By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
Baylor men’s basketball entered the 2017-18 season with high expectations after a Sweet Sixteen run and the program’s first-ever No. 1 ranking propelled the Bears further into the national spotlight.
Last season, Baylor was favored in 14 of 18 conference games, according to OddsShark. They won 12 of those games and finished in a three-way tie for second place in the conference.
The Bears currently sit at 12-6 on the season with a 2-4 record in Big 12 Conference games. They have been favored in three of six conference games, but top-10 ranked opponents Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas Tech still lie ahead.
According to KenPom, a college basketball analytics website, Baylor has only three conference games remaining in which they have a greater than a 50 percent chance of winning.
After getting clobbered 77-53 by Texas Tech in the Big 12 opener, the Bears returned home to face rival TCU looking to get back on track in conference play.
They weren’t favored, but playing at home, it had the feel of a must-win for the Bears. A back-and-forth battle resulted in the Horned Frogs leaving the Ferrell Center with a 81-78 overtime win in their pockets, a result that didn’t sit well for senior forward Jo Lual-Acuil.
“I’m disappointed we lost. We just got to move on to the next one,” Lual-Acuil said after the game.
Moving on is the only thing the Bears could do after a dismal 1-4 start to conference play that included a 75-65 loss to 9-6 Iowa State in Ames, Iowa.
Last season, the Bears won big games and wanted to prove to the nation that they were deserving of a top-10 ranking. This season, the Bears are clawing for wins and trying to keep their NCAA tournament streak alive.
A convincing 76-60 home win over Oklahoma State on Monday helped their cause.
Cowboys’ head coach Mike Boynton said he could sense the underdog mindset the Bears are playing with now.
“Congrats to Coach Drew and his team for playing really well especially in the second half,” Boynton said. “You could tell his team played with a sense of hunger, urgency, backs against the wall.”
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has Baylor on the outside looking in, per his most recent NCAA Tournament bracket prediction.
If Baylor wants to make its way onto that bracket, it will need to pull off some upsets down the stretch.
The Bears hope to harness that sense of urgency as they face No. 10 Kansas at 5 p.m. Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.