By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer
Following a crushing overtime loss to Kansas State University on Jan. 7, No. 21 Baylor men’s basketball fell to 0-3 in conference play fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in a program-record 65 weeks. Despite the frustrating losses, I think this is exactly what the team needed to get back on track and prepare for a deep postseason run.
While the Bears’ talent hasn’t been questioned throughout the season, tough losses against other ranked opponents and conference rivals raised questions about how competitive the team was going to be later in the season and in the Big 12 championship. Wins against Gonzaga and UCLA can’t be overlooked when trying to analyze the streaky Bears, but losing in conference play could be seen as alarming.
Although Baylor has historically thrived in Big 12 play, the losing streak against several teams seen as less competitive will help the team this season more than ever. When I look at historic success combined with loads of talent, there is no question that the Bears were just outplayed, something that they won’t let happen again.
Baylor is loaded with young talent on a roster that still has a good amount of experience. With veterans like fifth-year senior forward Flo Thamba and redshirt senior guard Adam Flagler, who are able to bring leadership and positive culture to the team, it will become much easier for the Bears to bounce back. The importance of strong coaching and leadership on the court is second to none, and both happen to be high points for the team.
While the losing streak may initially look like a problem, it’s better to lose early in the season than later when the moment is bigger. Productive outings by freshman guard Keyonte George in each loss have been a bright spot, but it’s even more encouraging that the games were close and each player on the court played productive minutes.
Now, with a three game winning streak under its belt, Baylor is back in the top 25 and is 0.500 in conference play. Dominant performances from George and other guards have helped the team regain momentum and begin to look like the squad they were thought to be at the beginning of the season.
Sitting pretty ranked at No. 21 in the most recent AP Poll, the Bears have not been lacking in any offensive category. Following the winning streak, the team is now No. 1 in the nation in offensive efficiency, something the team will have to keep up to stay competitive in the stacked Big 12 conference.
While it’s still too early to say that the losing streak and poll slip up was a good thing, it seems to have lit a fire under the team and signs are pointing in the right direction again.
With all momentum now in Baylor’s favor, tough conference games against rivals like the University of Oklahoma and No. 2 University of Kansas are on the horizon. The Bears have an opportunity to show the country that one little bump isn’t going to set the group back for long.
If all goes according to plan, Baylor won’t be on the outside looking in at any point for the rest of the season.