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At one point, Baylor was projected to be a No. 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year. And then the losing started and didn't stop. The Bears have taken a major fall and aren't even projected to make the Big Dance this year. Things don't get any easier for them with three games against ranked teams, starting with this road one at Oklahoma State.
The sort of good thing about this matchup for Baylor is that Oklahoma State hasn't exactly been the most consistent of teams lately. The Cowboys, who were thought to battle Kansas for the Big 12 title this year, are already sitting with three conference losses and are in fifth place. While they struggle on the road more, they didn't look all that convincing topping West Virginia last weekend at home.
Obviously, Baylor has struggled more, losing two straight home games as favorites. But the thing about them is that they're keeping these games relatively close, for the most part that is. A 10-point loss at Kansas is pretty respectable and a couple of their home losses were by two points. Now at 13-7, there's a real chance the Bears pick up 10 wins shortly.
This game starts with OK State's big three of Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash. Smart (17.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.4 APG) has been off his game the last few times out, but he's still a player you don't want to mess with. If he gets hot, there's almost no chance of winning. Brown (16.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG) has actually been the more consistent guard as a senior and Nash (13.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) can destroy you down low with his post game, no matter who the defender is. Add in three-point gunner Phil Forte off the bench and that's where most of the scoring comes from for the Cowboys. Although guys like Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy can be important pieces, especially on the defensive end in this game.
The Bears are in a funk and it's going to take someone like Isaiah Austin to get them out. Austin was thought to be a lottery pick entering college a year ago, but has since only disappointed. His numbers are even down this year averaging just 10.3 PPG and 5.7 RPG. Those are not the kind of numbers you want from your 7-1 top recruit. Austin needs to pick up his game or this team will continue to struggle. Fellow frontcourt mate, Cory Jefferson (12.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG), has been one of their better players, but even he has been slowed down in conference play. Kenny Chery is no Pierre Jackson at point and it shows in his 18 total points over the last three games. He's joined by Brady Heslip in the backcourt, who's mainly a three-point threat.
These two teams battled to the wire in all three games last year, but right now that doesn't look likely. The Cowboys have an extensive edge in the backcourt with Brown and Smart so it's going to fall on the Baylor bigs to pick up their play. Austin and Jefferson need to take up bigger roles and even Rico Gathers (7.6 PPG, 7.7 APG) off the bench. If they can't do that, the Bears will be in line for their sixth straight loss and it won't be pretty.
We'll have a prediction for this game on Friday.
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