What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? This week: Mark at Our Daily Bears, SB Nation's excellent blog for all things Baylor.
1) Baylor has been on a pretty good roll for the last month -- ever since destroying Kansas in Waco, 81-58, back on March 9. They're 5-1 in their last six games, with the lone loss being a tight 74-72 defeat to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament. What's gone right for the Bears over that stretch? What are they doing differently from earlier in the season?
Honestly, this was always a team with the potential to do the things it is now doing but lacking something essential to unlock that potential. A prominent baseball writer I follow for prospect reports created a concept he calls "want" that is basically the motivation to do great things and the discipline to do the things required to get there. Some players have it in everything they do; some teams get it from those players or their coaches. The truly great (of both) combine talent with "want" to achieve something. For 80% of this season, Baylor lacked "want," and it showed in their preparation and execution. The possibility of not making the NCAA Tournament, I think, shook them out of their reverie enough to make a run, it just wasn't enough. Not making the Tournament did the rest.
That's probably a far more cliche' answer than I wanted to give, but it's what I really believe. They always had the talent, the consistency from game to game just wasn't there and the team often played down to their opponents, losing games they should have won.
2) What was the expectation for Baylor basketball going into this season? Was it NCAA-or-bust? Would an NIT Championship make this a successful season for the Bears?
With the kind of recruiting class Baylor had coming in of Isaiah Austin (our highest-ranked recruit ever), Rico Gathers (a personal favorite), and the rest, combined with a senior All-American candidate point guard in Pierre Jackson, the expectations were high. We knew we had lost significant pieces from last year's Elite Eight team to the NBA-- one of which we didn't think would leave in Quincy Miller-- and had tough questions to answer. Even still, the NCAAs were (regretfully, as it now seems) considered a foregone conclusion.
3) Pierre Jackson and Cory Jefferson look like Baylor's biggest threats -- what should Iowa fans know about them? What makes them dangerous? Who are some other Baylor players that Iowa fans should know about?
Pierre and Cory (or as I like to call them, The Two Presidents) are by any account our best players going right now. Coming into the season, Pierre was a known quantity: an electrifying point guard who can both score and distribute, and he's only gotten better. Cory was much less so considering he was one year removed from a redshirt and didn't play all that much last season behind Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy. When he did, the potential was obvious, but only a liar would say they really knew what we were getting.
As it has turned out, Cory used the last three years at Baylor to turn his raw athleticism into something more: not only is he a powerful dunker at the rim, but he's also developed a decent mid-range game and upped his free throw shooting considerably. On the other end, he's become a proficient shotblocker, to boot. I hope he stays another year to continue refining his man-to-man defense and to (hopefully) increase his range. When he inexplicably made 3 3s against Kansas, I think most Baylor fans nearly died from the shock.
4) Is this NIT run something that Baylor can use as a springboard for greater success next season, or is this the last hurrah for the current era of Baylor hoops? I notice that Pierre Jackson is a senior, although most of the other key players appear to be underclassmen. What's the future look like for Baylor hoops?
The last time Baylor went to the NIT Finals (where we lost to Penn State), it served as exactly what you said: a springboard for the future. The difference then was that we had a relatively young team that needed the extra practice time and experience. This year is a bit difference since we're losing our best player no matter what, probably losing Isaiah Austin to the NBA even though he shouldn't, and perhaps Cory, as well. If he stays, he would return next year as our best scoring option and make this year's run more meaningful. If he doesn't, hopefully those young guys left behind like L.J. Rose, Rico Gathers, Taurean Prince, and Deuce Bello benefit the same way the 2009 team did.
5) What kind of game do you expect this to be? Baylor and Iowa both seem to like to push the tempo a bit when they can -- are you expecting a fast-paced, high-scoring game?
The stats say Iowa's defense is good enough to give our offense problems, even operating as it has in the NIT at much higher tempo. Your offense is also extremely good at getting to the free throw line, and that scares the hell out of me. We went into the BYU game expecting an up-tempo shootout and didn't get it until the second half. With the brightest lights and the biggest stage in basketball (in terms of the arena, not the tournament), I can see both teams coming out a bit tight until they settle down.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
Things generally go well for us when I'm a bit pessimistic, so I'll say Iowa by 5.
Thanks for being a good sport, Mark. You can check out Mark and the rest of the ODB crew at Our Daily Bears. You can also follow Mark on Twitter at @MarkCMoore and ODB on Twitter at @OurDailyBears. The Iowa-Baylor game is the NIT Championship Game in New York City on Thursday, April 4, and is scheduled to start at 8:00 pm CT, with television coverage from ESPN.