Both teams were projected as conference contenders prior to the start of ther 2013-14 season by the Big 12 coaches. Both were ranked among the nation’s top-10 teams in the Associated Press poll. And both teams have experienced extended losing skids this season.
The teams referred to in the above paragraph are Oklahoma State and Baylor, who meet Monday night in Waco, Texas, as part of ESPN’s weekly “Big Monday” broadcast. Back in early January, this game might have stood out on the schedule as one with potential league title implications or, at the very least, a battle between two of the better teams in the conference late in the season.
The reality, however, is that Monday night’s game between the Cowboys and the host Bears is a battle for eighth place in the conference standings. Oklahoma State, which has played its past two games without the services of its team leader, Marcus Smart, has lost an almost unfathomable six straight games, three of them coming at home (against Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma, in that order). Smart drew a three-game suspension after charging into the stands and shoving a vocal fam a week ago at Texas Tech.
Baylor hasn’t done much better. The Bears, once 12-1 and ranked as high as No. 7 in the nation, split their first two conference games and then dropped five consecutive games and six out of eight before breaking the string with victories in its last two games.
Both teams have identical 16-9 records overall and are 4-8 in conference games. The Cowboys are 52-21 all-time vs. Baylor. Oklahoma State owns a 16-15 edge in games played in Waco, but Baylor has won the last seven games played there. The Bears won the first game between the two teams this season, in Stillwater, 76-70.
Baylor has a height advantage over the Cowboys and, no doubt will try to challenge Oklahoma State in the paint. The Bears are 13-3 this season when they score more points in the paint than their opponents. Baylor also holds a huge rebounding edge over the smaller Cowboys.
Baylor’s offensive production is spread among several players, led by senior forward Cory Jefferson, who is averaging 12.6 points per game. With Smart sitting out for one more game, senior Markel Brown and junior LeBryan Nash will be counted on to pick up the scoring slack, and both players are highly capable of doing s0. Brown had 26 points against Oklahoma on Saturday and averages 17 points per game. Nash averages 14.8 points a game. With Smart out, the Cowboys are losing 17.5 points per game.
Even though the Bears and Cowboys are thought to be more offensively inclined than defensive minded, both of these teams surprisingly play pretty good defense. They rank third and fourth, respectively, in the conference in scoring defense. This game will probably be played in the high 60s or low 70s because if this factor.
Three Things To Watch For In This This Game
- The Cowboys looked terrible at Texas last week in their first game without Marcus Smart, but played much better together without him in a Bedlam battle against in-state rival Oklahoma. Can they hold it together for one more game and steal a road win at Baylor.
- Baylor is the best three-point-shooting team in the Big 12, although Phil Forte of Oklahoma State is right there with Baylor’s Brady Heslip at the top of the conference in made three-pointers this season. Heslip only made one of eight three-point shots on Saturday against Kansas State. The one he did make, however, came at the buzzer in regulation to tie the game and send it into overtime. Baylor will need better production from Heslip againdt Oklahoma State if Baylor is going to gain the season sweep over the Cowboys.
- Oklahoma State has been very opportunistic all season, creating offense from good defense. The Cowboys are second in the conference with a plus three turnover ratio. This compares with a minus two margin for Baylor, which has created 55 more turnovers this season than its opponents.
My pick: Oklahoma State 70, Baylor 65 - I have not been impressed with Baylor since the Bears beat Kentucky back in early December. Yes, Baylor beat Oklahoma State at OSU earlier this month, but I still think Oklahoma State is thea better team, even without Marcus Smart, despite what happened in the first meeting.