears mercifully dropped off The Watch, finishing 18-13 and underperforming even the most bearish (sorry) analysts' preseason predictions.

Why? Why was a team so talented also so very mediocre? The answer is actually pretty simple: point guard play.

For all of the talent at Baylor last season, the Bears never recovered from the loss of former point guard Tweety Carter, who helped lead the team to the 2010 Elite Eight appearance that so inflated 2011's expectations. With Dunn and forward Ekpe Udoh garnering most of the headlines for that run, Carter's excellent point guard play often went unnoticed. With Dunn back, Jones arriving, and forward Quincy Acy preparing to take a larger role, it was assumed that sophomore point guard A.J. Walton would be able to pick up right where Carter left off, that the Bears' vaunted high-flying offense would just keep putting points on the board.

That didn't happen. Oh, did it ever not happen. Walton struggled, and that's putting it nicely. He posted one of the highest turnover percentages in the country in 2011, coughing up the ball on 32.1 percent of his possessions. In 2010, Baylor's turnover rate was 20.2 percent -- not great, not bad, right in the meat of the curve.

In 2011, with Walton at the helm, that team turnover rate jumped to 23.4 percent, one of the highest figures in all of college hoops. (Team rank: No. 322. Ouch.) Walton was, to put it bluntly, a turnover machine, and those turnovers contributed in a big way to Baylor's overall offensive mediocrity. Throw in Walton's shaky shooting, and the Bears' offense lost much of its dynamism, especially on the perimeter.

Per Ken Pomeroy, in 2010, the Bears ranked No. 3 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. In 2011, they ranked No. 92. More than anything else, turnovers were the reason.

Of course, it would be unfair to lay all of the blame at Walton's feet. For one, Baylor's defense wasn't nearly as good as it had been the previous season. Most assumed Jones would make up for the loss of Udoh; instead, the touted freshman came along slowly, a prototypically gifted athlete who hadn't quite figured out how to turn his talents into dominance. That was especially true on the defensive end, where Udoh's shot-blocking -- not to mention the presence of 7-foot banger Josh Lomers -- was sorely missed. The drop-off in adjusted defensive efficiency wasn't quite as pronounced as the offensive side, but the Bears suffered a major dip all the same.

Now, as 2012 approaches, how does Baylor avoid a similar fate? Dunn is gone, but Jones and Acy are back, and they're joined by another elite talent in incoming freshman Quincy Miller, the No. 3-ranked power forward in the class of 2011. Deuce Bello, a touted small forward prospect, is also arriving this fall. The Bears will have another supremely long and athletic team, one most experts will pick to contend for the Big 12 title and a spot in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. But can they get the offense back on track?

Again, the answer is point guard play. A major improvement by Walton in his junior season is one option. But there is another: In April, Baylor inked point guard Pierre Jackson, one of the top junior college players in the country. When asked why he chose Baylor, Jackson gave his appraisal of the BU personnel to the Magic Valley Times-News:
"What Baylor has coming back next year - the front line is crazy," said Jackson. "... They got a couple NBA-caliber front-line players and they've got a couple freshmen coming in that are NBA caliber already on a couple mock drafts."

"Baylor needed a point guard pretty bad last year," said Jackson [...]. "I guess I was the perfect guard for that situation."

He's not wrong: Baylor desperately needed a point guard last year. If Jackson is even so-so -- as long as he doesn't cough the ball up too frequently -- he could be the piece that puts Baylor over the top.

Of course, as above, there are other issues. The Bears have to get better defensively. Jones has to turn all that talent -- the dude is 6-foot-11 with silky guard skills, for goodness' sake -- into star-level productivity. Miller and Bello have to be ready to contribute immediately, and Acy has to be even better on the glass.

College hoops is not the place for magic bullets. Things aren't as simple as plugging in one player for the other. There are rarely magic bullets. But Baylor, perhaps more than any team in the country, had a singular, obvious problem in 2011. If Drew can correct it -- whether with Walton or Jackson or some combination therein -- he might have a very scary team on his hands.

If he can't, the Bears are almost sure to improve. But they won't be nearly as good as they should be. Sound familiar?

LaceDarius Dunn rains 3-pointers in return

November, 23, 2010
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Baylor star LaceDarius Dunn showed little sign of rust coming off a three-game suspension due to his arrest last month on an aggravated assault charge.

