Assessing the Season: Baylor BearsPosted by KoryCarpenter on April 11th, 2013
I don’t know who Baylor’s biggest basketball rival is, but I imagine whoever it was laughed at the Bears for winning the NIT last week — something about being the 69th best team in the country. Of course there are worse things than winning the NIT — like losing in the NIT — so the Bears have that going for them. But those taunts from rival fans still have some merit. For schools like Memphis (2002 champs) or Wichita State (2011), winning the NIT can become a stepping stone to bigger and better things. But for big boy schools, schools like Baylor with top recruits falling off the bleachers, it’s hard to gauge how it feels to win its last game of the year and not capture the National Championship. In its 74-54 NIT championship game win over Iowa, Baylor played a former five-star center (Isaiah Austin), an honorable mention All-America guard in Pierre Jackson, and a quartet of former four-star recruits. That roster lost 14 games this season (including a 9-9 mark in conference play) and couldn’t beat out teams like La Salle and Ole Miss for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. There was no reason the Bears should have been in the NIT in the first place, but for the sake of this column, we’ll take a look at the highs and lows of the 2012-13 Baylor Bears.
- Beating Kentucky in Rupp Arena, December 1: In early December, Kentucky wasn’t the team that would eventually fall to Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT. Or at least, that wasn’t yet the perception. The Wildcats were #8 in the country at the time and pundits still believed their band of high school All-Americans could make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor’s patented zone frustrated the Kentucky freshmen into a 29.6% shooting performance from the field. Pierre Jackson scored 17 points as the Bears rebounded from their loss to Charleston in the game prior.
- 86-79 Overtime Win Over Texas, January 5: With a tough non-conference season then behind them, the Bears avoided back-to-back losses with an overtime win over Texas in the Big 12 opener thanks to big games from Cory Jefferson and Pierre Jackson, who combined for 49 points.
- Senior Night Win over Kansas, March 9: Losers of eight of their previous 11, the Bears still had a chance to deny Kansas the outright regular season conference title on its Senior Night. That’s exactly what they did after Pierre Jackson scored 28 points and added 10 assists to give Kansas its worst loss in five years.
- Home Loss to Charleston, November 24: The Bears allowed Charleston to shoot nearly 50% from the field and had the first realization that they weren’t good enough to overlook teams this season, no matter the opponent. The Cougars made 18 three-pointers while Baylor went 4-of-17 from deep.
- Three Game Losing Streak, Part I: Baylor was 5-1 in the Big 12 and looked to be gaining momentum but consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State by a combined 13 points put the Bears in an early hole in the conference race. You can’t say Pierre Jackson didn’t do his part, though — the senior guard averaged 23 points per game during the three-game skid.
- Three Game Losing Streak, Part II: After picking up a pair of wins over Big 12 bottom feeders Texas Tech and West Virginia, the Bears were blown out by Kansas State to the tune of 81-61 on February 16. Four days later, Iowa State completed the regular season sweep with an 87-82 win in Waco. Oklahoma then dropped 90 points on the Bears in Norman.
- Big 12 Tournament Quarterfinals Loss to Oklahoma State, March 9: Five days after the big win over Kansas, the Bears needed a few more wins to show the NCAA Tournament committee that they deserved an at-large bid. They had a good opportunity against #14 Oklahoma State in the Big 12 quarterfinals and overcame a 20-point deficit to tie the game with 2.9 seconds left. A pair of Phil Forte free throws, however, cemented the win for the Cowboys, and the Bears were left to sweat things out (unsuccessfully) on Selection Sunday.
- Selection Sunday: It wasn’t all that surprising that the Bears were left out when the bracket was announced on March 16. They were 2-11 against the RPI top 50 and had only five wins against the RPI top 100. With bad losses to Charleston, Northwestern, and Texas, an at-large bid may have never been an option this season.
Then there was the NIT. Baylor isn’t Kentucky or Duke or Kansas or North Carolina, so winning the NIT shouldn’t be scoffed at. But with the amount of talent on the Bears’ roster this season, it’s hard to put the championship in the “highs” category this season. It was a small bright spot in an unfortunate situation, like running in a thunderstorm and only getting soaking wet rather than struck by lightning. Looking to next season, the Bears will lose Jackson — one of the best point guards in the country — and A.J. Walton to graduation. Center Isaiah Austin will likely enter the NBA Draft, and rising senior forward Cory Jefferson has popped up on draft boards as well. But head coach Scott Drew has another solid recruiting class signed, led by a trio of four-star players: Ishmail Wainwright, Johnathan Motley, and Dominic Woodson. With the return of sharpshooting Brady Heslip as well as rising sophomores Rico Gathers, Deuce Bello, and Gary Franklin, the future isn’t bleak for Baylor fans. But after missing out on the Dance with the roster they had this season, it’s hard to be very optimistic.