It wasn't pretty, but Baylor went into Rupp Arena and defeated No. 8 Kentucky 64-55 on Saturday.
- Before I get into the specifics of what was a fairly sloppy game, it's worth taking a moment to recognize what an accomplishment this win was. The Bears had never won a non-conference road game against a ranked team in program history while John Calipari had never lost a home game in Lexington, where Kentucky had won 55 straight games. Before Scott Drew came to Waco, it would have been impossible to even imagine something like this happening.
- That being said, this isn't the Kentucky team everyone is familiar with. They might start to become that team as the year goes on, but right now, they just aren't very good. The two teams combined for 35 (!!) turnovers on Saturday, which is almost a turnover a minute in a 40-minute game. That's preposterous and not in a good way.
- Part of the problem was the sheer amount of length and athleticism upfront for both teams. That was an NBA paint on Saturday -- there weren't very many easy baskets to be had at the rim. The Bears had 8 blocks while the Wildcats had 5. That's preposterous too, but in a good way.
- The most surprising part of the win is how poorly Baylor played on offense. You aren't going to win too many road games against a Top 10 team while shooting 40% from the floor and having more than twice as many turnovers (19) as assists (8). However, after consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Baylor, this Kentucky team won't be in the Top 10 much longer. They already have more losses this season (3) than all of last year (2).
- The problem for the Wildcats was simple: they couldn't shoot, create shots for their teammates or score out of the low post. Their only chance of scoring was driving the ball straight to the rim, which is a problem when Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson are back there. Some of that was just bad luck, particularly Kyle Wiltjer's 1-9 from behind the three-point line, but they have to get better PG play if they're going to live up to expectations. Ryan Harrow, the transfer from NC State, looked better towards the end of the game, but he's going to have shoot better than 1-9 from the field. Archie Goodwin and Julius Mays aren't PG's and Jarrod Polson doesn't have the athletic ability to run the point at this level.
- "Lucky" Pierre Jackson continued his roller coaster play on Saturday. He played 39 minutes and had the ball in his hand almost the entire time, but for every good play he made a bad one was quick to follow. He scored 17 points (good) on 5-17 shooting (bad) and dished out 5 assists (good) on 7 turnovers (very bad) while also adding in 7 rebounds (very good). At one point, he picked up a 5-second violation as Baylor was trying to run the clock down with less than 2 minutes left. You simply can't have your senior PG doing that in a big game. You just can't.
- Baylor was in some type of hybrid 3-2/1-3-1 defense for most of the game. It worked against a disorganized and sloppy Kentucky team, but I'd have serious reservations about using it too much going forward. Scott Drew loves his zones, but he doesn't have the players to run them well. Syracuse, for example, has a 6'6/6'4 back-court, which makes it difficult to get entry passes into the middle of their 2-3 zone. Baylor, in contrast, has a perimeter trio that goes 5'10/6'0/6'2, which means they get very little defensive pressure in a zone.
- Drew also doesn't seem to trust his perimeter reserves, at all. L.J. Rose was in for 1 minute; he tried one terrible alley-oop and that was it. Deuce Bello and Gary Franklin only played 10 minutes total. The Bears are going to have to get more from their bench, particularly as they move into conference play. Walton scored 11 points on 4-9 shooting with 2 assists on 2 turnovers. This isn't a guy who needs 34 minutes of playing time.
- A particularly glaring problem is the inability of the Baylor guards to throw a proper entry pass into the post. Austin had the first two points of the game with a beautiful post move on Nerlens Noel and he never got the ball in that deep the rest of the game. Jefferson had Wiltjer, who as about as much chance as defending him down-low as I do, pinned several times and couldn't get the ball.
- Austin was matched up on the toughest front-line he'll see all season and he made several plays that showed why he'll be a Top 5 pick at the end of the season. He drove the ball all the way to the rim and drew an and-1 on Willie Cauley-Stein (a very impressive athlete in his own right) and dribbled into a smooth pull-up 3. He's 7'1 225! He's got a nice stroke, but I'd like to see him establish himself inside early and then get into his outside game. He can make the deep shot, but he went 1-5 from beyond the three-point line and 4-6 inside of it.
- Austin and Noel are polar opposites as prospects: Noel is strong and physical, grabbing 16 rebounds on Saturday, but has almost no touch around the basket. Austin is skilled and graceful, but needs to add weight and get stronger inside. He had a couple of rebounds slip out of his hands that he needs to go up strong and secure. But at the end of the day, Austin has got 3 inches on the 6'10 230 Noel, which is a huge difference, particularly as they are being evaluated for the next level.
- The Big Picture:
- A huge win for Baylor, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. With football season over, they should have a better home crowd for their home date against Northwestern on Tuesday. The Wildcats lost a lot of talent from last year, but they should be at least as good as the College of Charleston. The game to circle before the start of the Big 12 season is December 28 at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have a ton of talent upfront; that one will tell us a lot about how Baylor will do in 2013.