By Chris Derrett
Baylor basketball looks to get back on track when it faces Colorado at 12:45 p.m. Saturday at the Ferrell Center.
The Bears (13-6, 3-3) have few bad losses on their NCAA tournament resume, but quality wins have been almost as rare this year. A win over the Buffaloes would be just the second over a top-100 RPI squad. Baylor’s loss at Iowa State is its only defeat to a sub-100 RPI team.
“[Colorado] was picked to do better this year for a reason. And that is they have talent, and they have experience,” head coach Scott Drew said.
Colorado has proven dangerous not just at home, where it topped No. 11/13 Missouri and nearly upset Kansas, but on the road as well, taking down Kansas State in a 74-66 contest earlier this month.
A pair of wiry guards have led the charge for Colorado. At 6-foot-6, 195 pounds, guard Alec Burks is recording a team-high 21.7 points per game in conference play. His backcourt accomplice, 6-foot-5, 180-pound guard Cory Higgins, has averaged 15.3 against Big 12 foes.
Burks does heavy damage from the free throw line, getting to the line 51 times in league games and shooting 84 percent. He also hauls in a team-leading 8.2 rebounds per conference game, with 19 of those 49 coming on the offensive glass. His performance has some media outlets, like nbadraft.net, projecting him as a first-round NBA draft pick if he forgoes his junior and senior seasons.
“He drove it around every one of us. Our stances were bad and our help position was bad. I mean, he’s good. That was their offense: spread and drive. He and Higgins both gave us trouble,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said about Burks after the Jayhawks beat the Buffaloes.
Baylor knows how badly opponents’ offensive rebounding can hurt after surrendering 16 in its 69-61 loss at Kansas State on Monday. More importantly, however, is limiting the defensive breakdowns that have led to easy baskets and open shots.
“We would have like to have rebounded better, but it was better than it was the previous Monday,” Drew said.
Like Baylor, Colorado likes shooting the three ball. The Buffaloes have hit 42 percent in Big 12 games, good for third in the conference behind Baylor at 43 percent and Texas at 46. The three teams are the only in the Big 12 with accuracy greater than 40 percent.
While the Buffaloes differ, however, is in their rotation and bench play. Guards Levi Knutson, Andre Roberson and Shannon Sharpe combine for an average 19 minutes and 6.1 points in Big 12 games. Knutson leads both categories with 11.7 points and 25.8 minutes.
But the Baylor bench could see a spike in points and minutes as well, as junior Quincy Acy continues to serve as the Bears’ sixth man after moving from the starting rotation two games ago.
Freshman Stargell Love could get more playing time also given his 11-point, 18-minute game against Kansas State.
“Whatever’s best for the team. Sometimes A.J. [Walton]’s turnovers come from fatigue, so allowing him to have more rest would be a great option,” Drew said.
One thing for certain is the importance of Saturday’s game, especially for the Bears defending their home floor. After Saturday, the team must travel to Oklahoma on Tuesday then Texas A&M on Feb. 5.
“I guess both of us need this game as much as the next,” Acy said.