The now 11th ranked Baylor Bears (16-5, 5-3) head down I-35 to Austin to square off against the 10th ranked Texas Longhorns (17-4, 6-2), who lost at Tennessee on Saturday and have yet to lose back-to-back games this season.
The Longhorns are currently projected by KenPom to win the league with a 12-6 record, but Baylor is projected to have an 11-7 finish, along with 4 other teams. While the value of those projected records is questionable, it does serve to point out how important this matchup is. Catching a win in Austin would be a huge step towards a third consecutive Big 12 Conference championship.
Last season, the Bears took both games against Texas behind two stellar performances from Adam Flagler. He was a combined 15-25 from the floor for 39 points in those games. The senior guard is coming off a tough stretch, shooting under 30% from the floor in 3 of his last 4 games and just 1-11 in Baylor’s win over Arkansas on Saturday. Hopefully seeing burnt orange will snap Flagler out of this slump and give the Bears a chance to win in Texas new Moody Center.
Up against Flagler, will be Marcus Carr and Tyrese Hunter, two elite guards in this league. Carr has gone for 20 in three of his last 5 games and scored 41 against Texas A&M-Commerce before the new year. He also faced off against Baylor over the summer in the GLOBL JAM, where he put the locks defensively on freshman Keyonte George in their first matchup. In their second matchup, though, George dropped a 30 burger as Baylor dominated Carr’s Canadian team. Bears fans can hope George can replicate that second game and score more efficiently than he has lately.
Texas is not an overly large team and won’t present the same issues Baylor had against Arkansas this weekend. Baylor has corrected its turnover problems that plagued it earlier in the year, but Texas is the sort of team that plays tight and forces the issue for the offense. If Baylor can manage to hang onto the ball and drive into the lane, Texas does have one of the highest foul rates in the country, per KenPom, where they rank 264th in opponent free throw rate. Baylor’s guards, especially George, are highly proficient at drawing fouls. Those foul shots have been big in Baylor’s win streak despite some poor shooting performances.
Once again, Jalen Bridges could be the X-factor that this game hinges on. He finished +13 on Saturday and played the entire second half against Arkansas, obviously the piece that flipped the game. Tonight, he will likely be tasked with defending Timmy Allen, a senior forward who is Texas’ go-to inside threat. Allen is crafty at drawing fouls, something Bridges will have to especially guard against. Freshman forward Dillon Mitchell, too, will play some at the 4 for Texas. He’s shooting over 60% from the floor and plays hard on the offensive glass. He also doesn’t make many mistakes with both a low turnover rate and low foul rate. How Bridges fairs against these two could largely determine how the game unfolds.
This will be a tough one. There is a path for victory for the Bears, but it will certainly be one of the toughest challenges so far in conference play.