For the first time this year, the Baylor Bears are on the wrong side of the bubble. With their loss to Iowa State 87-82, the Bears fell to 16-10 overall and just 7-6 in the Big 12 conference, with just two home games remaining both of which are against the top two teams in the conference. To say that this loss hurt is an understatement. This loss might have killed the Bears chances of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the first time under Coach Drew.
The Bears have been to the NCAA tournament in 2008, 2010, and 2012. In each subsequent season, they have been ranked highly and fallen late in the year all the way out of the Big Dance. This year, the Bears are looking like they are going to follow the same path, as they were ranked as high as 16th in the country, but have lost five of their last 7 games.
Against Iowa State, the Baylor defense fell apart as the Cyclones shot 54% from the field, including making 11 of 28 three-pointers. They had four players in double figures, with both Melvin Ejim and Tyrus McGee scoring over 20 points. This was a balanced attack for Iowa State, who had 18 assists on their 32 made shots.
The Bears offense actually played well in this game. They didn't turn the ball over like they did against Kansas State in their last game, and still had a good shooting percentage making 48.5% of their shots. They actually had the same number of field goals made as Iowa State with 32, but the Cyclones made 3 more three-pointers, and had 2 more points from the foul line.
The Baylor offensive star of the night was by far Pierre Jackson, who might have played his best all-around game of the year. He had 30 points, on 13-19 shooting, 8 assists against just 3 turnovers and also added in 3 rebounds and 2 steals. It was truly a great performance…from everywhere except the free throw line. Pierre was the main culprit for the Bears shooting just 55.6% from the free throw line, as he was just 1-7 from the charity stripe and had 6 of the Bears 8 misses from the line. For a 78% free throw shooter, that should never happen. But it is hard to hold that against him as the rest of his game was about perfect.
Unfortunately for the Bears, they didn't get the balanced performance that they needed to compete with the red-hot Cyclones. Cory Jefferson was the only other Baylor player in double figures with 15 points. Isaiah Austin struggled terribly all over the court, and was just 3-11 for 9 points. A.J. Walton continued to take bad shots and was 2-8, while Brady Heslip made two of his first four shots, but then missed his next three on the way to a 9 point game.
But again, the offense played well enough to win this game, primarily due to the efforts of Pierre Jackson. Defense is where this game was lost. For some reason, in the last two games, the Scott Drew has had his team switching on every ball screen. This pretty much means that if a post player screens for a guard, the two defenders will switch responsibilities, putting a guard on a post player and vice-a-versa. This has put the Bears into some terrible matchups and allowed open looks when another defender has to help a smaller guard in the post.
Iowa State destroyed the Bears whenever they had that matchup in the post, either with dribble penetration right at the smaller defender in the post who is not a shot blocker, or by kicking it out whenever a player on the perimeter helped in the paint. McGee and Korie Lucious hit several bit three-pointers in exactly those situations.
But post defense wasn't only an issue for guards on those switches. It was also a major issue for Isaiah Austin whenever he was on the floor against Georges Niang, the Cyclones freshman big man. Niang finished 7-9 from the field for 15 points, most of those coming with Austin on him. He pushed the taller Austin around all over the block, got great position and used his strength to seal Austin and really went right after the rim, which eliminated any shot blocking chances.
When Niang wasn't in, it was Melvin Ejim who was tormenting Austin, but this time on the glass, where he got a game high 12 rebounds. This was a terrible game for the 5-star freshman. He was scored upon too easily, gave up excellent position in the post, rebounded terribly in the first half, and couldn't find his offensive game, even when a smaller player was guarding him.
But despite all of those issues defensively, the Bears had numerous chances to get control of this game. Iowa State had leads of 9 and 8 both whittled back down to 1 or 2 points in the middle of the second half. Both times though, the Cyclones would hit a three-pointer or two to extend the lead back. The Bears would get the lead down to 5 a few times in the last 10 minutes, but never lower than that until 5 seconds left.
This was a game lost on the defensive side of the ball, and with the curious decision to switch on the vast majority of screens, it will be interesting to see if Drew sticks with a strategy that is clearly failing, or if he tries something else with the Bears headed up north to Norman in another game that they cannot afford to lose.