Dunn was 7-for-11 from beyond the arc, scoring 24 points against Lipscomb. He appeared to be all smiles in his return to the court. To put his shooting performance in perspective, the Bears had combined for seven total 3-pointers in two previous games.

Baylor coach Scott Drew told The Star-Telegram he appreciated the cheers the home crowd gave Dunn.
"I have no voice because I've been sick with a cold, but I could have been screaming for Lace's 3's, too," Drew said. "First I want to thank the crowd for the great ovation they gave Lace.

"And then the second thing I thought people forgot how he can score, and you realized and remembered very quickly in that second half. That's why he's an All-American."

Dunn's girlfriend -- also the mother of his 3-year old son -- disputes police accounts of what happened last month, saying Dunn never hit her or broke her jaw. She also has asked that the charges against him be dropped

When asked if he was willing to address any of the legal issues he's still facing, Dunn said: "I just want to thank my fans, thank my family and everybody for their support."



Here are five things I can't wait to see in the Big 12:

1. Jacob Pullen's final challenge

Pullen and the team he leads won't have anyone to sneak up on this year. Everyone already fears the beard and, along with it, the Wildcats. But even as Kansas State adjusts to the unique pressures of being the favorite to win the conference -- and all the we're-gunning-for-you fun that entails every night -- Pullen will have an entirely different challenge on his hands.

With senior point guard Denis Clemente gone and no clear replacement waiting in the wings, Pullen might find himself performing a strange kind of double duty in the K-State backcourt this season. He might have to be both Jacob Pullen, the lightning-quick shooting guard adept at using off-ball screens and tight angles to get his looks, and Denis Clemente, the point guard determined to push the pace at all times. Is Pullen up to that challenge? Does he lose anything in the transfer? Can he do it all? And, if not, how do the Wildcats adjust?

[+] EnlargeJacob Pullen
AP Photo/Paul SakumaThe performance of Jacob Pullen may determine whether or not Kansas State can finish No. 1 in the Big 12 this season.
2. Marcus Morris and the new-look Jayhawks

It's easy to forget just how deep Kansas was last season. Bill Self's team lost three of the best players in all of college basketball (Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry) this offseason, and many still argue that Kansas, not their in-state rivals, should be the Big 12 favorite. Whether those people are right will have a lot to do with whether forward Marcus Morris takes his game to the next level.

Of course, it will also have a lot to do with whether Josh Selby, the Jayhawks' uber-talented point guard recruit who is waiting for an eligibility decision from the NCAA, is allowed to play.

Regardless of that decision, Morris will be the key. (After all, the Jayhawks did retain Tyshawn Taylor, an awfully good guard in his own right.) Morris is a skilled big man with touch out to 15 feet, but this season he won't have the looming threat of Aldrich (and all the high-low action Self ran for his interior duo last season) to free him up. Instead, for the first time in his career, he'll be every team's main defensive focus. Does Morris have enough game to succeed anyway?

3. The fate of LaceDarius Dunn (and, by extension, Baylor)

Baylor almost made it through its first truly triumphant offseason since the Dave Bliss disaster seven years ago. Scott Drew's team finished in the Elite Eight, sent forward Ekpe Udoh to the NBA draft lottery, and welcomed the biggest recruit of Drew's career in NBA lottery lock Perry Jones. And then … poof.

Just like that, Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn -- one of Pullen's few real competitors for Big 12 Player of the Year and the heart of any success Baylor would have in 2010-11 -- was charged with assault related to a domestic incident with his girlfriend and suspended indefinitely from the team.

The vagaries of Dunn's case remain strange and as yet unsettled (his girlfriend wants the charges dropped, the authorities disagree, and so on), but if things get worse, Drew could be forced to leave Dunn out of significant action in the 2010-11 season. At the very least, Dunn's mistake throws Baylor's season into question.

4. Another test for Rick Barnes

There are no doubts about Barnes's ability to build teams. The Texas coach has been one of the most prolific and impressive recruiters in his time at Texas, and thanks to the onrush of talent arriving in Austin each year, has managed to make a football school not only care about basketball but notice when it doesn't live up to expectations. Needless to say, that happened last season. After starting 17-0 and earning the No. 1 ranking, Texas slid all the way back to the middle of the Big 12 pack. The Longhorns fizzled out in the season's final months, ending with a loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament to a mediocre Wake Forest team.

