Just three weeks ago, the Baylor Bears were 12-1, including a victory over Kentucky, and ranked No. 7 in the country in the Associated Press media poll. Since then, they’ve been in a free fall, losing five of their last six games, including their last two at home (to Oklahoma and Texas on successive Saturdays).
On Tuesday night, Baylor hosts a West Virginia team that is two spots higher in the conference standings, in seventh place with a 3-4 league record. The Bears (13-6, 1-5) have lost four consecutive conference games. Their only win in conference play was back on Jan. 11, a 16-point win at home over TCU, the only team below Baylor in the standings.
This will be only the fourth game all-time between Baylor and West Virginia. Baylor has won all three of the previous games, including a sweep of the two games last season, West Virginia’s debut year in the Big 12. The Bears are trying to avoid a third straight home loss. They had won 13 consecutive games at home before dropping their last two home games.
Baylor is led in scoring by 6-9 senior forward Cory Jefferson, who is averaging 12.9 in 19 games. Isaiah Austin, the Bears 7-1 sophomore center, has socred in double figures in 11 of his last 13 starts and had a career-high 16 points at Kansas a week ago. Baylor is holding its opponents to 41 percent shooting this season. When the Bears hold their opponent’s shooting percentage below 50 percent, they are 13-2 in 2013-14.
West Virginia has two players, sophomore Eron Harris and junior Juwan Staten, who average 17 points a game. Terry Henderson, a 6-4 sophomore guard, is a third scoring option for the Mountaineers. Henderson also is averaging in double figures, at 12.3 per contest. Mountaineers’ head coach Bob Huggins is concerned about Baylor’s size and length down low. The Bears are a good rebounding team. If West Virginia is going to win this game. it will have to defend better than it has most of the season and box out underneath, especially on the offensive end, in hopes of limiting second-chance scoring opportunites.
The Mountaineers are also going to need to be especially mindful of not allowing Baylor to get going from behind the three-point line. The Bears, with senior guard Brady Heslip as their main long-range weapon, are the best three-point-shooting team in the Big 12, averaging almost 40-percent efficiency from beyond the arc.
Game prediction: Baylor 82, West Virginia 74 – Baylor has lost four straight games, but they are too good to keep losing. A little home cooking tonight should work in exorcising the demons the Bears have battled theur last four outings.
Other Big 12 Basketball Midweek Picks
Tuesday night: Texas Tech 54 @ Kansas State 71 - The Red Raiders are just the remedy K-State is looking for to get its swagger back and stop the bleeding.
Wednesday: Iowa State 74 @ Kansas 79 – The Cyclones finally got back on the winning track on Saturday after losing three straight before that. Kansas is not the place you want to go if you want to make it two Ws in a row. The Jayhawks already won at ISU earlier in the month.