UPDATING THE BEARS
Since blasting the Mountaineers by 20 points just two weeks ago, Baylor has fallen from a reasonably solid NCAA tournament seed to the outside looking in. Consecutive losses to Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma have dropped their RPI through the floor, and they likely need at least four more wins before Selection Sunday in order to earn a spot in the dance. Tough games with both Kansas and Kansas State remain, but they can also get a better record, if not an improved RPI, against bottom-tier teams West Virginia and Texas.
BU's losing streak is a bit difficult to understand, given the talent it puts on the floor. Losing to 10th-ranked Kansas State was certainly no crime, and Iowa State can shoot anyone out of the gym, but the blowout loss at Oklahoma has put the Bears squarely on the bubble for Selection Sunday. The Sooners were 39-45 from the line against Baylor, who trailed by 27 points at halftime.
The Bears continue to feature a strong inside-outside combination, with guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip playing off Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin in the paint. Jackson is still in front in the league scoring race, but he's made doubly dangerous with his passing ability, and he's also atop the league standings in assists. If he maintains that pace, he'll be the first player in one of the Big Six conferences to lead his league in both stats since Arizona's Jason Terry turned the trick 14 seasons ago. No Big 12 player has ever accomplished that feat. Heslip, meanwhile, is shooting 46.6% from three point ranges over his last 11 games.
Baylor has a lot to play for. West Virginia? Even if an NIT or lower tournament berth were still in play, that wouldn't figure to motivate the moribund Mountaineers.
On the court, WVU doesn't have anyone with the ability to guard Jackson one-on-one, and that helps open up other Bears if he's double-teamed or if West Virginia uses a zone to try to run different defenders at him. This is the most important match-up in the contest, and it will determine how the game goes. Against most any single defender in the nation, Jackson is going to get his points. So, the question becomes one of relative damage. Go man and try to limit everyone else, realizing that Jackson can easily score 30, or try to help and doubleteam and make him give up the ball, in the hopes that his teammates won't be able to pick up the scoring slack?
8:00 PM E
WVU 13-14, 6-8
BU 16-11, 7-7
Big 12 Network
WVU - 108
BU - 64
Either way, it's a tough choice. Baylor has the shooters and inside players to make teams pay for doubling Jackson, who is also, as noted, an excellent passer. Getting the ball out of his hands is a good idea, but if it does so, WVU must scramble and recover quickly to prevent open shots by Heslip or close-in tries by the front line. It's a task that is tough for any team (Baylor average more than 75 points per game) and an almost impossible one for a squad not totally committed to hustling and scrambling on any defensive trip.
Counting West Virginia out of any home game typically isn't a wise move. If the Mountaineers are playing well, the Coliseum comes to life, echoing with the cheers of bounding students and often inspiring the team to better play. However, after 27 games of incomplete efforts and desultory performances, it's just as difficult seeing WVU able to put together the two solid halves of basketball that will be needed to keep the Bears mired in their losing streak. And how many fans will be on had to watch the penultimate home game of the season?
With 14 losses this year, WVU has saddled Bob Huggins with the second-highest total in his career as a head coach. Huggins' Walsh College team dropped 16 contests in his first season at that school.
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Baylor has three of the Big 12’s top players in offensive rebounding, including Cory Jefferson (2nd, 2.8), Isaiah Austin (3rd, 2.8) and Rico Gathers (4th, 2.5). Those boards help contribute to Baylor's strong presence in piling up double-doubles as well. Austin (9) and Jefferson (9) each have more double-doubles than six Big 12 teams (WVU-5, TCU-4, OU-4, KSU-4, UT-3, OSU-3).
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While Juwan Staten hasn't been nearly the player that many expected this year, he has protected the ball since the turn of the year. Staten leads the Big 12 in assist to turnover ratio in conference games, having dealt out 48 assists against 18 turnovers in 13 league contests.
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The Bears either win comfortably, or not at all this year. Baylor is 0-6 in games decided by five points or less.