The problem wasn't talent; it was chemistry, leadership and Barnes' inability to find some rotation that would maximize his players' diverse gifts. (Barnes didn't help his case when he told ESPN The Magazine that he was less concerned with winning the national title than getting his players to the NBA. That's kind of, you know, not the point.) Despite some veteran losses, the Horns are again supremely talented -- they have a top-notch batch of recruits joining last year's group -- and Barnes is again faced with the task of getting a young team, and a big group of guards, to be greater than the sum of their composite recruiting rankings.

5. Can the Tigers be ready in time?

When forward Tony Mitchell decided to take his talents to Columbia, Mo., coach Mike Anderson got the sort of recruit that ought to make most Big 12 coaches tremble. In four years at the school, Anderson has not been without talent, but his style -- the 40 Minutes of Hell hybrid he adopted from former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson -- has had more to do with Missouri's success (Anderson is 196-54 in his tenure) than any advantage in talent. Throw Mitchell, a hyper-athletic, top-15 forward, into Anderson's system, and the results could be rather frightening.

Those results, if they do happen, won't be happening this fall. Mitchell was deemed ineligible by the NCAA for the fall semester, and he's going to attempt to join the Tigers in the spring semester. That's a major blow, but if he can get ready in time, and can blend seamlessly into a young but promising Tigers team, Anderson will have one of his better teams ready to go by March. If not, the Tigers will still be good -- Mitchell's incoming classmates are likewise talented, and a returning core led by Kim English is nothing to sniff at -- but they'll have to wait on great.
We still don't know how LaceDarius Dunn's 2010-11 season is going to work out. We don't know whether the rather serious charge against him -- a felony charge of aggravated assault related to an incident with his girlfriend -- will cause Baylor coach Scott Drew to suspend his star player during what could be the program's best chance at a Final Four appearance since World War II. We don't know whether it will matter that Dunn's alleged victim, Lacharlesla Edwards, wants the charges dropped and denies having broken her jaw. All of this stuff is still getting figured out.

What we did know is that Dunn's basketball future was already in jeopardy. That's because Baylor, as is customary for students facing pending felony charges, suspended Dunn from classes. If he wasn't able to attend classes, Dunn would have been unable to complete his course requirements for the fall semester; that would have made him ineligible for the spring semester, the conference season, the NCAA tournament, and so on.

It appears that's no longer a threat. Dunn's suspension was lifted at an on-campus hearing late Wednesday, according to CBS' Gary Parrish. He remains suspended from the team, but now there's no chance of academics causing a suspension the length of which Drew himself couldn't control. Now comes the fun part: Figuring out when -- or if -- Drew can get Dunn back on the court.
If you're Baylor coach Scott Drew, you might be feeling a little like a first-term president.

Just a few months ago, Drew was riding high. His seven-year rebuilding project at Baylor -- a program he inherited after one of the worst scandals in college basketball history; more on that below -- had finally borne its first truly significant fruit. The Bears were an Elite Eight team, they had returning star LaceDarius Dunn, they were adding one of the most promising recruits in the country, and they weren't just a happy hope to win the Big 12 title and get to the Final Four. They were a bona fide contender. Everything was coming up Scott.

[+] EnlargeScott Drew
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireScott Drew and his staff are reportedly under investigation by the NCAA for their recruitment of 2012 recruit Hanner Perea.
No more. Dunn's arrest and suspension from classes for an alleged incident of domestic abuse has thrown the star guard's season into question. That's bad enough, but it gets worse: According to FoxSports.com's Jeff Goodman, the NCAA has begun an investigation of Baylor for its recruitment of 2012 recruit Hanner Perea. Multiple sources confirmed to Goodman that "Baylor assistant coach Mark Morefield sent dozens of texts to Perea’s AAU and high school coaches in July while they were coaching events," which is against NCAA rules. According to Goodman, NCAA officials will travel to Waco later this month to interview Drew and his assistants.

When it rains, it ... well, you know.

Most problematic about the report isn't the conduct -- really, guys, more phone violations? -- but the timing. On June 22, Baylor finally, after five years, saw the NCAA's Bliss-era probation lift. Goodman's sources say that Baylor was committing these violations in July, just weeks after the probation period ended. If the timing of misconduct is correct, that means Baylor waited less than a month after its long-time probation to commit its first NCAA violation. That's not something the NCAA will be particularly fond of.

