Pour some out for the first half 2015-16 NCAA basketball season.  As much fun as it is watching traditional powerhouses pulverize glorified high school teams by 50 points, I think it’s safe to say we’re all ready to get to the fun part.  I can’t remember being this amped for a slate of Big 12 teams since 2009 when Blake Griffin dunked on some guys and the conference sent three teams to the Sweet Sixteen.  Through just one week we have learned quite a bit about the deepest conference in college basketball.

If you’ve been visiting your Amish side of the family for the last week and didn’t catch the 3OT thriller in Lawrence last week, shame on you.  If the 3-plus hour marathon game showed us anything, it’s that Oklahoma and Kansas are good.  Really good.  That may be only thing we know for sure about the Big 12 at this point.

This past week also featured a matchup of the third and fourth best teams in the Big 12.  Baylor’s upset over Iowa State in Ames was easily the most surprising event of the last seven days in my opinion.  The Bears overcame an early 8-0 turnover margin to hand the Cyclones just their second home conference loss in the past two years.  The turnover differential wasn’t even the biggest obstacle they had to overcome.  As I sat there watching Scott Drew’s ISO-Lester-Medford-at-the-top-of-the-key-while-the-rest-of-the-team-goes-and-stands-still-in-the-corner offensive strategy, I was absolutely baffled that they were able to even keep the game close.  In the end, the Bears pulled out a 5-point victory that had to have Cyclones Coach Steve Prohm absolutely in shambles in the film room Sunday morning.  Iowa State dominated virtually every facet of the game, but still couldn’t find a way to win on their home floor.

One reason why Baylor pulled off the upset was sophomore Johnathan Motley.  The forward’s 27 points and 13 rebounds coming off the bench made all the difference for Baylor.  This standout performance was only surprising if you had never seen J-Mot play before.  He’s a former 4-star recruit who started all 34 games his freshman year.  His numbers this season have increased in just about every category across the board, and he seems to be well on his way to being one of the most dominant players in the Big 12.  You’d think Scott Drew would recognize a talent like this and use him as much as he possibly could right?  Not so fast.  Here are the blind resumes of two Baylor players so far this season.

Per game averages:

Player A: 23.7 min, 5.7 PTS, 4.5 REB, 3.4 AST, .405 FG%

Player B: 18.2 min, 11.2 PTS, 5.1 REB, 1.1 AST, .603 FG%

If you guessed that Player A is Ish Wainwright and Player B is Johnathan Motley, you are correct.  Wainwright has cracked the starting lineup in each of the Bears first 13 games this season after coming off the bench and averaging a meaty 1.9 and 1.4 points per game in his first two seasons, respectively.  Scott Drew loyalists give two defenses for playing Wainwright over Motley:

Defense 1: “Baylor needs three guards in their starting lineup.”

This is just simply not true. The only two reasons to go small and start three guards are:

  1. A) You have three outstanding guards who can shoot the lights out, and you can’t justify leaving any of them on the bench.
  2. B) You don’t have three frontcourt players who are good enough to start.

Neither of these are the case for Baylor.  The Bears already have Lester Medford and Al Freeman, who are more than capable of carrying the load in the backcourt. Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers have both cemented themselves as starters at the 4 and 5 spots, which means that the logical choice for the swingman position is another forward capable of getting to the rim and providing creative options at the offensive end of the floor.  Since it should be obvious to anyone who has watched both players play that Motley is head-and-shoulders above Wainwright when it comes to talent, this decision should be a no-brainer for Coach Drew.

Defense 2: “Ish Wainwright should start and get more minutes because he is a better defender than Motley.” 

Despite playing 82 less minutes, Motley still has 3 more blocks this season than Wainwright.  Motley is also the Bears tallest low post defender (Prince is 6’7”, Gathers is 6’8”) and his inside presence is much needed in a conference with some of the best big men in the nation.  Not to mention the fact that Wainwright is an absolute liability on offense.  Motley has managed to score 82 more points in 82 less minutes.  Against the high-powered offenses of the Big 12, the Bears are going to need someone other than just Taurean Prince to provide points in the paint.

In the six toughest games of the season so far (Oregon, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State) Baylor is 1-3 when Wainwright plays more minutes than Motley, and 2-0 when Motley receives the bulk of the minutes.  To his credit, it does appear that Drew figured out how to use his talent more effectively in Saturday’s win over Iowa State as Motley played 34 minutes compared to Wainwright’s 7.  We’ll see if this signature road win is a sign of things to come for Baylor as they look ahead to a grueling in-conference schedule the rest of the way.  The next real test for the Bears (sorry TCU, Texas Tech, and K-State) comes at home against Buddy Hield and the Sooners on January 23rd.