In each of the last three seasons, there was a college basketball team that lost at least six of its first 15 games, but turned its season around to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Baylor (14-6) appears to be on a similar trajectory this season after extending its winning streak to five games on Monday night, when the Bears beat Oklahoma 77-47 on the road.
They went 9-6 in their first 15 games, including home losses to Texas Southern (No. 233 in the NET rankings) and Stephen F. Austin (No. 277 NET) and a road defeat against Wichita State (No. 134 NET).
A road win over Arizona is Baylor’s only non-conference victory that appears in Quadrant 1.
Here’s Baylor’s non-conference resume:
The Bears picked up their best win of the season by beating Iowa State 73-70 at home on January 8, but just four days later the program announced that forward Tristan Clark would miss the rest of the year due to a season-ending knee injury. Clark’s 74.8 shooting percent on two-point attempts ranks fifth in the country, and he was the team’s most efficient offensive player (130.8 offensive rating) and its best rim protector.
In his place, freshman guard Jared Butler has started the last six games, averaging 12.7 points on 16-of-36 (44.4%) three-point shooting after averaging 5.8 points on 10-of-44 (22.7%) three-point shooting in the team’s first 14 games.
In its first game without Clark, Baylor lost at home to Kansas, but the Bears have since rattled off their current winning streak, which includes three road games in the Big 12, a win at home over then-No. 8 Texas Tech and a victory against Alabama in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The next-longest active winning streak by a Big 12 team is two games.
Baylor earned a No. 9 seed in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections, which were released before the Bears’ 30-point win at Oklahoma. Their latest victory moved them into a three-way tie for first place in the Big 12 with Kansas and Kansas State after being picked to finish ninth in the preseason media poll.
How have they done it?
Baylor has the best offense in Big 12 play with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 111.7 points per 100 possessions. The Bears’ adjusted offensive efficiency for the season is 111.1, so they’ve been able to score slightly more often against better competition in conference play.
They’re also dominant on the glass, leading the conference in offensive rebounding rate (38.2%) and defensive rebounding rate (73.4%). That means they grab almost four out of every 10 shots they miss, while snagging roughly three out of every four shots their opponents miss.
Here’s a look at Baylor’s remarkably consistent offensive efficiency and the team’s at times overwhelming offensive rebounding rate during its current five-game winning streak.
|Opponent||Points Per Possession||Offensive Rebounding Rate|
Baylor scored 20 points off of its 16 offensive rebounds against West Virginia, which allowed the Bears to win by 12 points on the road despite committing a turnover on 24 percent of their possessions, shooting just 29 percent from three and 61 percent from the free throw line.
Elite offensive rebounding can act as the ultimate eraser to combat shooting and turnover woes.
The Bears are now 14-6 and projected to enter the Big 12 Tournament with a 20-11 record, according to kenpom.com.
Here’s a look at teams in the last three seasons that have lost at least six of their first 15 games, but still earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament:
|School||Season||Record in First 15 Games||Record on Selection Sunday||NCAA Tournament Seed|
Vanderbilt set the record in 2017 for the most losses (15) by a team that earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and Alabama tied the record last season.
Baylor will play at least 12 more games before Selection Sunday. The Bears have 11 remaining regular season games, plus their first-round game in the Big 12 Tournament.
Using the schools listed above as a guide, Baylor will need at least five more wins to be in the NCAA Tournament picture and six or seven certainly wouldn’t hurt. They have six more home games, plus at least one neutral-site game in the conference tournament.
Baylor’s two Quadrant 4 losses will hurt its seeding, but as long as it doesn’t lose to West Virginia at home or in the Big 12 Tournament, there isn’t another potential Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4 loss on its schedule.
Of its 11 remaining regular season games, six are in Quadrant 1 and four are in Quadrant 2, which means almost every win will be a good win. Baylor is currently 5-3 in games against Quadrant 1 opponents.
The Bears face a challenging schedule at the end of the regular season since they have to play on the road against Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas – the four other teams that are in the top half of the Big 12 standings – in their final seven games.
The close to Baylor’s regular season schedule, combined with some potentially unsustainable statistical trends, could lead to an eventual regression.
The Bears have also benefited from uncharacteristically good three-point shooting in conference play, in large part due to Butler’s productive outside shooting in his expanded role. He has made at least two three-pointers in each of his last six games after not making a three in eight of Baylor’s first 14 games.
Baylor is second in the Big 12 with a 38 percent shooting percentage from deep in seven conference games, which is a significant increase from its 32.3 rate for the season. They shot 60 percent from behind the arc against Oklahoma State and 50 percent against Oklahoma.
They’ve also allowed their opponents to shoot 37.2 percent from three in Big 12 play and they’re sending their opponents to the free throw line way too often.
But as long as Baylor continues its dominance on the glass and its efficient offensive play, the Bears should be able to continue their trajectory of safely making the NCAA Tournament thanks to their January turnaround.