No. 2 Baylor (22-2) fell to Oklahoma State (20-7) 83-74. While the defense remains an issue, the biggest impediment to Baylor’s success tonight was simple: the Bears were awful from three.
The Bears entered the game No. 1 in 3-point shooting. They’ve been great from beyond the arc all season. Last Sunday MaCio Teague went 10-of-12 from deep. As Baylor’s defense has been mediocre to maybe even bad since the return, the Bears have masked those issues by drilling triples.
Tonight Baylor couldn’t hit enough threes. The Bears finished 6-of-28 from three. They missed 16 in a row. Despite good looks, the Bears couldn’t convert them.
Baylor’s inability to hit threes doomed them. The Bears have some real issues right now. The defense struggles to contain straight line scoring. Avery Anderson, Cade Cunningham and Isaac Likekele got to the rim too easily. That trio is as good as any the Bears will face, but the issue is that the Bears have to beat teams better than Oklahoma State to win the title.
Davion Mitchell played a spectacular defensive game. He made Cade Cunningham’s life a disaster. But after taking a 60-52 lead with eight minutes left, Oklahoma State got Cunningham pretty good looks. As Macio Teague said, “He got free from our best defender.” Once that happened, he hit two step-back threes to make it close enough.
Tonight showed the heartache of the NCAA Tournament. As Scott Drew said after, “In a 40 minute game, anyone can win.” If the Bears shoot 10-of-28—still well below their season average—they win this game. They had plenty of good looks. As Teague noted, “(We) just didn’t make shots.” Baylor was good enough to beat Oklahoma State nine days ago. They weren’t tonight.
The Bears can recover from this. Mitchell-Butler-Teague form the best starting trio of guards in America. They hopefully won’t have another shooting night like this. If they do after the first round, it’s probably the end of the season.
Baylor’s work over 24 games, including a Big 12 title, puts them in position to make tonight’s heartache irrelevant. They’ll head to Indianapolis as a No. 1 seed. The first opponent will be completely out-classed by Baylor. But as Teague said, “We were a one seed in this tournament and just lost.”
Vital feels confident Baylor can rebound. He said, “I’d much rather my guys feel this loss.” He added, “We needed that loss in a way.” He felt like the team overreacted to winning the Big 12 and felt invincible. Now they have a taste of one season ending.
After a loss to a top 15 team, Baylor said all the right things. They know what they have to do. The question remains if they can do it. They showed they could before the break. They’ve been good enough to win most of their games since it. If they can get back to what they were before the break they can still win the title. If not, they’re probably going to lose in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. Baylor’s played a lot like Iowa since the break—a great offense that can carry a mediocre defense until the offense goes from great to good.
With the best roster and coaching staff in program history, Baylor has a chance to get it all fixed. We’ll spend plenty of time analyzing how much Baylor can ride their three starting guards or if the bench can return to playing competent offense. We’ll wonder if the defense can get back to its previous level too. But ultimately this is a prove it sport. The burden is on the Bears. And despite tonight’s loss, they’ll probably never have a better chance to win a national title. Time to seize it.