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5-Things: Let the Tournaments Begin!

With the regular season over for the Baylor Bears and Lady Bears, it is time for tournament basketball to tipoff. The Bears start their journey in the Big 12 tournament Thursday, while the Lady Bears look to win another championship Monday night.

1. The Big 12 regular season is over for the Bears and Lady Bears that call the hardcourt their home.  BIg 12 basketball now heads to the conference tournaments, where we already find Kim Mulkey and the Lady Bears in the finals.  Tonight, they square off against 2nd seeded, and 6th ranked Texas Lady Longhorns. The Lady Bears are going for their 6th straight Big 12 tournament title.  In the first round, they destroyed Texas Tech 82-51 behind a tremendous effort from the bench.  Against Oklahoma, it was the play of Alexis Jones with 19 points and 11 assists that pushed the Bears to a 84-57 victory. 

The Lady Bears easily beat the Longhorns this year, winning 80-67 on the road before a regular season finale 74-48 smashing on senior day.  Will Niya Johnson, one of the best passing point guards the college game has ever seen, go out a 4-time tournament champion?  Even with a loss tonight, the Bears will probably be given the 4th #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  This is for bragging rights, and to make sure they keep their strangle hold on the Big 12. 

2. The Baylor Bears and Longhorns aren't just for the women's teams, as the men will face off in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament Thursday late morning.  Going into the weekend, the Bears could have been seeded anywhere from 4th to 6th place.  With a win over West Virginia, they would have been assured of the 4/5 matchup, but would have had a chance to wear their home jerseys.  Alas, a poor shooting effort doomed the Bears on Senior Day, putting their hopes in the hands of Kansas.  If Iowa State would have upset Kansas in Lawrence, the Bears would have fallen to the 3rd seed and have to face Oklahoma in the first round.  The Sooners swept the Bears, beating them soundly in Waco earlier in the year before a huge rally fell short in Norman for the Bears last week.  

With the Jayhawks winning on their senior day, the Bears were slotted 5th and will be the road team against Texas. The two teams split the season series, with each winning on the road.  Baylor won more recently, a dominant 78-64 thrashing in Austin.  This could not have worked out better for Baylor, avoiding a much better overall team in Oklahoma to take on a team that they have beaten just 2 weeks ago.  

3. Even better than the opponent for the Bears is that their games in Waco are done.  2-5 in their last 7 games at home. the Bears have been stronger on the road since calendar flipped to February.  They are 3-1 in their last four road games, and were 6-3 in Big 12 play away from the Ferrell Center. Before this stretch of poor play at home, the Bears had won 15 straight at the Ferrell Center, goin back 348 days.  However, since top-seeded Oklahoma came to town, Baylor has been awful at home. Baylor has lost those 5-games by an average of 10.6 points.

Four of the losses were to ranked teams, with the worst loss (18 points) coming to an unranked Texas Tech squad.  The road has seen the Bears win at Iowa State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas and TCU.  They lost by just 2 points to Oklahoma on the road, and were really never in their road loss to Kansas.  

Luckily, there are no more home games.  The Big 12 tournament is in Oklahoma City, while the NCAA tournament could send them from coast to coast.  Let's hope that the road continues to be kind for the Bears. 

4. They key to the Bears run in the Big 12 and NCAA tournanments will be their shot-making ability. They are a team that is capable of hanging with the best programs in the nation when they are hitting their shots.  They have the 10th most effective offense in the nation according to KenPom.com, and are 75th in Effective Field Goal % at 52.0.  In their loss against West Virginia, they made less than 36% of their shots, in a frustrating offensive performance.  The shots were there, as the Bears missed countless layups and open three-pointers.  We saw the same thing against Oklahoma in the first 25 minutes of action, where they faced a 23 point deficit late.  The massive comeback that resulted in them taking a 1-point lead late in the game was a result of them hitting shots and getting into transition.  

The Bears defense has been rather porous this year, after climbing to a Top-40 defense in 2015.  This year, the zone is letting too many 3-pointers go through the net. They are 313th in 3-point percentage allowed, by far the lowest ranking under Scott Drew.  Some of that is luck, with 20% shooters nailing open shots. It would be a mistake to credit all of that to the simple bounce of a ball, as the rotations and close-outs on shooters has been poor this year. 

With several high powered offenses from the mid-major ranks slotted to be possible 1st round matchups for the Bears (St. Mary's and Monmouth specifically) the Bears offense will have to get going from the start, or it could be their second year in a row being bitten by Cinderalla.  

5. Spring Drills for Baylor football continued last week, with their first scrimmage of the 2016 season showing an offense that is well behind the defense so far.  Little scoring was found on the field, as the defense made big plays to stymie the offense.  This is common early in camps, as it takes the offense longer to get going than defense. However, if Davion Hall (1 interception and 1 tackle) can continue to showcase a playmaking ability in the backfield, the Bears weakness in 2015 could finally turn around.

Other players that have stood out in camp so far are Raaquan Davis (battling Aiavion Edwards for the starting middle linebacker spot), Jeremy Faulk (looking to replace one of the interior defensive linemen) and Tyrone Hunt (who could be used inside or outside on the defensive line).  The Bears are also expected to showcase more of the 3-man front this year, and that makes sense with the depth at the linebacker spot.  That lineup will allow the Bears to get both Davis and Edwards on the field with all-conference linebackers Taylor Young and Travon Blanchard.  This lineup could also mitigate depth on the defensive line, an area where the Bears are having to rely on untested newcomers for a large portion of their depth. 

The offense will get going, no doubt, especially as the offensive line settles in. How to best fit the 3 junior college linemen in who did not play last year and how to get the best-5 out there is a challenge for the Baylor staff.  They have time to settle it, but most of those questions will probably have to wait for the fall. 


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