For the third time since Jan. 21, the No. 4 Missouri mens basketball team (22-2, 9-2 Big 12) finds itself locked in a top 10 battle that has serious Big 12 standings implications. The No. 6 Baylor Bears (21-3, 8-3 Big 12) come into Columbia with a chip on their shoulder after getting beat down at home 68-54 by Kansas their last time out. They also will have revenge on their mind after Missouri came into Waco and beat the Bears 89-88 on Jan. 21.
Despite being ranked in the top 10 for most of the season, Baylor is 0-3 against fellow top 10 squads, one loss coming against Mizzou and two against Kansas, which also happen to be the other top teams in the Big 12 and the Bears’ only losses of the season. There has been criticism of Baylor, which is one of the most talented teams in the nation, that they cannot win the big games despite being so rich with talented players. Coach Scott Drew’s critics have voiced their opinions following their most recent loss to Kansas, which dismantled the Bears with a 14-3 run in the final four minutes of the first half, followed by a 14-0 run to start the second half.
Drew’s defensive schemes are at the center of criticisms. The Bears implement a 1-3-1 zone, which is designed with the most defensive pressure in the middle of the court. This leaves the outside game open, particularly in the corners. The defense has been shredded on the interior, however, in Baylor’s three losses. Kansas forward Thomas Robinson went for 27 points and 14 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting, while KU’s 7-foot center Jeff Withey had a career game in their second meeting, dropping 25 points. Mizzou, despite their lack of size, also saw their senior forward and only starting big man Ricardo Ratliffe score a career-high 27 points on 11-14 shooting, along with eight rebounds. Teams’ successes inside are puzzling, seeing that Baylor has one of the longest and deepest backcourts in the country, including sophomore Perry Jones III, freshman Quincy Miller, and senior Quincy Acy.
Jonathan Tjarks, a newsdesk contributor at SB Nation-Dallas, puts most of the blame for the Bears’ struggles against top talents on the defensive plan of Scott Drew.
"“The problem starts with the 1-3-1 zone, which Scott Drew finally abandoned midway through the second half [of the Kansas game], when his team was already down by more than 20 points. While running a 1-3-1, which is rarely seen in college basketball, is an interesting contrarian idea for the type of up-and-coming program like Baylor was four or five years ago, it’s a junk defense with easily exploitable holes, which is why few other top teams ever use it.”"
Tjarks does have a point that Baylor’s defense should be stronger, especially against Missouri when it has such a huge (literally) advantage on the inside. But the blame cannot come squarely on Baylor’s zone defense. Perry Jones III, Baylor’s leading scorer and rebounder, has not played his best in the Bears’ biggest games, averaging 10.3 PPG and 4.0 RPG against Missouri and Kansas, short of season averages of 14.3 PPG and 7.7 RPG.
Baylor got off to a 17-0 start to the season, and looked to be one of the elite teams in the country. They still are in terms of sheer talent, but they just haven’t looked their best when faced with other top teams. Tim Watkins, writer for Our Daily Bears blog, thinks that Baylor’s struggles boil down to translating their talent into results.
"“For Baylor in this game, I think it comes down to one thing: effort. That sounds simple, but that truly was the biggest issue I thought from the Kansas games and the Missouri game in Waco. The Bears did not fight for the full 40 minutes. What can Drew do to maximize the effort our Bears give?”"
It may be tempting to write off the Bears, despite their top 10 ranking, given the fact that Missouri has already beaten them in Waco, and Mizzou’s success at home this season. But there is no doubt that Baylor is hurt by being run out of their own gym by Kansas, and are looking for one last chance to prove they belong at the top of the Big 12. Look for the Bears to come out fighting this afternoon against a Tiger team that has been living on the edge lately, winning their last three games by a combined seven points. That being said, the matchups remain the same from the teams’ first meeting. They must limit Perry Jones III and the rest of the Bears’ frontcourt from dominating inside, which they managed to do last time. Mizzou sophomore guard Phil Pressey must also dictate the tempo of the game, which he was able to do in Waco, in his matchup with his ultra-quick counterpart junior Pierre Jackson.
Mizzou will likely have to weather the storm that will be coming from what should be a motivated Baylor squad. Mizzou is a much better team at Mizzou Arena than they are on the road, but Baylor is still a top 10 team and will be looking to prove it today. Mizzou will surely have its hands full, but can finish the week with another victory if they can play efficiently and take control of the game early.