5-Things: The Sprint to Madness

Scott Drew and his Baylor Bears have little room left in the regular season, with two dates on the schedule against Top-20 teams.

1. Just 2 regular season games remain for the Baylor Bears.  Add to that at least one, and maybe as many as 4, Big 12 tournament games, and there is precious little time remaining until the madness truly starts for Baylor.  This will be the 3rd year in a row a Baylor team will hear its name called on Selection Sunday.  They are in. There is no work left to be done to simply get into the tournament. Baylor could lose three games in a row for the first time in the 2015-16 season and still be a NCAA tournament team.  

The conversation rightfully should turn to seeding, and their place in the tournament.  They have a seat at the dinner table, will it be a prime seat at the head of the table or over to the side in the kiddie section left for your cousin's kids that don't really behave or listen to anyone? Both of those extremes are in play, and everything else in between. 

2. With their victory over TCU Saturday evening, the Bears clinched a winning record in Big 12 play.  It also improved the Bears to a Big 12 best 6-2 on the road, with their trip to Oklahoma to take on the Sooners as their last true road game of the year.  Their 6-road wins is a program best in conference play, and shows the value of senior leadership.  Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Lester Medford have been examples of what Scott Drew wants from his team the past few weeks. Gathers, a starter for the last 2 years, has come off the bench the past few games due to illness sapping him of some strength and energy, and the impact play of sophomore Jonathan Motley. 

Medford continues to be one of the best passers in the nation, racking up the most assists so far in Big 12 play of any player. His improvement as a true point guard has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2015-16 season.  Finally, Taurean Prince is the engine that makes this all go. The Bears go-to scorer, and strongest all-around player, Prince does a little bit of everything for this team.  He can hit the open 3-pointer (36% shooter from deep, 42 makes are 2nd on the team), he can help on teh glass (9.2% offensive rebound rate, 330th best in the nation and 3rd on the team). He can make an impact with his defense (Top-500 nationally in block % and steal %). He can get tough buckets off the dribble when the Bears need it, and knocks down free throws at an 81.1% clip.  

It is a shame that Prince is not getting more attention for his all-around play, but he has been one of the most dynamic and well-rounded players in the nation this year. Prince and the rest of the seniors will be a key in the Bears run over the next few weeks, starting with two games against ranked teams to close out Big 12 play.  

3. Those two games, a trip to Oklahoma Tuesday night and then a senior night against West Virginia, are two massive opportunities for the Bears.  Right now, they are a 6-seed according to most brackets.  That is probably where I would place them as well, though they could sneak into the 5-line as well.  With 2 Top-10 opponents on deck (according to KenPom), a win versus either OU or WVU would give Baylor another marquee victory over a very good team.  It would also improve them to 11-7 in the toughest conference in the nation, and maybe even push them into a Top-4 seed in the Big 12 tournament.  Currently, the Bears are in a 3-way tie for 3rd place, and a game ahead of Iowa State. Baylor owns the tie-breaker over the Cyclones, so they would need to win out to move Baylor down to the 5th seed.  Texas Tech is two games behind Baylor now, so the tie-breaker would need to go their way to push Baylor down to 6th.  That is important, because the Top-6 teams get a bye from the Wednesday games. Baylor will avoid that game, thus saving their legs. 

If the Bears can split the two games, they will most likely stay in the 4/5 matchup. If they lose both, they could still be in that matchup as well, just as the lower seed. However, a victory and some help could move Baylor up to the 3-seed, where they would get another crack at Texas Tech, or even Iowa State.  In the 4/5 matchup, one of Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas or even Iowa State could be the opponent.  There is a ton of work left to do for the Bears, beginning with Oklahoma Tuesday night. 

With at least 1 win, and a win or two in the Big 12 tournament, Baylor would probably move up to the 5-seed.  Winning out the regular season and the Big 12 tournament might even move Baylor up to a 3-seed, if they get some breaks as well. If they lose three in a row, the 8/9 matchup is not out of the question, though the 7-seed might be more likely.  

The options and possibilities are numerous with as few as 3-games left to go for the Bears.  Win a few and they make a strong case to not only stay around the 6-seed line, but move up.  Lose and they could slide down.  

4. With spring upon us, that means as basketball winds down, football will start to pick back up. We saw that last week with the beginning of the Bears Spring Drills Thursday afternoon. It was Baylor fans first chance to see early enrollee newcomers like Zach Smith and Trendavian Dickson take the field in green and gold.  It also gave fans a chance to welcome back Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham, who both saw their 2015 campaigns ended early due to injury.  Position changes, thoughts on new defensive schemes, and even some news on the offensive line dominated the first few days of action. 

5. Another tradition of the spring is the NFL combine, long dominated by the underwear olympics that the professional league forces their new labor to go through.  Running drills, positional drills, juping, lifting, more running and then top it off with interview and it is a busy week for the several hunded young men lucky enough to be invited to Indianapolis.  Six Bears were invited to participate in the 2016 combine.  Shawn Oakman, Jimmy Landes, Xavien Howard, Spencer Drango, Corey Coleman, and Andrew Billings. That is the largest contingent of Baylor athletes in the combines history.  With 4 seniors and two junior, Baylor has some high end talent in Indianapolis.  

The headliners were Billings and Coleman, with both getting first round attention. Coleman showed off his pure athleticism, being one of the top performers in each of the three events her participated in (17 reps in the bench press, 40.5 inch vertical, and 129 inch broad jump).  However, Coleman did not run the forty yard dash, something he is still trying to build back up after groin surgrey earlier in the year.  

Billings had all eyes on him as well, with many expecting him to challenge the record of 49 reps in the bench press.  However, a disapointing 31 (good for 3rd place) was the result for the 20-year old, the youngest player in the draft.  Second day prospects Spencer Drango and Shawn Oakman had solid combines, though neither stood out positively or negativly to effect their draft stock too much.  Howard is currently going through drills now, hoping to finish up later Monday afternoon, while Landes was done before most even arrived in Indianapolis as one of the few specialists to go through the event.  

The next big day for these former Bears in March 18th, for the Baylor pro-day.  It will be a highly publicized even, with these six athletes headling along with many of their current and former teammates.  One key Bear will not be available for the combine though, a player that will surely get quite a bit of attention.

The long-standing drinking game of "Rico should play football" has taken on a real meaning, with the announcment by Rico Gathers that will be transitioning to football after the basketball season is over.  With the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments around the Bears pro-day, Gathers will have provate workouts for interested teams following the end of the Baylor basketball season. It all leads to the NFL draft, held April 28th-30th in Chicago, IL. 

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