Stock Report: Baylor falters, Xavier improves and UMass stays put
A week after Seth Davis issued his annual Stock Report, let's take a look at what three of Wednesday's games can tell us about the outlooks of three tourney contenders.
Stock down: No. 12 Baylor (lost 82-72 at Texas Tech)
Even after a slight slide following last week's drubbing at Iowa State, the Bears seemed prime candidates for a market correction after a fall semester spent feasting on softies in Waco. But a double-digit loss - after a 19-point halftime deficit - to Texas Tech? The same Texas Tech whose best previous win (by far) was over Houston in Brooklyn? That's not just a market correction. That's a sign of trouble.
Baylor is now 0-2 in road games and 2-3 when not enjoying a home-state advantage, those wins being against Division II Chaminade and a nailbiter against Dayton, a mid-tier Atlantic 10 team, in Hawaii. (The Bears' win over Kentucky was technically on a neutral floor, but in Texas.) The Red Raiders may not be as hapless as their underwhelming list of wins suggests: their losses to West Virginia (by three in overtime) and LSU (by two) were close, while 6-7 senior Jaye Crockett (who had 19 points on 12 shots) is one of the Big 12's more underrated players.
But Wednesday's result had as much to do with Baylor's issues as anything Texas Tech did. Isaiah Austin, a 7-foot-1 NBA prospect, once again failed to succeed in the post, missing all six of his field goal attempts and grabbing just two rebounds in 22 minutes. Cory Jefferson, his burlier colleague inside, had just one board of his own in the first half, during which the Bears got out-worked 22-12 on the glass. Jefferson finished with a paltry eight points and three rebounds. And Brady Heslip, normally a deadeye shooter, missed all five of his three-point attempts.
Most importantly, Baylor didn't defend well, allowing the Red Raiders to shoot 57.1-percent from the field and make five of 11 threes, a marked uptick from their percentage of 32-percent from deep. At times it seemed Texas Tech could go inside as it pleased as well; on one exemplary second-half possession, 7-foot reserve Dejan Kravic - who had nine rebounds and six assists while matching his season-high of 14 points - drove past Austin from the perimeter and into the heart of the Bears' defense for an easy finger-roll. It was the third time Baylor allowed a team to shoot better than 50-percent, the other two times being its other two losses.
It is not all doom and gloom in Waco. Thanks chiefly to the efforts of Kenny Chery, who had 14 of his 22 points and all three of his assists in the second half, the Bears did manage to salvage what could have easily stayed a blowout. But thus far Baylor is a team that often looks disconnected and less than the sum of its parts (see its paltry six assists in this game, a season-low) and has yet to make any sort of statement outside of hospitable environs. If it wants to climb back into Big 12 contendership or make an impact come March, it'd better start proving it can.
Stock up: Xavier (won 78-69 vs. Georgetown)
Xavier spent much the last six weeks making Thanksgiving weekend - when its nightmarish trip to Atlantis resulted in being swept by Iowa, Tennessee, and USC - feel like forever ago. The Musketeers won eight straight before a narrow loss at Creighton on Sunday. For much of Wednesday's game against Georgetown, it looked like that underwhelming November iteration of the Musketeers had returned. But with an 80-67 win earned on the back of a 44-14 run, Xavier ended up looking more like a team with its sights set on March.
Granted, Georgetown wasn't at full strength: Already absent key forward Greg Whittington, who was dismissed from the team in November, the Hoyas were also without big man Joshua Smith (academics) and clamp-down guard Jabril Trawick (broken jaw), while forward Nate Lubick sported a protective mask after injuring his nose against Butler over the weekend. But that made Xavier's early hole - at home no less - that much more flummoxing. Even with Semaj Christon, the Muskies' emerging sophomore guard, capably shouldering the offense, the typically poor-shooting Hoyas drained a barrage of threes (they made 10 of their first 14) and held a 17-point lead with 15 minutes left.
What must be most encouraging for Xavier about the comeback that followed was that it came as the Musketeers too were shorthanded. Once Xavier had cut Georgetown's lead to five with just under nine minutes to go, Christon - who by then had scored all of his team-high 18 points - headed to the bench after picking up his fourth foul. But with Christon on the sideline, the Musketeers' trickling comeback only flowed more strongly. As the Hoyas went cold from outside, the Musketeers earned trip after trip to the free-throw line, supplemented by timely jumpers from Dee and Myles Davis. Matt Stainbrook, the lumbering but deft Western Michigan transfer who has emerged as Christon's complement inside, scored only seven points in the game, but with eight rebounds and six assists, he illustrated how valuable he could be on a night when his scoring acumen betrays him.
Such balance and resilience bodes well for Xavier as it goes forward into Big East play. Now all alone in third place behind Villanova and Creighton, Chris Mack's Musketeers have made their case that they are the league's best challenge to that premier duo - and, assuming they put to bed whatever issues plagued them in the first half, a team no one will want to see in the postseason. They were picked to finish seventh in their new conference in October, but much like the Bahamas, that seems like a long time ago too. But all those years when Xavier went dancing? Why, those don't seem so distant at all.
Stock stable, for now: No. 19 UMass (won 88-87 at George Mason)
The night's wildest finish took place in Fairfax, Va., where Atlantic 10 newcomer George Mason - hosting a ranked team at the Patriot Center for the first time ever - turned the ball over three times in the final 30 seconds en route to seeing a three-point lead turn into a one-point loss.
UMass, which also walked a tightrope in its wins over Saint Joseph's and St. Bonaventure last week, spent much of the game playing catch-up, trying to account for the leaks springing in its 26th-ranked (per KenPom.com) defense. It was Sherrod Wright who did much of the damage, his 26 points propelling a middling Patriots team into position for the upset. But it was also his miscues that would let it slip away. After the teams exchanged trips to the free-throw line, Minuteman standout Chaz Williams - an A-10 player of the year candidate who scored 26 of his own while adding eight assists - stole the ball from Wright and scored on a layup to cut the Patriots' lead to one with 18 seconds on the clock. Trapping on the ensuing inbound pass, Williams again stripped Wright, then drove to the hoop. His layup missed, but Derrick Gordon, who had left the game earlier after a nasty-looking fall under the hoop, put it back to take the lead with eight seconds left. Bryon Allen lost his handle on a frantic drive up-court, resulting in a scramble that would give Massachusetts possession and the game. While the Minutemen can be relieved to have survived, the uphill battles they've created for themselves during a less-than-daunting portion of their A-10 schedule are troubling. Fortunately for them, they will play a non-conference tuneup against Elon this weekend, and they're still a month away from facing any of the league's other strongest contenders in Saint Louis, VCU, and George Washington. But if they keep trying to walk a line this fine, their second loss might come well before then.