Of course, Drew can't much help whether his star guard was arrested for allegedly punching his girlfriend in the face; that's one of those external bad situations that coaches can barely control, if at all. But Drew does have control over whether his assistant coaches are committing illegal recruiting offenses. No matter what some head coaches might say, that falls firmly in his job description. If his assistants failed, so did he.

So what does this mean for Drew's program? It's probably too early to speculate. There are any number of ways this can turn out. The most immediate consequence is that Baylor loses out on Parea, the No. 42-ranked player in his class, who is already seriously considering Indiana. (Parea is also looking at Alabama, Missouri and Tennessee.)

The long-term effect could be far more pronounced. Two months ago, Baylor was a program on the rise headed by one of the hottest young coaches in the country. The sins of the Bliss era were washed away. The future -- both immediate and long-term -- were bright.

Today, Baylor finds itself facing the prospect of a lost 2010-11 season followed by an NCAA investigation into alleged misconduct that happened almost immediately after a five-year probation that started thanks to the program's troubled past. The last thing any Baylor fan wants to talk about is that past, but, as of last night, Baylor's past isn't dead. It isn't even past.
Since turning himself in for alleged domestic violence against his girlfriend, things have gotten bad -- and profoundly strange -- for LaceDarius Dunn and the Baylor Bears. The weird part came in the form of a statement from Dunn's girlfriend and alleged victim of abuse, Lacharlesla Edwards, who said, despite police reports to the contrary, that Dunn never hit her, that her jaw was never broken, and that she wants the charge dropped and her boyfriend reinstated at Baylor as soon as possible.

The bad part (other than, obviously, the alleged domestic violence) are the questions about Dunn's upcoming season.

Baylor athletics and basketball coach Scott Drew have yet to rule on Dunn's status. Drew said he would be waiting for the process to play out. If Drew's decision was all that mattered, it's more than likely Dunn would be on the court sooner rather than later.

Alas, Drew's decision is not all that matters. Baylor University went ahead and did its own thing: It suspended Dunn from classes late last week, which is the school's standard operating procedure for students facing a felony charge, according to the Associated Press and Dunn's lawyer, Vikram Deivanayagam.

This presents a major problem. Dunn hasn't been suspended from his team, but if he's unable to attend classes for an extended period of time, he could find himself unable to qualify academically for the spring semester. The spring semester happens to be, you know, when the majority of the basketball season -- including the Big 12 regular season, Big 12 tournament, and NCAA tournament -- takes place. It would be something of an end-around punishment, and it's entirely possible Dunn the case could be settled and Dunn could be reinstated to the team before the fall semester is out. But if Dunn misses too many classes, that wouldn't matter.

At that point, the very valid questions of whether or not (and for how long) Baylor should suspend Dunn won't matter, either. The charge against him won't matter. His girlfriend's wishes won't matter. Dunn would miss the season anyway.

That's a Baylor fan's nightmare scenario. Even as the school awaits legal clarity, a decision from the athletics department, and a decision from university president Ken Starr, that nightmare is already in progress.

One early preseason All-America team

September, 28, 2010
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The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook is one of the few preseason must-reads for any hard-core hoops fan. Before the book comes out, Blue Ribbon releases early lists like its preseason All-America team, which popped out of hiding yesterday, and which you can see here. Seeing as it's late September, now is probably as good a time as ever to discuss such a list, yes? Yes.

The Blue Ribbon preseason All-Americans are:
Blue Ribbon editor Chris Dortch also e-mailed along the book's second, third and fourth teams, as well as its pick for player of the year (Singler), and newcomer of the year (North Carolina uber-frosh Harrison Barnes).

It's hard to argue with the first-team list, but if anyone has a major gripe, it's Duke guard Nolan Smith, who seems to have been relegated to a theoretical sidekick role here. (Smith is on Blue Ribbon's second-team.) The list is also heavy on veterans, which makes sense -- no matter the hype, it's hard to give an unproven freshman like Barnes or Kyrie Irving or Brandon Knight the nod over seven or eight proven upperclassmen returning for their junior and senior seasons. But, as in recent years, it would be no shock to see a freshman or two climb onto the All-America top five. In fact, it would be a surprise if it didn't happen.

Anyway, there's one early batch of preseason All-Americans. Without getting too worked up (preseason All-American is an award roughly akin to "future entrepreneur of the year"), gripes? Agreements? Throw 'em in the comments.

Summer Buzz: Baylor Bears

July, 23, 2010
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For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject: Baylor Insider . Up next? Michigan State.

