Eyes on the prize: No. 3 seed Baylor men’s basketball hunts for Big 12 title

No. 3 seed Baylor men's basketball is the only program in the Big 12 to have 11 or more conference wins in each of the last four seasons. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer

By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer

From a resume standpoint, No. 3 seed Baylor men’s basketball has little to gain in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship this week.

The Bears (22-9, 11-7 Big 12) secured a top-three finish in the Big 12 standings before the last game of league play, and they’ve earned a double-bye for the postseason tournament as a result of it. They’re also projected to be named a No. 3 seed for the NCAA Tournament, regardless of how they perform in the upcoming Big 12 Tournament.

Baylor isn’t taking the week off, though.

“We’re not playing any games to lose them,” senior guard RayJ Dennis said.

Bears head coach Scott Drew added that he and the team are locked into bringing the first-ever Big 12 Tournament trophy back to Waco. However, Drew said this year might be tougher than previous trips.

“Every year, you go to the Big 12 tournament, you bring folders on other teams that you might play,” Drew said. “And normally in the other bracket, it might be one or two folders. And this year, it seems like you’re bringing a ton of folders. And I think that’s [the state of] college basketball.”

The Big 12 Tournament started on Tuesday and runs through Saturday’s championship game. Baylor will face No. 11 seed Cincinnati in the quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday in the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo.

The Bears, who finished 14th in the final regular season AP Top 25 Poll, were one of six Big 12 teams to be ranked in the final installment, which was more than any other conference. Now, they’re hoping to use that fierce level of competition in the Big 12 Tournament to further prepare them for March Madness.

“They run it just like the NCAA Tournament with shootaround times and how the court works and how you go to the game, the police escort, all that stuff,” Drew said. “So by the time you get to the NCAA Tournament, hopefully there’s no ‘wow’ moments, and it’s routine.”

If Baylor were to run the table and win the conference tournament, it would have to win three games in three days. Dennis, who received AP All-Big 12 Second Team honors on Tuesday, said fatigue shouldn’t be a major factor.

“The Big 12 does a good job getting you ready for that with some of the [Saturday]-to-Monday games, and it’s not quite the same, but it’s similar,” Dennis said. “But I think just the most mentally tough team and physically tough team will come out on top.”

The Bears are coming off a 78-68 setback at Texas Tech on Saturday, which marked their only double-digit loss in conference play. In that outing, Baylor rallied back from a 16-point deficit but came up short in the end.

Freshman guard Ja’Kobe Walter said the Bears will have to prevent slow starts, especially since the intensity cranks up in postseason play.

“You just have to put together complete games,” Walter said. “I think we’ve seen plenty of games where we’re a really good second-half team, but if we play the whole game like we do in second halves, we’re a pretty hard team to stop.”

Baylor’s late-night game against the Bearcats on Thursday can be watched on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPN+. It can also be listened to on ESPN Central Texas 1660 AM radio. If the Bears win the quarterfinals matchup, they’ll have another 8:30 p.m. game on Friday.