Monday, January 21, 2013
Saddle Up: Bigger Monday
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com
Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's (or, in this case, day's) best basketball action. "Tell them about the dream, Martin."
Oklahoma State at Baylor, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: What if I told you that the final score of Baylor's last home game was -- wait for it -- 107-38? And that they set a school winning margin record in doing so? You would probably be really impressed, right? Don't be. The Bears racked up that tally against Hardin-Simmons, which is not a Division I opponent. I suppose if you insist on being impressed by that win, you could point to the fact that Baylor was able to destroy poor law firm-rec league-sounding Hardin-Simmons without Pierre Jackson and Isaiah Austin, whom coach Scott Drew elected to rest on Saturday. Your mileage may vary.
Anyway, if there is anything to take away from that game (beyond the fact that non-D1 opponents like Hardin-Simmons are exempt from RPI calculations, which is why it is savvy to schedule one or two a season and get a guaranteed tune-up game without the requisite RPI hit) it is that both Jackson and Austin don't have to fight the fatigue of a two-day turnaround when Oklahoma State comes to town this afternoon.
That is good news, because the Bears will need both. The Cowboys have built their 2012-13 renewal on one of the nation's five-best defensive efforts this season. Freshman point guard Marcus Smart's much-lauded intangibles don't always show up in the box score, but where they do show up is on the defensive end, where Smart ranks in the top 15 in the country in steals rate and blocks 3.3 shots for every 100 possessions. He is a difficult guard to play against, because his combination of size and quickness makes him uniquely immovable when he is planted in front of an opposing guard. That lockdown work on the perimeter, combined with Oklahoma State's impressive basket protection inside the arc (OSU opponents make just 40.1 percent of their twos), have fueled this season's impressive revival.
It's also precisely why Jackson and Austin need to be well rested and ready to go. Jackson might be the quickest guard in the country and serves not only as Baylor's primary scorer but its top assist man; everything runs through him. And Austin, the talented 7-footer with real guard skills, has had a good but not great freshman season. To hold on to a win in Waco, Jackson may need to dominate, and Austin will definitely need to be a presence in the paint. So, yes. It's good they sat out against Hardin-Simmons. (It was probably good for Hardin-Simmons, too.)