The Baylor Bears were not a great defensive team in 2009-10. This was less obvious than it sounds.

When you watched the Bears play, it seemed like they were everywhere. Ekpe Udoh and Quincy Acy prowled the paint, Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn roamed the perimeter, and the net effect was a team fast and athletic enough to give anyone fits.

A closer look at Baylor's efficiency numbers, though, reveals a team that was far more adept at scoring than stopping. The Bears were, in fact, a team with a potent offense and a merely OK defense. Baylor ranked No. 3 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 34 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Baylor was good at preventing good looks -- they were ranked No. 20 in the country in opponents' effective field goal percentage -- but failed to keep opponents off the glass and didn't force nearly as many turnovers as you'd expect.

Entering the NCAA tournament, I sheepishly predicted that if Baylor met Duke in the Elite Eight, the Bears' interior athleticism would be too much for the more ground-bound Dukies. Naturally, I was wrong. Baylor ended up being just as soft on the defensive end as their numbers suggested. The lesson, as always: Never doubt the numbers. The numbers do not like to be doubted.

What does this mean for the 2010-11 Bears? It means Perry Jones has to be as good as advertised, and maybe better.

Replacing the talented Udoh after his No. 6 overall selection in the 2010 NBA draft won't be easy. That task will fall on Jones, the No. 3 overall power forward in the class of 2010. Jones is an athletic and versatile 6-foot-11 forward who, according to our ESPNU recruiting service Insider, "has off the charts talent and skill." Sounds great, right? The only problem: Jones' "production is no where close to what it should be." Gulp.

The rest of Baylor's stars are easier to read: Dunn will still be a ruthlessly effective shooting guard, Acy will still be a skilled scorer with an elite offensive rating (the best in the Big 12 at 125.0) and should see even more of the ball with Udoh and center Josh Lomers out of the picture. Baylor will still score in bunches. That much is clear.

What's missing here is what was missing from Baylor's 2009 team: defense. The key, then, is Jones. If the first-year player is good enough to affect the defensive interior -- to at least marginally shore up his team's own glass, and to prevent good looks in the post -- Baylor could be even more dangerous in 2010. At this point, given what we know about Jones' skills, that's a possibility.

But it's far from a certainty. Which means the 2010-11 Baylor Bears could be very similar to the 2009-10 version. Considering where Baylor was at the start of the decade, that's still awfully impressive.
College hoops has its own Dream Team. It's true: In advance of FIBA World Championships, the real Dream Team -- featuring the starting five of the Miami Heat, and some other dudes who are OK, too -- has to practice against somebody, and those somebodies are the U.S. Basketball Select team, a composition of the best college hoops players around. Which means the U.S. Basketball Select team, while not quite as mind-blowingly awesome as the crew that features some guy who made some decision that made every sports fan in the world feel like they needed a shower Thursday night, is still pretty awesome in its own right.

The 20-man roster is here. Pretty good, right? The question now is how to organize that 20-man talent into a starting lineup and rotation.

The answer comes by way of Luke Winn's Twitter poll, conducted with help from a few writers and bloggers this week. The final results of that poll are as follows:

First Team
1. Jacob Pullen
2. LaceDarius Dunn
3. Kyle Singler
4. Marcus Morris
5. JaJuan Johnson

Second Team
1a. Kemba Walker
1b. Jimmer Fredette
1c. Nolan Smith
4. Chris Singleton
5. Trey Thompkins

You could make the argument that Smith deserves a starting nod, given his performance in the NCAA tournament and his more natural point guard skills; Pullen is a bit more of a scorer, and the squad has plenty of that already. But Pullen can handle the ball as well as anyone, and there's no denying his talent, so this sounds about right.

Mike Miller makes another excellent point. As it stands, Singler is not only this team's best player, but its most versatile and therefore most invaluable. Morris and Johnson and Dunn and Pullen are all pretty position-specific guys. But Singler can play any of the forward positions and has the range to stretch the floor as a three. Plugging him in and out of a guard-heavy lineup is a major advantage.

Another semi-interesting thing about this team: Lorenzo Romar and Jay Wright are its coaches. Both guys like their teams to play a free-flowing, guard-heavy, offensive style. With that starting five's speed and versatility -- even Johnson can step out and hit perimeter jumpers -- it's easy to envision this group relentlessly pushing the ball and scoring from all angles like the Phoenix Suns. I would love to watch this team play.

