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Baylor-Oklahoma State Big 12 Semifinals Preview and Three Keys: Why I Like Baylor Close

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The Bears seek their first final since 2014

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Baylor Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City, Missouri- No. 2 Baylor (22-1) takes on No. 12 Oklahoma State (19-7) at 5:30 tomorrow in Kansas City. The game airs on ESPN.

Baylor won both meetings. Cade Cunningham didn’t play in the first, and Isaac Likekele didn’t play the second. Both will play tomorrow.

I’ll also try to Facebook Live at about 4:15 tomorrow from the arena.

Three Keys:

1) Get a bench player going: As Jason King did a nice job noting for SicEm365 today, the bench has not been productive lately. Adam Flagler didn’t attempt a shot today. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Matthew Mayer combined for five points. That’s not sustainable as the schedule ramps up.

Mayer played phenomenally last Thursday against the Cowboys. He had 19 points and worked well when Oklahoma State went zone:

2) Defend better in isolation: Baylor’s defense has fallen all the way to No. 39 in adjusted defensive efficiency. There are a variety of explanations for that shortfall. Most start with the COVID pause.

We’re’ getting a bit far from the pause to keep blaming that. Baylor has to be better on defense. The first meeting is the blueprint. Macio Teague and Mark Vital were monsters defending in isolation:

Defending better in isolation fixes a lot. When the defender doesn’t get beat, the rest of the men don’t have to provide help. Baylor’s not communicating as well, and the rotations are a bit off. If the Bears do a better job limiting drives without requiring help, they cut off those problems.

3) Make Cade Cunningham a passer: Cunningham is a skilled passer. Although I remain steadfast that Jared Butler should have won the conference’s honor, Cunningham is a monster with the ball.

He dropped 24 on Thursday. Several of those were difficult.

Cunningham’s offensive weakness is that he can be turnover prone. He finished the regular season with a negative assist to turnover rate. The Bears should send doubles.

This is not a panacea. Avery Anderson is playing well. The Cowboys scored a ton in the post in the Stillwater meeting. But it’s the best of difficult options.

Prediction:

If Baylor plays like it did on Wednesday, then Oklahoma State will win. Baylor didn’t look like the No. 2 team in the first half, and it can’t be so reliant on the starting guards.

The Bears are unlikely to suffer like that again. Mayer or Flagler are due for a big game. Jared Butler should also meet the moment after Cunningham won the league’s highest crown.

I expect Baylor’s defense to have enough stretches where it looks like the January iteration, and Butler and Flagler to make some nice plays. I’ll take Baylor 78-72.