|Brady Heslip scored 4 points in a season-ending loss to Kentucky last year. Will he get a chance at redemption Saturday? (AP)|
Heslip will be a game-time decision, Baylor coach Scott Drew said at his press conference on Thursday. Heslip missed the Bears' last game, a 63-59 loss at home to College of Charleston, because of an emergency appendectomy on Nov. 20.
"He's doing better," Drew said. "Rehabbing well. We'll know game time whether he can play or not, but we're hopeful."
Even without Heslip, the knee-jerk reaction when seeing that the Bears lost at home to a mid-major was it must just be the same old Baylor, playing lackluster defense. Drew has been able to bring plenty of talent to Waco and has produced good offenses -- in four of the last five years, the Bears have been in the top 15 of offensive efficiency. The knock on Drew is that he cannot coach defense, and it's a fair criticism. Baylor has never finished in the top 35 in defensive efficiency and has had good enough athletes and length to play better D than that.
This Baylor team is once again falling in line with the rest. Per KenPom.com, the Bears rank 13th in offensive efficiency and 62nd in defensive efficiency. It will be an area the Bears need to improve throughout the season. Defense, however, has not really been the Bears' issue in their two losses. In fact, two of their three best defensive efforts in terms of points per possession allowed have been in losses.
Whether the Bears that beat St. John's by 21 show up on Saturday or whether it's the team that lost at home to College of Charleston has a lot to do with perimeter shooting, which means it has a lot to do with Heslip.
Junior guard Gary Franklin started in Heslip's place against College of Charleston and went 1 of 5 from 3-point range. Franklin is a career 30.3 percent 3-point shooter. There is enough of sample size there to say that Franklin is not that good of a shooter.
Heslip is one of the best shooters in the country. He shot 45.5 percent from the perimeter last season and led the nation in offensive efficiency. CBSSports.com's Jeff Goodman listed Heslip as the second-best 3-point shooter in the nation in his preseason rankings of the top 50 shooters.
Outside of Heslip, the Bears have only one other proven shooter and that's Pierre Jackson. They need Jackson to focus more on setting up his teammates rather than generating his own offense. In Baylor's two losses, Jackson has a combined six assists. In four wins, he's averaging 8.5 assists.
Without Heslip to stretch the defense against College of Charleston, big man Cory Jefferson scored only six points -- he was averaging 16 -- and Jackson jacked up 21 shots.
The proof is there that Baylor's success is tied to Heslip. In 34 wins during his Baylor career, Heslip has averaged 11.2 points and made 46.5 percent of his 3-pointers. In nine losses, Heslip has averaged 7.0 points and shot 34.1 percent from the perimeter. In the last game before his appendectomy, Heslip scored a career-high 29 points and knocked down 8 of 12 threes.
Kentucky is vulnerable right now after losing to Notre Dame 64-50 on Thursday, not to mention its struggles to find a reliable point guard. Not only have the Wildcats been unable to find a rhthym offensively because of their point guard play, their defense has not been Calipari-esque.
And what's the area where they've arguably struggled the most in losses to Duke and Notre Dame? Three-point defense. Duke and Notre Dame combined to make 16 of 33 threes. Could Baylor shoot like that at Rupp?
"Eventually someone's going to win there and you'd like it to be you," Drew said.
If Drew has Heslip, that might just happen.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big 12 bloggers C.J. Moore and Patrick Southern, follow @CBSSportsBig12 on Twitter. You can also follow C.J. (@cjmoore4) and Patrick (@patricksouthern).