With two close losses against Top-5 teams, surrounding a dominant road win over TCU, the Bears look to breakthrough late in the year against another nationally ranked Top-10 team in West Virginia. The Mountaineers are 23-7 on the season, and are on a 3-game winning streak. Can the Bears send off their seniors with a win and clinch a top-5 spot in the Big 12 rankings?
No. 10 West Virginia (23-7, 12-5) at No. 19 Baylor (21-9, 10-7)
Date - March 5, 2016 | 1:00 p.m. CT
Location - Waco, Texas | Ferrell Center (10,284)
TV - ESPN and WatchESPN
Radio - ESPN Central Texas
Online Audio - Listen Online
Linve Stats - Gametracker
Twitter - @BaylorMBB
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Cherish the Ball - The Mountaineers lead the nation in steals % and turnovers. They are a swarming defense, designed to turn the ball over in bunches. Baylor has done an excellent job against this press in the last four games, three of those being wins. Even in their earlier loss to WVU in February, Baylor only had 10 turnovers. The emergence of Ish Wainright as a viable 3-point threat on open looks, and with his ability to be the primary ball handler and release valve against the pressure is reminscent of Royce O'Neale the past few seasons. Similar games and styles as very capable play makers from the small forward position. Wainright put up 11 points in the first matchup this year between these two teams, and is playing even better now.
2. Get Rico Going - In the Bears three dominant wins over West Virginia last year, he averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds. In their earlier loss to the Mountaineers, he was just 1-9 from the field for 5 points and 7 rebounds. His opponent, Devin Williams, dominated the matchup. Williams scored 16 points to go along with 7 rebounds. The Bears have to dominate down low, especially against another great rebounding team like WVU. Rico is a big part of that, and he also seems to be gaining strength and stamina back from the month long illness he has been battling. This is Rico's last game in front of the Baylor crowd, and you have to imagine he wants to attone for a lackluster performance against Williams in February.
3. Hit those Free Throws - You hate to think that a few missed free throws stopped the Bears from pulling off a 20+ point comeback on the road against a Top-5 team, but it is probably true. Baylor was just 8-16 from the charity stripe in their 73-71 point loss to Oklahoma. They missed a few late, not even including the intentional miss in the last few seconds by Taurean Prince. Baylor has to get these free points, especially against a team that fouls as much as West Virignia does. They allow 28.8% of their opponents points to come from the free throw line, the most in the nation. They will foul, foul, and then foul some more. It is part of their risk/reward trapping and pressing defense. Baylor will get into the bonus in both halves, probably pretty early. They need to make WVU pay for those reaching fouls 40 feet away from the basket.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME?
The Bears fell late on the road to West Virginia, 80-69. The senior trio of Medford, Gathers and Prince shot just 21.7% from the field and scored a combined 24 points. The game was lost in the first few minutes of the second half as Baylor hit just 1-11 shots, and saw the deficit balloon to 15 points. The bears would cut the lead to 8 poitns with just over 3 minutes to go, but West Virginia made plays down the stretch to pull away and give the Bears theri 2nd straight defeat in Big 12 play.
KenPom.com – Baylor wins 76-75 (53% chance for win)
Massey.com – Baylor wins 75-74 (52% chance for win)
Tim Watkins, BearsIllustrated.com - Baylor win 76-67
I don't see the Bears losing on senior night, especially against a team that they matchup very well against. The Bears are playing great basketball the past month. They have been a few plays away from two Top-5 upsets over Kansas and Oklahoma the past week. West Virginia is a good team, but they are not at that level. Look for Rico Gathers to have his best game in months, and the Bears to pass and shoot their way through the Mountaineers zone in a zomfortable win in front of the home crowd.