Despite finishing 4th in the conference after being picked in the preseason to finish 9th, it’s fair to say that the Bears are limping into the Big 12 Tournament. Baylor has now lost 3 straight games and in general have not played their best basketball in the latter half of the conference schedule. The effort has been there every game down the stretch, but even in some of the wins the Bears seemed to lack cohesiveness at times, likely due to the injuries of Mason and McClure. Fortunately, Baylor will have a chance to get back on track and there are plenty of reasons to remain optimistic.
First and foremost, the game situations never seem to be too big for our newcomers and freshman. Whether it was making clutch shots against Texas, or keeping the Bears in the game on the road in Lawrence, Jared Butler continues to play like an upperclassman. And he’s not alone in that regard either. Devonte Bandoo and Freddie Gillespie have also shined the brightest when the pressure has been the greatest. Both players were instrumental in Baylor’s road win in Hilton Coliseum. These young players have never been intimidated by the moment and I expect that to continue throughout March. If you were just now starting to follow the Baylor season, you wouldn’t realize it was the first year for all three players to be playing Division I basketball.
Baylor also has a few guys that are due. King McClure and Mario Kegler have had their moments this year, both achieving career highs. And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that during this current 3-game losing streak, both have struggled from beyond the arch. In addition, although Makai Mason put together a solid half against Oklahoma State, he has yet to put together a solid full game since returning from his injury. These players are too talented to stay cold for long and I believe the experience that McClure and Mason bring to the game from previous years in March will pay dividends for the Bears this year.
Last, Baylor couldn’t have asked for a better path to the championship game. The two teams that I wanted to avoid in the quarterfinal and semifinal games were Texas and Texas Tech. The Longhorns, because they have outplayed us probably 80% of the time, and Tech because they seem to be the hottest team in the league at the moment. Instead, the Bears draw Iowa State team who they have dominated this year, and likely a Kansas State team who Baylor has played well against, barely missing out on wins in each contest. There is no such thing as an easy path come tournament time, but I believe that Baylor earned a favorable draw which this team can use to their advantage.
March is a fun time for basketball fans. I remember the days where the Conference tournament was all we had to look forward to as Baylor fans. Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case for years. Coach Scott Drew has accomplished a lot in his tenure at Baylor and now he has a chance to show why he should have been named Big 12 Coach of the Year. The Big 12 has been a fun to watch all year long and I expect that to continue starting on Wednesday.