Overreaction Central!!!! OK State Edition

Overreaction Central!!!!  OK State Edition

The Bears used a dominant interior defense with some timely shot making to beat Oklahoma State 64-54 on Big Monday.

We can pretty much start with one number and know that this was a good game for the Bears interior duo. That number? 11, of course. The Baylor starting front court of Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin got their hand on 11 Cowboy shots, and altered many more than that. It was truly a dominant performance on the inside for the Bears, in a game where Oklahoma State shot just 34.9% from the field as Baylor improved to 4-1 in Big 12 play and 13-5 overall. The interior defense was phenomenal all game, and despite an excellent performance from LeBryan Nash with 24 points on 10-19 shooting, the Bears played about perfectly against the rest of the Cowboys.

Nash, a phenomenal talent who has yet to really put it together, scored on a variety of shots and from all over the court. He took advantage of the height differential when A.J. Walton was on him, and then the speed advantage when he moved down to power forward. But this game was not about Nash. It was about a Baylor team that is starting to turn into a good defensive team. In their last three Big 12 games (we can all agree to not count Hardin-Simmons, can't we???) they have allowed 33.3% shooting for TCU, 37.7% for Kansas, and 34.9% against OSU. Compare that to their shooting on the year, and the Bears look even better.

Opponent

Against BU

Season

Difference

TCU

33.30%

41.90%

-8.60%

Kansas

37.70%

48.40%

-10.70%

OSU

34.90%

43.90%

-9.00%

The Bears are starting to really learn how to play man defense, something that was a struggle earlier in the year. They have transitioned well into this new defense, after relying on the zone defense to a fault at times last year. This year though, the Bears are a man defense, with 3 guards and 2 post players out on the court. While they usually give up height at the small forward or "3" spot, they are combatting that by putting their best defender available on that man, usually AJ Walton or Deuce Bello.

Walton is one of the best defenders in the league, and someone that plays much bigger than his 6-2 frame. He is able to use his strength to keep guys up to 5 inches taller than him out of the paint, and is quick enough to pester them into some tough shots. Bello, in limited minutes, gives the Bears a few more inches in height and elite athleticism, but is not as strong or as finished as a defensive player.

I did expect this game to be a struggle defensively on the wing, as the Cowboys should have had the personnel to do some damage against the smaller Bears. With Nash on the wing at 6-7, and then guards like Marcus Smart (6-4) and Markel Brown (6-3), the Bears would have to have a guy like Gary Franklin or Brady Heslip guarding a much more physical and offensively gifted player than they are used to. But most guys stepped up, especially on Brown who was held to 4 points on 1-10 shooting. The guards did a great job of challenging long jumpers and forcing him inside to their bigger help defenders. Jefferson and Austin (and Gathers when he was in) then did an absolutely perfect job of rotating with each other and not only covering Brown or the penetrating guard, but also covering the now open post player. Baylor's rotations and help defense were about perfect all game. I cannot remember a single time where a Cowboy player got into the paint and kicked it to an open post under the basket.

While the growth on the defensive end was easily seen with eyes and on the stat sheet, the Bears also did a few slight adjustments on the offensive end that I wanted to point out, that could be a key thing to watch going forward. With defenses keying on Brady Heslip whenever he is using screens, the Bears have adjusted to make Brady more of a passer. As Brady has been going around the screens, the screener's defensive man has been popping out and challenging the shot, either by hedging and allowing the trailing defender to catch up, or by simply switching.

Earlier in the year, the Heslip was kicking it back up to the top of the key to another ball handler or calling for another screen which would allow the defense time to recover. Against Oklahoma State though, the Bears changed how they reacted to this look. The original screener (usually Isaiah Austin this game) would immediately head to the paint to post up. This would either result in decent position against a smaller defender (when they switched on the screen) or excellent post position when the big man came out on Heslip and then had to recover to the post man.

This adjustment got the Bears quite a few really good looks. Also, when Austin was on a smaller man, the Cowboys would have to send a double team. Gary Franklin and Pierre Jackson both got open looks off of cross-court passes in those cases. A few times though, Austin took too long to make a move, allowing the double team to come and trap him, and causing a bad pass or shot. Austin has to get faster and more decisive with his post moves, especially if a smaller defender is on him. He can simply turn around and shoot over the defender.

Baylor is starting to show consistency on defense and in rebounding that they have lacked in other seasons. However, they are still not consistent enough on offense to be an elite team. The defense in this game kept after it, even with the Bears going on a 5 minute drought late in the first half after getting a 10 point lead. They would score 2 points (and miss some key free throws as well) and let OSU take the lead back.

In the second half though, the Bears would start to hit shots, especially senior point guard Pierre Jackson. The high point scorer for the bears with 18 points, Jackson struggled in the first half with just 5 points in the first 24 minutes of game action. However, an 83 second burst of excellence got Pierre and the Bears going. Jackson would hit two 3-pointers and a tough layup to put the Bears up for good.

Player of the Game – Isaiah Austin 10 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks

Austin was brilliant this game on defense. He controlled the paint on both ends and got the Bears going on defense with 4 early blocks. Cory Jefferson was just as good with 6 blocks, 11 rebounds and 11 points, but I am going with Austin for one big reason. He seemed to get in the heads up the Cowboy players and adjusted countless shots in addition to the big blocks. Austin showed why he was a 5-star recruit and one of the best prospects in the nation. He hit shots from all over the floor, including 1-3 from 3-point range. He has to get more decisive with his post moves, and clean up his work against double teams, but man, is he starting to turn into a great player.

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