Bears miss out on NCAA tournament, to play in NIT

Scott Drew Graphic FTWBy Daniel Hill
Sports Writer

The Baylor Bears started the season ranked No. 19 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll.

The Bears went into the Big 12 Tournament as the No. 6 seed setting up a rematch with Oklahoma State. The Bears lost a heartbreaker to the Cowboys 74-72 in Kansas City at the Sprint Center. The Bears were down 42-24 at half and battled back in the second half to give Oklahoma State a run for their money. Senior point guard Pierre Jackson had a chance to win the game with a three at the buzzer but the shot deflected off the rim.

After a season that fell short of expectations, the Baylor Bears were denied a bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Rather than competing for a third Elite Eight appearance in four years, the Bears will be playing in the National Invitational Tournament this postseason.

“Nobody wants to finish playing,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “To have an opportunity to play postseason means the seniors get a chance to put on that uniform one last time. And I know at the end of the year, there are only two happy teams — the one that wins the national championship in the NCAA and whoever wins the championship in the NIT. So the goal is to be one of those teams that win the last game.”

One positive aspect of being in the NIT is that Baylor will have the opportunity to host one game and possibly a second at the Ferrell Center.

At 8 p.m. Wednesday, the Bears will host Long Beach State at the Ferrell Center. The contest will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

The Bears were 18-14 overall this season and had a 9-9 record within the Big 12 Conference. The Bears’ season was filled with ups and downs.

The Bears started off the regular season with a 5-1 record before losing two of their next three in what would eventually end up being their two weakest losses of the season. The Bears lost to the College of Charleston 63-59 at home in the Ferrell Center. After the loss to Charleston, the Bears had one of their most notable wins of the season when they went into Rupp Arena and defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 64-55. Following the thrill of the Kentucky victory, the Bears lost again at the Ferrell Center when Northwestern toppled them 74-70.

Those two home losses would come back to haunt the Bears. If the Bears had won those two games, there’s a strong chance that their résumé would have qualified them for the NCAA Tournament.

Aside from the Kentucky win, the Bears’ other two wins were at home against Oklahoma State early in the Big 12 schedule and then at home again in the regular season finale against Kansas.

The highlight of the Bears’ season was beating No. 3 Kansas in the Ferrell Center by an astounding 23 points. After the Bears crushed Kansas, it seemed as if momentum was on their side and that they would make some noise in the Big 12 Conference.

Jackson, Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, did not disappoint in his senior season for Baylor. The electrifying senior guard led the Big 12 in scoring and assists. Jackson is the first player to accomplish the feat since Jason Terry was at Arizona nearly two decades ago. Jackson is only the fifth player to ever lead a power conference in both scoring and assists.

Jackson was slighted in the opinion of many basketball fans in postseason awards. Jackson was named to the All-Big 12 second team by the coaches, and Jackson did earn First-Team All-Big 12 from the Associated Press.

Freshman center Isaiah Austin was named to the Big 12 All-Rookie team by the coaches. Austin was also named second team All-Big 12 by the media and third team All-Big 12 by the coaches. Austin averaged 13.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

Junior forward Cory Jefferson had a breakout season for the Bears as he averaged 12.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Jefferson was named All-Big 12 honorable mention by both the media and the coaches.

Junior guard Gary Franklin knew that the Bears season fell short of preseason expectations, but still felt that the Bears were good enough to make the NCAA Tournament.

“Absolutely, I mean I thought we did enough,” Franklin said. “Obviously, we didn’t have the season we wanted to have or expected to have but we thought we deserved to play in the NCAA Tournament so I think the only way to prove that is to win the whole thing [NIT].”

Despite the obvious disappointment of not being selected to the NCAA Tournament field of 68 teams, the Bears are relishing the opportunity to play in the NIT.

“The disappointment of not making the NCAA is always hard on everybody that’s playing in the NIT,” Drew said. “At the same time, now that you know who you’re playing and you know you do have postseason, the excitement kicks in. And everyone knows, you lose, it’s the last time you put on the jersey, so, there’s plenty of motivation and intensity, and everyone knows what’s going on.”

The NIT presents the Bears with a chance to play postseason basketball and have more home games at the Ferrell Center.

The NIT can also serve as a foundation to build toward next season’s success for Baylor and gives the squad a chance to play at the Mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“We’ve got a lot to prove still,” Jackson said. “We’ve still got five games to play and that’s a lot of basketball to show everybody that we’re good. I feel like we still belong in the big dance but it’s not about ifs and buts. I’ve never gotten a chance to play at Madison Square Garden in New York so that would be a good goal for the team.”