Anyway, can the Selects beat Mr. Vitamin Water and his merry band of amazing millionaires? No. They can't. But if you have to practice against anybody, you could do worse than this group.

Baylor 35, Duke 32 at the half

March, 28, 2010
3/28/10
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BaylorAP Photo/David J. PhillipQuincy Acy came off the bench to score eight points for the Bears in the first half.
HOUSTON -- Some quick thoughts from a high-energy game in front of a highly-energized crowd here at Reliant Stadium:

  • The crowd advantage does matter. This place is green and it's LOUD. In the last five minutes of the half, Duke looked completely rattled. Remember, these Blue Devils have never played for a chance at the Final Four. The name on the jersey doesn't mean diddly in this building.
  • Baylor's athleticism is showing up all over the court. The Bears are much better in transition (7-0 edge in fast-break points) and the explosiveness of Ekpe Udoh and Quincy Acy is something Duke simply can't match. The big men have 12 combined points for Baylor, and the Bears are dominating Duke inside, with 20 points in the paint.
  • And forget about Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn. No one in a Duke uniform can match them. The guards have been sensational and forcing tempo and upping the freneticism for Baylor. Carter has 10 and Dunn 13.
  • Brian Zoubek's three fouls hurt but aren't a killer. The 7-footer looks extremely frustrated and hasn't really been effective in this game in the face of guys as big as him but more athletic. The Plumlee brothers have given the Devils critical minutes here, and with their skill set, might be a better option anyway.
  • Duke isn't going to win with Kyle Singler going scoreless. The junior is 0-for-6 from the floor, saddled in part by foul trouble. Take Nolan Smith out of the equation and the Blue Devils are 7-of-19. They can't win that way.

South Region: Duke-Baylor preview

March, 28, 2010
3/28/10
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HOUSTON -- A quick look to the Elite Eight matchup in the South Region, where the last Final Four ticket will be awarded:

Key to the game: The battle on the boards just might decide who goes to the Final Four. Between Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas, the Plumlee brothers, Ekpe Udoh and Josh Lomers, there’s more than enough heft in the post to make things interesting.

In its first three games of this NCAA tournament, Duke is outrebounding its opponents by an average of 14.3 boards per game. That not only leads to easy putbacks, but it extends Duke’s possessions. Never was that more important than against slow-down Purdue, when the Blue Devils topped the Boilers by 21 on the backboards.

Baylor, meanwhile, is up eight boards per game on opponents and really took it to Omar Samhan and Saint Mary’s in the Sweet 16. The Bears topped the Gaels by 12 on the boards, but it was their 14 offensive rebounds that really made the difference.

“We can’t jump with them,’’ Thomas said. “We’re going to have to put bodies on them and let them know it’s going to be a game for 40 minutes.’’

Player to watch: Kyle Singler. He has been the difference maker for the Blue Devils, especially as Jon Scheyer has struggled in this NCAA tournament (just 6-for-26 from the arc). Singler is 13-for-22 outside of the paint, while his teammates are only 19-of-58. He’s also drained eight 3-pointers, and against Baylor’s zone, his ability or inability to get off a good shot will drastically affect Duke’s chances.

“I don’t know if he’s an X factor, but he’s probably an A, B, C, D, E, F, G factor,’’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Singler is one of the best players in the nation for a reason. He’s tremendous. He’s been playing great basketball and he’s a great player.’

Who has the edge: It’s open season on No. 1 seeds (perhaps West Virginia feels less unhappy about the perceived slight now?), and I think Duke might just fall into the heap as well. I expect a close game and a well-played matchup, but I’m not sure that the Blue Devils have what it takes to counter the athleticism of the Bears’ guards. If LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter can shoot it, I think Baylor makes its first Final Four since 1950.
Tweety CarterRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesTweety Carter and Baylor breezed past Saint Mary's and into the Elite Eight.
HOUSTON -- The picture shows the Baylor team huddled up at midcourt and just two words appear above the photo:

We’re Special.

The makeshift fliers hung everywhere inside the Bears’ locker room, taped to the doors, the walls, above lockers and on lockers.

“It’s something we did as players,’’ Quincy Acy said. “We just feel like there’s something special going on here. You can feel it. I don’t know how to describe it but you can feel it.’’

