No. 6 Baylor returns from break to face hungry Michigan State

Nov 28, 2023; Waco, Texas, USA;  Baylor Bears guard Ja'Kobe Walter (4) dunks against the Nicholls State Colonels during the second half at Ferrell Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor is finishing an 11-day break from competition due to final exams.

The sixth-ranked Bears figure to have a couple of difficult tests upon their return to the court, starting Saturday with a nonconference game in Detroit against a desperate Michigan State team.

Baylor (9-0) has done everything one could ask of it so far. Most of its games haven’t been challenging but it has shown some grit and toughness in neutral-site wins over Auburn and Florida teams that figure to make some March noise.

So, too, do the Bears with a high-scoring team that is top five nationally in scoring (91 points per game), field goal percentage (52.0) and 3-point percentage (43.2).

Even better is that they have six players scoring in double figures, led by freshman guard Ja’Kobe Walter at 14.9 ppg. He was one of four players in double figures on Dec. 5, when Baylor stopped Seton Hall 78-60 at home in the Big East/Big 12 Challenge.

“It’s a typical Big 12 game,” Bears coach Scott Drew said of beating Seton Hall. “Nobody’s getting down and saying, ‘That’s a day.’ So it’s really good for us to get used to that.”

Toledo transfer RayJ Dennis, who led the team with 17 points and seven assists against Seton Hall, is scoring 14.2 ppg and dishing out 6.6 assists per game. Langston Love chips in 12 ppg, followed by Jalen Bridges at 11.1, VCU transfer Jayden Nunn at 10.8 and Yves Missi at 10 ppg.

Meanwhile, Michigan State (4-5) has gone from being ranked fourth in the preseason to already needing wins to boost its flagging at-large profile. The Spartans have lost three of four, including their 77-70 defeat at Nebraska on Sunday that dropped them to 0-2 in the Big Ten.

Michigan State has lost four games to teams that were or are currently ranked in the top 25 but it also has shown other signs it isn’t quite the team it wasn’t cracked up to be in the preseason. It’s making only 29.5 percent from the 3-point arc, 310th in Division I, and is sinking just 68.2 percent at the line.

Post play has been a serious flaw for the Spartans, so much so that coach Tom Izzo called out starter Mady Sissoko and backup Carson Cooper after the loss to Nebraska.

“The way I feel right now? Nick (Sanders) and Steven (Izzo) are options,” Izzo said about possible solutions inside.

Neither stands taller than 5-foot-10 but given that Sissoko and Cooper are combining for just 7.6 ppg, Izzo has started playing small-ball lineups. That puts more pressure on Tyson Walker (20.3 ppg) to produce.

Malik Hall and A.J. Hoggard each contribute 10.3 ppg for Michigan State.

–Field Level Media

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