The Baylor Bears, ranked sixth in the country, have a two-game stretch that will test their toughness and place in the NCAA as March Madness slowly creeps up.
The #6 Baylor Bears (21-2, 8-2 Big 12) are having a remarkable season. The Perry Jones III-led Bears started the season 17-0 until they played then #7 Kansas (lost 92-74 on Jan. 16) and then #4 Missouri (lost 89-88 on Jan. 21). The two consecutive losses to fierce Big XII rivals dropped the Bears to 17-2 at the time. Jones III and the team got back on the horse to rattle off four consecutive wins to find themselves at a stellar 21-2 with rematches and potential revenge awaiting against now #10 Kansas on Feb. 8 at home and at #4 Missouri on Feb. 11.
Can Baylor get payback? The Bears need to at least salvage a split in their next two games or better yet win these second meetings with KU and Missouri to cement their status as a Final Four favorite. But for that to happen, the most important Bear, Baylor's spark plug, isn't veteran Quincy Acy or future NBA lottery pick Jones III. The guy who needs the play the best down the stretch is Las Vegas' own Pierre Jackson.
Jackson, the former sixth man of the team is now a starter ahead of A.J. Walton and has played well since taking over. In his first game as a starter Jan. 21 vs. Missouri, Jackson led the Bears' comeback that eventually fell short with a monster 20 points, 15 assists, and 4 rebounds. The junior point guard will need to have games like this against the Jayhawks and Tigers to show that he is a capable floor general and that he can lead this team to a Final Four.
If the Bears beat Kansas and Missouri they are a legit #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If they lose to them both this weekend and finish 0-4 vs. Kansas and Missouri this season look for the Bears to fall to as low as a #4 seed. Baylor has eight games left on the schedule (including KU and Missouri) before the Big 12 Tournament. The schedule also has Iowa State (twice), Kansas State, Oklahoma, at Texas and Texas Tech. The Bears will be favored in all of these games, but there are few gimme games in the Big XII. Look for Baylor to go 7-1 or 6-2 in the final stretch.
Baylor's deepest NCAA Tournament run occurred in 2010 where they got to the Elite Eight only to lose to eventual champion Duke 78-71 in a regional final in Houston. Baylor's three NCAA tournament wins in 2010 matched all the previous wins in Bears NCAA Tournament history.