Baylor not alone on the bubble

February, 10, 2009

Don't single out Baylor. Coach Scott Drew surveyed the landscape and sees losing skids for Texas, Georgetown, Notre Dame, previously Wisconsin; all teams that were once ranked.

So if they can hit slides, it must not be something specific to Baylor, right? Well, the problem is that Baylor's five-game losing streak could easily grow to six Wednesday with No. 2-ranked, Big 12 unbeaten Oklahoma in Waco. The Sooners crushed Baylor in Norman last month 95-76.

"There is more parity than ever before," Drew said. "Every team goes through some winning streaks and losing streaks."

Drew is hoping that the Bears are, for the most part, done with their slide. They must be, or else the momentum Drew built with an NCAA berth last season could suddenly come to a grinding halt. The Bears did good work in the nonconference early, beating Providence and Arizona State in the Anaheim Classic before losing to Wake Forest in the title game. A road win at Washington State is still a solid effort and should be applauded. The one-point loss at home to South Carolina in early January stung, but is being seen through a different lens with the Gamecocks competing for the SEC East title.

But being unable to find consistency, especially in the final five minutes of Big 12 games, leaves the Bears wondering who they really are and asking if they can find their defensive identity in time to rally for a bid. The Bears lost at Texas A&M by 11, to Texas at home by six, at Missouri by 17, to Kansas at home by 10 and most recently -- the one that hurts the most -- by seven at Texas Tech, which had one Big 12 win before the Baylor game.

Baylor ends with four at home, three on the road, including tough stops at Oklahoma State and Texas. Three of the four home games will be a struggle, going against Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Nebraska. Baylor also plays at one-win Iowa State and hosts one-win Colorado, two games it can't take for granted but must win.

"We're turning the ball over too late and not making stops," Drew said. "We're right there but we're not closing the deal. I knew this would be a tough stretch, but I thought we'd win our share of them."

The Bears are a veteran squad with seniors Curtis Jerrells, Henry Dugat and Kevin Rogers as three of the top four scorers. So far, Drew said, there hasn't been any finger-pointing or complaining during the streak.

"We've had good leadership," Drew said.

Playing Oklahoma gives the Bears a chance to get recognized again. To beat the Sooners, Drew said, Baylor will have to keep Blake Griffin off the boards (nearly impossible lately) and take care of the basketball. "We're very capable," Drew said. Still, Drew isn't going to fret about the NCAAs … yet.

"We've been ranked more weeks this season than in the history of the program," Drew said. "We gave Missouri their first sellout this season. People are excited. It will come down to who gets hot at the right time. The one thing I know is that we haven't played our best basketball in the conference yet."

• If the season ended today -- and happily it doesn't -- my top four seeds would be Connecticut in the East (Boston), North Carolina in the South (Memphis), Oklahoma in the Midwest (Indianapolis) and Pitt in the West (Phoenix). If this plays out, then the selection committee will have a tough decision with Oklahoma and Pitt. I'm assuming here that Connecticut wins the Big East by at least splitting with the Panthers in the upcoming two games. Norman, Okla., is 978 miles to Phoenix, 762 to Indianapolis. So technically, if the Sooners are a higher seed among the No. 1s than, say, Pitt, the Sooners could go to the closer region. But will the selection committee stay strict on that or put OU in the West and Pitt in the Midwest, since it might not matter that much, and it's clearly closer for Pitt to be in Indianapolis than Phoenix?

• Three reasons Oklahoma can make the argument it could be considered the best team in the country:
1. The Sooners have the best overall player and inside player in Blake Griffin;
2. Opposing defenses have trouble deciding who to lock down on the perimeter with the capability of three 20-plus point scorers in Willie Warren, Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson;
3. The Sooners added a sixth starter-quality player in Juan Pattillo in midseason, a wing who can defend multiple positions and can be a double-digit scorer off the bench.

• Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he anticipates there will be 10 to 15 teams that will be able to make an argument they should be in the field this season, as opposed to only a handful that have been left out in previous seasons. He also said he has no issue with teams being leap-frogged in a conference. It happened last season to Arizona State when Arizona, which got swept by ASU, went over the Sun Devils. The reason given was Arizona's better overall résumé. Boeheim said he wouldn't be surprised to see that in the Big East this season. "You can get in as a sub-.500 team in a league as tough as ours," Boeheim said. "It's been proven in the past. It's not how many games you win, but who you beat and where you play them." For more of my interview with Boeheim, listen to Wednesday's ESPNU College Basketball podcast.

• VMI beat Charleston Southern on Monday night for its 20th win, 11-2 in the Big South. The Keydets were led by Chavis Holmes' 33 points and 12 boards. VMI, which beat Kentucky in Rupp, would be an interesting first-round upset pick if the Keydets win the Big South.

• Kansas' Mario Little made a key baseline jumper for the Jayhawks on Monday before Zaire Taylor won the game with 1.3 seconds left for Missouri. Little finished with nine points. He scored 15 against Texas A&M, was 4-of-4 against Iowa State, scored a dozen against Baylor and 13 against Oklahoma State. Little's emergence as a scorer was expected out of junior college, but in the fall, not February. But injuries nearly sent him to a redshirt. KU has benefited from his presence and will continue to do so, as Little takes some pressure off Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich.

• For what it's worth, I liked Pitt's new third uniforms, with a gold look to them, Monday. Sam Young was back to being a force, scoring 20 in the Panthers' 11-point win over West Virginia to go to 22-2 on the season.

• Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu has the look to be the best NBA prospect out of the freshman class. Aminu is scoring much more easily now. Whether Aminu stays will be one of the interesting stories to watch in the spring, along with sophomore teammates Jeff Teague and James Johnson.

• Key games remaining for some bubble teams:

Miami (15-8, 4-6 ACC): plays North Carolina at home, Florida State on the road. The Canes probably have to win one of these.

Michigan (15-9, 5-6 Big Ten): plays Michigan State and Purdue at home. Likely has to win at least one.

Georgetown (13-9, 4-7 Big East): at South Florida, Marquette, Louisville, at St. John's. Winning all four would certainly help.

Kansas State (16-7, 5-4 Big 12): plays Kansas, at Missouri, vs. Nebraska, at Oklahoma State. Winning three of four would go a long way for the Wildcats.

Notre Dame (12-10, 3-7 Big East): hosts Louisville, at Providence and Villanova at home. Irish have to win all three.

• San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said the Aztecs are "good;" so too is the Mountain West, and that there are no "smoke and mirrors." He also agreed with our Bracketologist Joe Lunardi that there should be four Mountain West teams in the NCAA tournament (SDSU, Utah, BYU and UNLV) with a fifth pushing them in New Mexico. Fisher and the Aztecs look for a sweep of Utah in a first-place showdown Wednesday in Salt Lake City. Listen on Wednesday to the ESPNU College Basketball podcast for more of my interview with Fisher. San Diego State has won 10 of 12 games, four straight and one of the two losses in the MWC -- at Wyoming -- was without an injured Lorrenzo Wade. The other loss was by six at BYU. The Aztecs have been holding teams to 34.5 percent from the field, 26.5 on 3s during their win streak. The problem with the Aztecs, and Fisher addresses this, is they lost their three high-quality nonconference games to Arizona, Arizona State and Saint Mary's.

• If Missouri coach Mike Anderson gets the Tigers into the NCAA tournament, athletic director Mike Alden might have to fend off suitors from Alabama and Georgia. Anderson was a hit at UAB, and was part of Nolan Richardson's successful SEC staff at Arkansas.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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