You could certainly see it on Friday night. The Bears put a hurting on Saint Mary’s usually reserved for a 1-16 first-round game, a 72-49 win that, believe it or not, wasn’t even that close.

The Gaels could do absolutely nothing against the Baylor zone -- the usually high-scoring, good-shooting team hit only 6 of 22 3-pointers and shot an anemic 35 percent from the floor -- and was equally helpless to stop Baylor.

LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter looked like they were on rollerskates as they blew by the flat-footed Gaels. Dunn finished with 23 points and Carter 14, reinventing athletic ways to score with each trip down the court.

Baylor makes its first appearance in the Elite Eight against either Duke or Purdue on Sunday.

“The best part was just seeing the excitement on all of the players’ faces,’’ Scott Drew said. “All that hard work finally paying off for them.’’

No one in the Baylor locker room would bite on the idea that they were interested in quieting the ever-yapping mouth that is Omar Samhan. They just wanted to play their game, didn’t think about it -- all of the perfect clichés. But the fact remains that Samhan, stuffed and crushed by Ekpe Udoh and Josh Lomers, finished with the most inconsequential 15 points ever recorded in a basketball game. He needed 17 shots to score those 15 points and struggled to get anything by Udoh and Lomers.

“No, we didn’t even talk about that at all,’’ Lomers said with a slight smile. “Just play our game.’’

Samhan may have taken over the spotlight this week, but the Bears have long been hanging in the shadows.

Picked to finish 10th in the Big 12, even as they started to put together good wins, the Bears were overshadowed by Kansas’ success, Texas’ failures and Kansas State’s surprising turnaround.

Now the Bears will have to guard against an unfamiliar foe -- success. Baylor’s thumping of Saint Mary’s ought to come packaged with game tapes from Syracuse. The Orange dismissed the Gaels’ West Coast Conference foe, Gonzaga, with ease, playing so well it seemed effortless. With or without Arinze Onuaku, Syracuse looked like a Final Four team.

And then the Orange got squished by Butler.

Baylor players said on Thursday they were in town for a business trip. They’ll need to keep their tie and their heads straight for Sunday’s Elite Eight game.

“We’re not done yet, we know that,’’ Acy said. “We haven’t won anything yet.’’

But they are awfully close to doing something no one could have expected. Never much of a player on the national scene to begin with, the program was written off after the 2003 tragedy/scandal involving Patrick Dennehy and Dave Bliss.

Now the Bears are 40 minutes from the Final Four.

“Forty minutes from the Final Four? In a word? Fantastic! Ecstatic! I don’t know if I can do that,’’ Udoh said.

How about special?

Final: Baylor 72, Saint Mary's 49

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
9:21
PM ET
HOUSTON -- Wrapping up a 72-49 Sweet 16 game that was never a game here at Reliant Stadium. Baylor moves on to its first Elite Eight since the tournament expanded (Baylor played in and lost the national title game in 1948), and a program decimated only seven years ago will play for a Final Four berth with a serious home-court advantage. It was every bit as green and loud in here as it was for Michigan State at last year's Final Four in Detroit.

Whoever the Bears face -- either Purdue or Duke -- will have its hands full. Here's why:

  • Baylor is every bit as good inside as it is out. It's hard to judge from the rout of Saint Mary's since the Bears were so much more athletic and talented, but the fact is the Tweety Carter-LaceDarius Dunn combo in the backcourt can dominate and so can the Ekpe Udoh-Quincy Acy-Josh Lomers triple threat inside. Mix in the way the Bears play defense with their zone and there's a very good reason why Baylor is in the Elite Eight.
  • The only worry the Bears have right now is falling into the Syracuse trap. Remember, the Orange absolutely pasted Gonzaga in the second round and fell apart against Butler on Thursday night. Baylor can't afford to put a whole lot of stock in this win. The Bears played near flawless basketball, but the caveat is the opponent wasn't exactly up to snuff either. I'd suggest not even watching the tape.
  • You have to feel for Omar Samhan and the Gaels. The quotable senior ends his collegiate career humbled and silenced. He had 15 points but they were all but inconsequential in this rout. Samhan was exposed against the much stronger and tougher Baylor big men.

HOUSTON -- Some quick thoughts from a halftime beatdown that resembles a CYO versus NBA All-Star game.

Yes, that's the correct score. No, it is not a typo. Yes, it is that bad.

