The Baylor Bears wouldn’t have won the NCAA tournament, and it isn’t crazy to think they could have been bounced in the first round.
But after they culminated their successful NIT run with a 74-54 blowout win over the Iowa Hawkeyes on Thursday night, it seems obvious they deserved a ticket to the Big Dance.
Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Pierre Jackson combined for 55 points to lead Baylor to the win. The senior Jackson recorded his fourth straight double-double and took home the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award, per The Washington Post.
The Bears’ big win over the Hawkeyes was the second win by 20 or more points for the team in the NIT. They destroyed Long Beach State in the opening game 112-66. Perhaps the 49ers were made to feel the Bears’ wrath fresh from the NCAA snub.
Their 18-14 record before the NIT isn’t something that jumps out as spectacular, but when you consider teams with double-digit losses like Cincinnati and Temple made the field, it makes you wonder.
The Bearcats and Owls aren’t the only teams that Baylor could point to and say: “If they’re in, why aren’t we?”
What team could Baylor have replaced in the NCAA tournament?
The North Carolina Tar Heels had a better record at 24-10, but they didn’t beat a top-10 team all season. They had only one win against a ranked opponent. That was a Dec. 29 victory over UNLV.
Baylor certainly had their ups and downs, including two three-game losing streaks, but they blew out Kansas while the Jayhawks were ranked No. 4 in the nation. The win didn’t take place in late December either, it happened on March 9.
They followed that up by barely losing to Oklahoma State, 74-72, in the Big 12 tournament. Sure, they were at home for those games, but we’re talking about two top-15 opponents.
Some may say that if the Bears had defeated the Cowboys, that probably would have gotten them in—but we’ll never know that for sure.
In the end, the Bears have to be accountable for the 11-game stretch that saw them go 3-8 from Jan. 30 to Mar. 4. They had started the season 14-5 before this troublesome aspect of their year.
But if you look at their final seven games of the season, it’s hard not to think that this is at least one of the top 30 teams in the country. Sometimes it’s not how you finish or start, but what you do in the middle, I guess.
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