At this time of the year, we find out who teams are. The importance of each game in the standings is clearer, teams have injuries, seniors are playing their final games and freshmen have about 20 games under their belt.
Every season, there are some teams that look very good for a while, even good enough in our minds to be Final Four and/or national championship contenders. They have the talent, experience and early on a few good wins. They might not lose a game for a while, even beating some good teams. Then sooner or later, they get tested, and we find that they’re not quite at that level.
Enter this year’s Baylor Bears, 72-57 losers at Missouri on Saturday.
Baylor had a pretty solid non-conference run. Sure, they had the easy ones like Texas Southern and Jackson State, along with South Carolina State, Prairie View A&M, Bethune-Cookman and even Paul Quinn. But they also beat San Diego State, Northwestern (road), BYU (road), Saint Mary’s and West Virginia in Dallas, and Mississippi State in Dallas. They ran out to a 17-0 mark.
The Bears’ first loss came at Kansas. That wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, but it was a convincing loss in Allen Fieldhouse that had to raise a little question: does the Big 12 still belong first to Kansas, not a comparative upstart like Baylor? The Bears couldn’t bounce back with Missouri a few days later, losing a tough one by one in Waco.
Fast forward to this week. Kansas came to Waco and scored another convincing win on Wednesday, and now Missouri took care of them on Saturday. It was a repeat of the earlier matchups.
The Bears have lost four times on the season, and all four have come against the stalwarts of the Big 12 in Kansas and Missouri. Thus we have established that if the Bears are Final Four or national title contenders, they’ve got company in their conference. But what’s more likely is that the Bears are a little short of that level. The pecking order in the Big 12 is crystal clear right now: Missouri and Kansas are at the top, and Baylor leads the next tier.
Perhaps it was best summed up by Baylor forward Anthony Jones: “We just have to hope a lot of stuff goes our way. We’ve got to win out for the rest of conference and hope some games go bad for Missouri and Kansas.” In other words, it’s out of the Bears’ hands at this point.
There is still time for Baylor to correct things from these games. If they meet either or both squads in the Big 12 Tournament, a victory would not be a shocker. But the results are what they are and tell us something right now.
We take you coast to coast with news from around the college basketball nation.
Lipscomb kicked the top three-point shooter in the country out of the school for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Jordan Burgason, a senior guard, was shooting 52.6 percent from long range on the season and led the team in scoring at 16.4 points per game.
The New York Post is reporting that a top official at St. John’s is suspected of being involved in widespread ticket scalping, notably from last season’s game against Duke and the Big East Tournament.
Michigan State won a Big Ten showdown, and on the road no less, to pull into a tie for first with Ohio State.
Syracuse pulled away from Connecticut, which puts the Huskies in a tenuous position as far as the NCAA Tournament goes. The Huskies are 5-7 in Big East play and don’t look like they have a run in them like they did a year ago.
Louisville pulled out a 77-74 road win at West Virginia. That puts the Mountaineers below .500 in Big East play, so they don’t have a lot of room for error down the stretch.
UNLV pulled out a thriller against San Diego State.
Wichita State went to Omaha and blew out slumping Creighton 89-68.
Arizona got a scare from Utah, but survived in Tucson. A loss to the Utes is about the last thing the Wildcats needed.
The Ivy League race got a lot more interesting as Princeton beat Harvard and Yale mounted a furious rally to win at Columbia and stay a game back. Harvard and Yale meet next Saturday night in Cambridge and could be doing so with first place on the line.
Middle Tennessee now has a clear path to a regular season Sun Belt title after knocking off UALR to go two games up in the loss column.
Mississippi Valley State improved to 12-0 in SWAC play, and with Arkansas-Pine Bluff knocking off second-place Southern, Mississippi Valley State is now three games up in the loss column.
Sunday’s key matchups:
Illinois at Michigan
St. John’s at Georgetown
Northwestern at Purdue
Washington at Oregon State
Stony Brook at Vermont
Fairfield at Loyola (Md.)