  • The word mismatch does not adequately describe what's happening here. Baylor is stronger, tougher and more athletic at every single position. Saint Mary's has no one who can penetrate the Baylor zone, no one who can contain LaceDarius Dunn or Tweety Carter, no one who can match up with Ekpe Udoh.
  • The Gaels, who said they played against zones all year, look like they've never seen one before in their lives. They are 2-of-12 from behind the arc, have no idea how to get the ball inside and have spent more time standing around than moving.
  • Omar Samhan has gone from potential NBA player to a guy in need of a stand-up routine. The big man has two points and cannot get his shot off against the Baylor bigs. He's 1-of-8 from the floor.
  • Meantime anyone who thought the Baylor to the Final Four pick was just trendy, please consult the score. Dunn and Carter have 27 points combined and have done things with the basketball that the St. Mary's players couldn't do with a ladder. Mix in a 25-15 rebounding edge against a team that has just as much size, six 3-pointers and just two turnovers and what's not to like?
HOUSTON -- Here’s a quick look ahead at the Sweet 16 matchups in tonight’s South Region:

Baylor vs. Saint Mary’s

Key to the game: Overlooked in the Omar Samhan frenzy is the fact that the Gaels are one of the best shooting teams in the country. They set a school record with 270 3-pointers this season and connected on 41 percent from beyond the arc. Saint Mary’s will need all of that and more against a Baylor zone that, with Ekpe Udoh in the middle, is both long and active.

“Our defense changes as far as our zone," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We’ll always tweak it and adjust it to the team we’re playing and what they like to do. I know with Saint Mary’s, they have an inside and outside attack. We’ll have to make sure that we keep them on their toes and try to keep them guessing and not let them get in a rhythm.’’

Player to watch: LaceDarius Dunn. The most highly recruited player to choose Baylor when he signed three years ago, Dunn has more than lived up to the billing. A gifted athlete who can shoot 3s, beat you off the bounce and is one of the best finishers in the game, Dunn is averaging 19.4 points per game. Only five teams have been able to hold him under double digits in scoring all year and frankly, Saint Mary’s doesn’t have anyone in the backcourt to keep up with him.

“Dunn is one of those guys you might do a great job on defending him and he still might score," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. “We’ve watched enough film on him. We know he’s a tough match-up for anybody."

Who has the edge: Considering how well the Gaels did against Villanova it’s hard to say they’ll have a tough time because of the backcourt of Baylor. But here’s the twist: The Bears have a much better frontcourt than the Wildcats. Ekpe Udoh, the Michigan transfer, and Quincy Acy add length to that zone but also offer inside/low post scoring.

Mix in what will essentially be a homecourt for Baylor -- Waco is just a three-hour drive and many alums call the Houston area home -- and the Saint Mary’s magic runs out.

Duke vs. Purdue

Key to the game: Purdue has had trouble scoring since Robbie Hummel went down with his knee injury, but the real problem in this game for the Boilermakers is going to be rebounding. If Purdue can hold its own on the boards, the Boilers’ improbable run can continue. If they can’t, it could be like last year all over again when the Blue Devils crushed Purdue on the boards, 44-26, in a 16-point rout in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

“At times with this team, when we’ve won against teams that are bigger than us, it doesn’t come down to always about with that size,’’ Matt Painter said. “It comes down to chasing down rebounds and being quicker to the basketball. That’s what we’re going to have to do to be successful against them.’’

Player to watch: Jon Scheyer. The guard is coming off a horrible shooting night against Cal, 1-of-11 from the floor, 1-of-8 from the arc. Mike Krzyzewski talked to him after the game, reminding Scheyer to relax and just play his game. If he starts shooting it well early, Purdue could be in trouble quickly.

“He doesn’t shoot the same shot all the time and that means you’re thinking about different things,’’ Krzyzewski said. “Jon wants it so badly. I came in here and heard his answer, ‘I knew we were playing great defense and if I hit that shot, we could break it open.’ So that’s not the reason you take that shot. You should take your shot because it’s open and you shoot it. So he’s putting more on it.’’

Who has the edge: Duke hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2004, not much of a drought for most programs in this country but Duke isn’t most programs. The Blue Devils are well aware of the drought and the doubting Thomases flocking around their program. But it’s not just the desire to prove people wrong that gives Duke the edge. The Blue Devils are one of the better defensive teams in the country, holding teams to just 48.5 points in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. For a team like Purdue that has been struggling to score since losing Robbie Hummel, that’s not good news.

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