SCOUTING THE BEARS
Baylor probably wasn't expecting to have eight losses at this point in the season, but the Bears are still on track to earn an NCAA bid -- provided they can win games like this one. BU can get an NCAA ticket if it beats those teams currently below it in the Big 12 standings, but can't afford to get bypassed by any of those teams. It also needs to keep in touch with Iowa State, with which it is currently tied at 6-4 in the league.
Bears head coach Scott Drew puts a team of extremes on the court at the start of games -- three guards, none of which stand taller than six feet, two inches, combine with bigs Isaiah Austin (7-1, 220 lbs.) and Cory Jefferson (6-9, 210 lbs.) to give BU a number of different ways to attack opponents.
The inside duo is very productive, with Austin, a freshman, averaging 14 points per game and Jefferson, a junior, 12.7. They are active and get on the glass well, combining for more than 18 rebounds per contest, and also are strong defensively, tallying 77 of the Bears' 103 blocked shots. Austin adds a respectable three-point rate to his floor game, giving BU some tough match-ups on the front line.
In the backcourt, senior Pierre Jackson (Sr., 5-10, 180 lbs.) is a classic scorer. He averages 19.1 per outing, and can make threes (36.8%), get to the hoop and draw fouls. He's gone to the line 128 times this year, 36 more than the next closest Bear, and has made 101 of them. Although he does get off more shots than any teammate, he's also a solid passer, dealing out 133 assists.
A.J. Walton and Brady Heslip round out the starting five, bringing different talents to the court. Walton (Sr., 6-1, 185 lbs.) handles the distribution role, and is nearly at a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He chips in with 7.0 point per game. Heslip (Jr., 6-2, 180 lbs.) is the designated sniper, recording a 48-127 stat line from three-point range this year. Look for him opposite Jackson and the ball, where he is available when the Bears swing the ball to take advantage against defenses sliding down to help against BU's other scorers.
Freshman Rico Gathers gets much of the backup work on the front line, and is a more physical presence at 6-8 and 260 pounds. He contributes a solid 5.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in just 17 minutes of action per game, and is a nice contrast to the more slender starters in the lineup. Guards Gray Franklin (Jr., 6-2 195 lbs) and Duece Bello (So., 6-0, 185 lbs.) are the major minutes-eaters in the back court. Franklin averages 3.9 points per game and moves the ball well, but shoots mostly behind the arc. He's taken just 18 shots all year from inside the line. Bello, a highly recruited player two years ago, is still working to find his footing, averaging 2.7 points per game.
West Virginia faces a touch challenge with Baylor's frontcourt, and also has to find a way to stay with Jackson, who excels at running off screens to get shots away.
West Virginia has faced, and limited, good scorers this year, so the blueprint is in place to at least contain Jackson a bit. The Mountaineers can't go under screens, which would provide space for Jackson to shoot the ball, and must aggressively hedge when it can to keep him from getting runs off one pick to go to the next one. Defenders must keep a hand up against him at all times, and also move their feet to stay with him on drives. Almoset one of every four points he scores comes at the free throw line, so playing fundamental defense and not reaching are keys to limiting his ability to light up the scoreboard. He will force things and turn the ball over at times (80 on the season) so making him handle the ball while not allowing him straight line drives at the basket is critical.
9:00 PM E
WVU 12-11, 5-5
BU 15-8, 6-4
WVU - 90
BU - 54
Up front, though, is where the problems for WVU may really lie. Austin and Jefferson are bouncy, athletic players with long wingspans, and will offer challenges for West Virginia defensively. Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Noreen aren't likely to be able to cover Austin, who ranges out to the three-point line and moves very well, so players such as Aaric Murray and Dominique Rutledge may be called upon to do so. Keaton Miles, who is being used somewhat as a defensive specialist, could also get a call there, even though he would give up some weight and a couple of inches. Murray, though, appears to be in the spotlight for this one. Can he defend Austin in the man-to-man? The Mountaineers might also deploy some zone, but it will have to range wide on the wings, where Jackson, Heslip and Franklin are all legitimate threats.
If West Virginia does play two bigs at a time, it has to get scoring from both to offset the disadvantages it will face at the opposite end of the floor. Jefferson is likely to be able to match up against Kilicli defensively, so look for some offensive sets that create mismatches elsewhere. WVU's wing shooters have a height advantage over some of Baylor's guards, and they will have to make some shots to help put the Bears into reaction mode to match the Mountaineers' scoring.
West Virginia has won all five of its games against foes from Texas this year. Baylor is riding a 17-game winning streak against Lone Star State opponents.
* * *
WVU has 11 players that average at least 11 minutes per game. For various reasons, including injury, discipline and non-performance, those 11 players have combined to miss 24 games this year.
Matt Humphrey has played in just two Big 12 games this year.
* * *
Opponents are shooting just 28.9% from three-point range against Baylor. If the Bears hold West Virginia in that neighborhood, the Mountaineers' modest winning streak will come to an end.
Baylor has outscored its opponents by 153 on three-pointers this year -- an average advantage of almost seven points per game.
* * *
Eron Harris was averaging 5.4 points per game entering the Big 12 season. In conference games, he has doubled that number, scoring 11.5 per contest.