Baylor and Texas Playing Great Heading into Lone Star Match-upPosted by Greg Mitchell on March 14th, 2014
Baylor’s rollercoaster season has been on the upswing for awhile, and that upward trajectory has continued in Kansas City. The Bears got off to a hot start (15-3) in their opener against TCU, and followed that up with a similarly hot start in the quarterfinal against Oklahoma (13-3). The difference? TCU was winless in conference play, while the Sooners came into the game ranked #17 and boasting one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Baylor came ready to play in both games, and is now headed to the semi-finals brimming with momentum. The Bears shredded the Oklahoma defense to the tune of a 54.8 percent shooting performance in the first half, and while that dipped in the second half, they did just enough to shoot 50 percent on the game.
What is the ceiling for this Baylor team? If the way they’ve played in Kansas City is any indicator, it’s pretty high. Steady point guard is usually a big part of a tournament run, and Kenny Chery looked the part against the Sooners. He didn’t shoot the ball well (3-of-11), but played virtually the entire game (38 minutes) and was the key factor in the Bears’ hyper efficient offense. His seven assists helped the Bears put four players other than himself in double figures. Despite three turnovers, Chery did a good job against Oklahoma’s press and created easy basket that way too. Cory Jefferson was another reason the offense kept whirring by effectively passing out of double teams numerous times.
Baylor also has a trio of big men that would all be on the all-tournament team if the event ended today. Jefferson and Royce O’Neale put up double doubles in both games, and Isaiah Austin had 18 points and five blocks each night. When Austin is stretching defenses like he was against the Sooners (2-of-4 from three) it’s noticeable how much the Baylor attack opens up. I sound like a middle schooler with a crush, but it’s hard not to gush about how the Bears have played the last two games. Their offense has lived up to its #11 adjusted efficiency KenPom rating, and if it continues to flow like it has, the Bears are a threat to cut the nets down on Saturday.
To give the whole picture, however, it bears mentioning that Baylor did allow both TCU and Oklahoma to go on second half spurts. But the Sooners have an equally impressive offense (KenPom #12) and were bound to make a run. They shot an insane number of three pointers in this game (35), which was consistent with what they had done in their two previous wins over Baylor. Buddy Hield and Cameron Clark hit just enough shots in the second half to cut the 16-point halftime deficit to four, but in the end the Bears simply continued to execute and won a shootout.
The Texas–West Virginia nightcap, on the other hand, was anything but a shootout. The Mountaineers team that blitzed Kansas for 50 points less than week ago was not the one that showed up at the Sprint Center. This edition of the Mountaineers managed only 14 points on 18.8 percent shooting in the first half in falling behind the Longhorns by 21 points. Jonathan Holmes helped put West Virginia in that hole (11 first half points). He looked healthy throughout, and Rick Barnes was wise to only play him 18 minutes and not risk aggravating his improving knee. On the defensive side, the Texas zone took away the paint, and the Longhorns negated most of the few close looks West Virginia did get (four first half blocks). Against a defense like that you have to knock down shots, and tonight they just didn’t go in for the Mountaineers as Juwan Staten and Eron Harris combined to go one-of-12 in the opening frame. Surprising is the only word to describe a performance like that after what happened in Morgantown last Saturday. But the unexpected is what happens in March and that’s what makes it great. For its part, Texas was coming off a loss to Texas Tech in which it gave up 38 second half points to the Red Raiders.
The problem for West Virginia is that this Jeckyl-and-Hyde performance probably popped their NCAA bubble. There’s no shame in losing to Texas, but it gets sticky when that loss is your fifteenth of the year. The Mountaineers resume is nothing to scoff at, with three RPI top 25 wins and a 9-9 record in the country’s toughest conference. But their #82 RPI standing gave them no margin for error in this tournament. West Virginia would’ve probably had to get to the final and crossed its fingers for bubble mayhem to ensue across the country for a chance at a bid. The Mountaineers should almost certainly get invited to the NIT, and at the end of the day that is probably a good step forward after a rough first year in the Big 12.