After an inconsistent season where they went 9-9 in Big 12 play, Baylor yesterday qualified for the championship game of the National Invitational Tournament with a convincing win over Brigham Young University. The win continued a trend of strong postseason play by the Baylor Bears under head coach Scott Drew.
In Thursday night's final, the Bears will be playing against the Hawkeyes from the University of Iowa. Iowa is led by a balanced attack centered around junior swingman Roy Devyn Marble, who is averaging 24.3 points per game in the NIT. The Hawkeyes are a team that plays tough defense and rebounds by committee. In the tournament, the Hawkeyes have held every team they've played under 64 points and held three of the four teams to 40 percent or lower shooting from the field.
Baylor has been led in this tournament by outstanding play from point guard Pierre Jackson and power forward Cory Jefferson. Jefferson is averaging 20.8 points per game in the NIT on 71.7 percent from the field, which is sixth among players in the NCAA postseason who have played more than one game. If we discount the first game where Jackson did not start, he is averaging 23.3 points per game and 13.0 assists, which leads all of postseason play.
Iowa does not have the size to match up with the Bears' frontcourt of Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers, so it will be paramount for Baylor to get those players involved. Roy Marble is also a player who has increased his efficiency substantially in the tournament, so it will be up to Baylor to bring him back to his mediocre shooting percentage from the floor.
Watch the NIT Championship Game Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. Baylor Coach Scott Drew summed it up best when he said, "Well, I think any time there's only two happy teams at the end of the year, the team that wins the NCAA and the team that wins the NIT...we want to be one of those happy teams." (via Associated Press h/t The Washington Post)
If Pierre Jackson and Cory Jefferson can maintain their play, there will be a championship banner heading back to Waco.