In a conference tournament, a team plays its way into the Big Dance or plays its way out. The latter almost happened in Kansas City Wednesday night, but Baylor held on against TCU for a 76-68 win. The Bears led by as many as 17 in the second half but allowed the downtrodden Horned Frogs to close to within six with just under three minutes to play. Two clutch offensive plays by 7-foot center Isaiah Austin helped Baylor seal the victory.
The team’s recent win streak – eight out of its last nine – had been fueled by the return of point guard Kenny Chery from his painful turf-toe injury. But Baylor head coach Scott Drew, who notched his 200th career win at the school, obviously planned to pound the ball inside: Chery had just five points on 2-of-6 shooting. The plan almost failed, despite 20 points and 10 rebounds from power forward Cory Jefferson and another 18 points from Austin. But the Bears were able to double up the Horned Frogs in the paint, 48-24, and in the end, that was just too much for an undersized TCU squad to handle.
Baylor cannot be that one-dimensional against Oklahoma and expect to advance. A win would be huge, because it could very well move the Bears up to a No. 5 or 6 seed. From that neighborhood, the team would be in a much better position to make a deep tournament run. Baylor is a top-ten team when together and healthy. The upcoming game against the Sooners may very well serve as a bellwether: are the Bears all the way back, or are they just tournament fodder for another team?
Baylor MBB Tournament Line:
RPI (espn.com): 35
Record vs. Top 50 RPI: 8-8
Last 12: 9-3