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Baylor takes a step down, ranking the Big 12/SEC and projecting NCAA seeds

Updated: 2014-01-28T04:19:52Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

For the previous six seasons, Baylor’s NCAA Tournament dance has played to the tune of the hokey pokey.

The Bears put themselves in, reaching the dance in each of the last three even numbered years. They’ve taken themselves out, playing in NIT in two of the past three odd years.

They’ve done damage in both postseason tournaments, reaching two NCAA Elite Eights and two NIT title games, including last year’s championship.

But the pattern will be disrupted unless the Bears turn themselves around. Baylor has dropped four straight and five of six and stands in ninth place in the Big 12 at 1-5.

Coach Scott Drew says one reason for the spiral is players trying to do too much.

“You’re trying to win but you put pressure on yourself,” Drew said. “You put it on your shoulders instead of keeping it a team game.”

The thing is, Baylor has the individual talent to break a slump. Big men Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson are potential NBA Draft picks and guard Brady Heslip can be a deadly three-point marksman.

But lately the Bears are firing blanks and not challenging shots. In Big 12 games, they’re shooting 39.9 percent on all shots and 33.3 percent on threes while surrendering 48.8 percent.

“When you analyze where we’ve fallen the last two weeks, we’ve not defended well and we’ve shot poorly,” Drew said.

A major problem for Baylor — playing in the nation’s top-RPI conference — is also the way back. To return to the NCAA Tournament track, the Bears need to beat good teams, and the Big 12 is filled with them.

After Tuesday’s home game against West Virginia, Baylor has a three-game stretch at Oklahoma State, Kansas at home and at Oklahoma.

“Players like playing against the best, pushing themselves,” Drew said.

Ranking the Big 12

1. Kansas

2. Oklahoma State

3. Oklahoma

4. Iowa State

5. Texas

6. Kansas State

7. Texas Tech

8. Baylor

9. West Virginia

10. TCU

•  Big 12 player of the week: Texas big man Cameron Ridley averaged 13 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks as the Longhorns beat Kansas State and Baylor.

•  Big 12 newcomer of the week: Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins won the honor for the second time after averaging 22 points and shooting 55 percent in victories over Baylor and TCU.

Ranking the SEC

1. Florida

2. Kentucky

3. Mississippi

4. LSU

5. Georgia

6. Missouri

7. Arkansas

8. Tennessee

9. Alabama

10. Vanderbilt

11. Mississippi State

12. Texas A&M

13. South Carolina

14. Auburn

•  SEC player of the week: In victories over Alabama and Tennessee, Florida guard Michael Frazier II averaged 17.5 points and hit 42 percent of his three-pointers.

•  SEC freshman of the week: Kentucky’s Julius Randle averaged 13.5 points and 10 rebounds in victories over Texas A&M and Georgia. He has a SEC-best 11 double-doubles this season.

Blair Kerkhoff’s NCAA Tournament projection

SeedEast (New York)South (Memphis, Tenn.)Midwest (Indianapolis)West (Anaheim, Calif.)
1.SyracuseWichita StateKansasArizona
2.MichiganFloridaMichigan StateSan Diego State
3.VillanovaOklahoma StateCincinnatiWisconsin
4.Iowa StateIowaCreightonPittsburgh

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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