It’s all about the next tournament.
As the fourth place finisher in the Big XII, Baylor (19-13, 10-8) is a mortal lock for the NCAA Tournament. Given the slim odds that Baylor can strong together the three wins needed to take home the conference tournament trophy, the Bears are playing to improve their seeding if at all possible.
Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears are a likely 9-seed headed into today’s 11:30am tip-off against the Iowa State Cyclones on ESPN2.
Makai Mason said yesterday that he expects to play in this morning’s matchup after sitting the last two games to rest an injured toe. Mason has struggled to return to form since he first sat out Big XII play with the same lingering injury. Previously, his first game back was against Iowa State. He didn’t play well in that game, but Baylor did come away the victors. Expect Drew to manage Mason’s minutes today, especially if the game is obviously tipping one way or the other.
Jared Butler, meanwhile, is on a tear. Fresh off a 31-point explosion against the Kansas Jayhawks in Allen Field House, Baylor’s best freshman
guard ever is averaging 12.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in conference play while shooting a white hot 42% from deep. He put the dagger in the Cyclones’ hearts in Ames a month ago. Expect Butler to continue to step as the lights get brighter.
Baylor, the best offensive rebounding team in the country (Portland State is technically better, but the Big Sky just isn’t the Big XII, so I feel alright claiming the top spot for the Bears), will need to attack the offensive glass. Iowa State ranks 250th nationally in defensive rebounding. Even when Baylor gets its second chance under the hoop, however, they need to be on high alert for shot blockers. Iowa State is 34th nationally in block percentage at 12.6%, while Baylor gets blocked 12.1% of the time, 334th in the country. That may simply be a consequence of having the ball in the scrum following an offensive rebound, especially when the guy with the ball is 6-5 Mark Vital, known more for his brawn than touch around the rim.
Transition defense will be essential for the Bears. Iowa State wants to make this game a track meet. If ISU can get the ball up the floor in one or two passes for an open shot, it’ll be a short tournament for Baylor. Iowa State has a number of capable scorers in Marial Shayok, Lindell Wigginton, Tyrese Haliburton, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Michael Jacobson. The Bears need to ugly up this game, grind out possessions, and get back on defense to limit transition opportunities for those scorers to find space.
Mario Kegler is due for a big game after floating through the last three games. He dropped 23 and 24 points respectively against West Virginia and Texas prior to averaging just 8.6 points with 1 made three in Baylor’s three game skid to end the regular season. He wasn’t spectacular in either of the earlier matchups with Iowa State, but with a limited King McClure and Mason, Drew needs him to step up and bully ISU today.
Let’s hope for a corrective game for Devonte Bandoo, as well, who is below 30% from three in the last three games.
KenPom.com is calling this one 74-71 for Iowa State, giving the Cyclones a 60% chance of winning. The previous games went Baylor’s way 73-70 and 73-69. I think the shooting will be a little off for both squads at a neutral site, which will affect Iowa State more than Baylor.
Call it 70-67 for the Bears.