Despite NIT Championship, Baylor men underachieved

Seniors guards A.J. Walton and Pierre Jackson embrace Thursday after defeating Iowa 74-54 to win the NIT Championship. (Drew Mills | Round-Up Photographer)
Seniors guards A.J. Walton and Pierre Jackson embrace Thursday after defeating Iowa 74-54 to win the NIT Championship.
(Drew Mills | Round-Up Photographer)
By Daniel Hill
Staff Writer

Considering the Bears’ lofty preseason ranking of No. 19 in the country, it’s difficult to see this season as nothing short of bittersweet.

Sure, it’s fantastic for head coach Scott Drew and seniors Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton to go out on top in with an NIT championship, but the NIT was never the goal for this group of Bears. 

Even though Baylor did win the first NIT in program history and in Big 12 history, this team had the talent to do more.

This season was supposed to be the season the Bears returned to the NCAA’s Elite Eight for the third time in four years, not the season where Baylor failed to make the NCAA Tournament entirely. 

At the beginning of the season, the Bears teased Baylor Nation by getting off to a record-best 5-1 start in the Big 12. The Bears faltered down the stretch by losing nine of 12 games and ended up missing the NCAA Tournament despite major wins against Kansas, Oklahoma State and Kentucky. The résumé for the Bears fell short of the premiere NCAA tournament so the team had to settle for the secondary NIT tournament. 

There were only two Bears who had truly successful and exceptional campaigns this season: senior point guard Pierre Jackson and junior forward Cory Jefferson.

Jackson led the entire Big 12 in scoring with 19.9 points per game and assists with 7.0 per game. Many times throughout the season, Jackson had to carry the team on his shoulders. 

Jefferson also exhibited massive growth and development throughout the course of the season. Jefferson averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds for the year. Those are easily the best season numbers he’s achieved in his entire Baylor career. As a redshirt freshman, Jefferson scored 1.6 points per game then as a redshirt sophomore Jefferson scored 3.6 points per game. Jefferson has played so well down the stretch that he is widely considered a late first round to early second round NBA Draft prospect.

While Jefferson and Jackson rose to the occasion, there were other Bears who just didn’t live up to expectations this season: freshman center Isaiah Austin and junior guard Brady Heslip.

Austin was highly publicized and favored to be a top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft as a one-and-done prospect. While Austin’s season did have highs against Oklahoma early in the Big 12 schedule with a 19 point, 20 rebound effort and against BYU in the NIT semifinals with 14 points and 10 rebounds, Austin also disappeared for key moments throughout the season. In the Big 12 Conference tournament, Austin pulled a no-show against Oklahoma State with two points and one rebound. If Austin dreams of being an NBA player one day, he can’t get pushed around in the paint as he’s done so often this season and he can’t disappear in monumental moments. 

Heslip was billed as one of the best three-point shooters in college basketball, Heslip flopped throughout the course of Big 12 play.

Heslip’s best effort in Big 12 play came against a dismal West Virginia team when he was practically unguarded and hit 6 treys and posted 20 points.

In other central Big 12 games, Heslip couldn’t get open and hit the deep shots against teams that played honest defense. Heslip scored just three points agasint Iowa State and didn’t score a single point in the Big 12 tournament.

Winning the NIT takes a portion of disappointment away from this season’s men’s basketball team. RG3 showed Baylor Nation that they should expect to win in football and now Scott Drew’s Baylor basketball teams have done the same. Baylor expects to win now. Winning the NIT is a solid accomplishment, but Baylor needs to aim higher.