It’s Baylor’s time
Under Scott Drew, Baylor basketball has become notorious for two things: underachieving during the regular season and thriving in the postseason.
That seems likely to continue.
The Bears took out a year’s worth of frustration on Saturday, stomping Kansas 81-58, and now head into the Big 12 Tournament with momentum.
Enough momentum to make a run to the championship game the way they did last season? That’s certainly a possibility if they continue playing the way they did over the weekend.
The Jayhawks went to the Ferrell Center ranked fourth, one victory away from claiming an outright Big 12 championship, but Baylor looked like the team playing for a title.
Cory Jefferson and Pierre Jackson both made 11 of 13 shots to combine for 53 points. Baylor had lost eight of its previous 11 and appeared headed for the NIT, but it is now fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
At last, the team with Final Four talent played up to its potential.
“We were just focused. We knew what was at stake, we know how big this game was,” Jackson said. “We handled business.”
Another big game awaits on Thursday, Oklahoma State in the Big 12 quarterfinals. Both teams closed out the regular season with victories over top-10 teams.
The Cowboys will likely be favored, but the Bears will have history on their side. Last season, they put a disappointing regular season behind them by beating Kansas State and Kansas on their way to the championship game of the Big 12 Tournament and then the Elite Eight. Two years before that, they reached the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament and another Elite Eight.
Drew is regularly criticized for his poor motivational skills and in-game coaching, but he regularly gets the most out of his teams in March.
Saturday was a strong first step. Once again, Baylor heads to Kansas City as a dangerous team.
Only three teams head to the Big 12 Tournament unsure of their chances at landing an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Baylor and Iowa State would benefit most from wins at the Sprint Center. Both teams are on the bubble, with most experts projecting the Cyclones to barely make the field and the Bears to narrowly miss. Oklahoma is in better shape, but its margin for error grew smaller following a surprising loss at TCU. If the Sooners lose on Thursday, they will move to the bubble, too.
Kansas, K-State and Oklahoma State all head to Kansas City’s Sprint Center with NCAA Tournament seeding on the line. The Jayhawks could land a No. 1 seed with three wins, but might slip to a No. 3 seed with an early loss. K-State could end up in the 3-5 range, while Oklahoma State could land a 4 or a 6. It will also be interesting to see where each team is sent for the sub-regionals. Kansas will likely play in Kansas City, but K-State may need a strong week to land there, too. Oklahoma State could end up in Austin with a couple wins.
Bruce Weber was the clear choice for Big 12 Coach of the Year, and the K-State coach deservedly won the honor from both the league’s coaches and the Associated Press. But he wasn’t the only coach who earned his big contract this year. Bill Self won a ninth straight conference championship, Lon Kruger exceeded expectations at Oklahoma, Travis Ford did a nice job at Oklahoma State and TCU pulled two upsets under Trent Johnson. They all deserve honorable mention.
The Big 12’s all-conference teams were mostly free of surprises, but two choices caught my eye. Pierre Jackson, who led the league in points and assists, deserved to be on the first team, but the coaches like Oklahoma’s Romero Osby more. And Baylor center Isaiah Austin didn’t belong on the media’s second team. He had an underwhelming season compared to Travis Releford, Melvin Ejim and Le’Bryan Nash.
1. Kansas (26-5, 14-4): Can the Jayhawks still earn a No. 1 seed?
2. Kansas State (25-6, 14-4): Will the Wildcats end up in Kansas City for the NCAA Tournament?
3. Oklahoma State (23-7, 13-5): Cowboys beat both of the league’s co-champions.
4. Baylor (18-13, 9-9): Nobody wants to play the Bears in the postseason.
5. Iowa State (21-10, 11-7): Sprint Center will feel like Hilton Coliseum against Oklahoma on Thursday.
6. Texas (15-16, 7-11): Longhorns could make noise in Kansas City.
7. Oklahoma (20-10, 11-7): Lost to Texas Tech last year. Lost to TCU last week. Lon Kruger has trouble against last-place teams.
8. West Virginia (13-18, 6-12): First season in the Big 12 was a disaster.
9. Texas Tech (10-19, 3-15): Beating Texas would have been huge for Chris Walker.
10. TCU (11-20, 2-16): Trent Johnson deserves kudos. He led the Horned Frogs to two more league victories than most expected.