The Baylor men’s basketball team has put together a poster with a prediction of how many more wins it needs to make the NCAA tournament.
The Bears believe the magic number is two, but they know they can erase any postseason doubts by winning the remaining three regular season games, beginning with TCU at 11 a.m. Saturday at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth.
Such is life on the NCAA tournament bubble.
“People say we’re out, people say we’re on the bubble, who cares?” said Baylor guard King McClure. “We just need to win this game Saturday, win the game Tuesday and win the game next Saturday, and whatever happens happens. At the end of the day we just have to win every single game. We win we’re in, that’s all that really matters.”
After facing the Horned Frogs, the Bears host Oklahoma on Tuesday followed by the regular season finale against Kansas State in Manhattan on March 3.
Every Big 12 team except last place Iowa State appears to still have a shot at the NCAA tournament. Five teams are within a game of each other in the middle of the standings, including Baylor and TCU tied for fifth at 7-8, and Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas tied for seventh at 6-9.
The Bears (17-11 overall) were the hottest team in the conference before their five-game winning streak ended with Tuesday’s 71-60 loss to No. 21 West Virginia at the Ferrell Center. Baylor shot just 32.8 percent, including a dismal 19.2 percent along with 12 turnovers in the first half to fall into a 40-18 hole.
“I think we didn’t play particularly well for a myriad of reasons,” said Baylor guard Jake Lindsey. “We didn’t take care of the ball. We didn’t finish when we did take care of the ball. We didn’t guard their personnel the way we wanted to. We just had a pretty pathetic effort in the first half frankly.”
The Bears hope to jump out to a hotter start against the Horned Frogs (19-9 overall) who won their second straight game with an 89-83 decision over Iowa State in Ames on Wednesday.
A rough start plagued the Bears in their first meeting against the Horned Frogs on Jan. 2 at the Ferrell Center as they trailed 36-28 at halftime before coming back to force overtime. TCU eventually prevailed 81-78 as forward Vlad Brodziansky hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime en route to an 18-point performance.
TCU beat the Bears for the first time since 2002, snapping an 11-game losing streak in the Big 12 era.
Baylor hopes to get better guard play against the Horned Frogs in the rematch. While center Jo Lual-Acuil collected 28 points and forward Terry Maston came off the bench for 20, Baylor’s guards scored just 20 points, including a one for 11 shooting performance by Manu Lecomte.
“Our bigs played really well and it went into OT,” said McClure, who missed all six field goal attempts against TCU. “I feel I could have contributed more to that game personally. Our guards could have played a little better.”
TCU’s lineup will look different without point guard Jaylen Fisher, who is expected to be out for the season with a knee injury. The Horned Frogs have fashioned a 6-5 record without him as Alex Robinson has capably stepped into the point guard role.
Brodziansky leads the Horned Frogs with a 15.5 scoring average while former University High School star Kenrich Williams is averaging 13.2 points, guard Desmond Bane 12.6 and forward Kouat Noi 10.9. Robinson ranks fifth in the Big 12 with 6.1 assists per game.
“Alex (Robinson) has stepped in and done a terrific job,” Lindsey said. “He’s taken a big load for them. He’s always been a creative passer. I’ve always admired that about his game. He’s done a good job finding guys to get to their spots. Some of the guys have stepped up and played well without Jaylen. It’s a different team but they’re still a terrific team.”
The Horned Frogs lead the Big 12 with a 50.4 overall shooting percentage and 41.3 percent from 3-point range. The Bears rank second in the conference by limiting teams to 41 percent overall shooting, and hope to slow down TCU’s explosive offense.
“They’re the best offensive team in the Big 12,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “They really shoot it well, the best 3-point shooting team in the Big 12. Defensively we have to take away transition, contest as many 3’s and try to make things as difficult as we can there.”
Drew is optimistic that the widespread FBI probe into illegal college basketball recruiting involving agents won’t affect his program. “At Baylor, the one thing we’ve tried to always do is run a clean program. At the end of the day, I know I trust our coaching staff and believe in them. And in no way, shape or form do we ever want to put Baylor in a bad light or ourselves.”