By Giana Pirolli | Sports Writer
The Big 12 is one of the most competitive basketball conferences in the country. Five teams are ranked in the AP Top 25, which includes No. 2 WVU, No. 8 Texas Tech, No. 9 Oklahoma, No. 12 Kansas and No. 16 TCU.
In a Jan. 8 Sports Illustrated story by Dan Greene, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said he believes all teams in the Big 12 have incredible potential.
“At this point in time, I don’t think there’s a legitimate Final Four team, but what we have in this league from one to 10 is easily the most competitive, balanced grouping that I think I’ve seen probably since the league was formed in 1996,” Fraschilla said in the story.
There is an abundance of must-watch players, including Oklahoma freshman guard Trae Young, West Virginia senior guard Jevon Carter, Texas freshman forward Mohamed Bamba and Baylor senior guard Manu Lecomte. There’s a wide array of talent that is dispersed among all teams and it goes to show the amount of perseverance, grit, and determination exhibited by all. This is just one reason why Big 12 play is not to be taken lightly.
In addition, the coaches in the Big 12 are some of the best. Five of them have led a team to at least one Final Four: Bill Self (Kansas in 2008 and ‘12), Lon Kruger (Oklahoma in ‘16 and Florida in 1994), Bob Huggins (Cincinnati in 1992, West Virginia in 2010), Shaka Smart (VCU in 2011) and Bruce Weber (Illinois in ‘05).
While Baylor may only be 1-3 in conference play, it has proven that it can hold its own against any team. WVU underestimated Baylor on Tuesday, winning only by three points in a 57-54 effort.
After the WVU game, Baylor head coach Scott Drew said that that type of game was to be expected in the Big 12.
“I thought it was another typical Big 12 game,” Drew said. “Great teams, great players, great atmosphere. I was proud that our team competed. We did a good enough job on the glass and defensively to win the game.”
After the Texas game on Jan. 6, senior forward Terry Maston shared these same sentiments regarding teams in conference.
“We have to grind out every game in the Big 12 because it’s so stacked from top to bottom,” Maston said. “If we play hard like this and eliminate the small mental mistakes, then we will look pretty good. Every game will be a grind, so we just have to come together and get it.”
With all this in mind, Baylor –– as well as any other team in the conference –– will be incredibly prepared for March Madness. In the last 10 years, the Bears have gone to the NCAA postseason tournament a total of seven times. Just because they are on a two-game losing streak means nothing, considering how drastically teams can evolve and improve over the course of a couple games or season.
Anything can happen. Players are always becoming injured, sick or falling into slumps.
In the same Jan. 8 story for Sports Illustrated, Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard reiterated how unpredictable conference play can be.
“Life in the Big 12…It’s like a good friend of mine texted me this week: Prince today, frog tomorrow,” Beard said.
The biggest takeaway is that basketball is an ever-changing sport. One team could be on top one day, but with an upset, the rankings change all over again. If Baylor can stay healthy, take care of the ball better (not commit as many turnovers), and continue to be relentless against any opponent (whether they are No. 2 WVU or Iowa State), it will be ready for the rest of the season and for whatever the post season tournament throws at it.
Baylor (11-5, 1-3) takes on Iowa State at 2 p.m. Saturday in Ames, Iowa. The game will air on ESPN News.