The College Basketball Closer is written by the gang at Storming the Floor.
The ups and downs of this season have been tough on the Baylor Bears. When the Big 12 season began, they were riding high at 12-2, having only lost to then-No. 6 Washington State and Arkansas. The conference slate was going their way as well - they even won an epic 5 OT game against Texas A&M. But after that, things began to fall apart. The Bears lost seven of their next eight to fall below .500 in the conference and needed a recent three-game win streak to climb back onto the NCAA tourney bubble. It's the kind of thing that can drive a fan wild, until you realize that this is the best thing that's happened to them in a long, long time.
Baylor has actually won two NCAA titles - one in men's tennis, and one in women's basketball. But in marquee sports like basketball and football, they fall woefully short time and time again. Hoops-wise, they went 477-651 in the old Southwest Conference. When that league went belly-up, they joined the newly-formed Big 12 and rolled up a putrid .256 win percentage prior to this season. Throw in the odd teammate-on-teammate murder and coaching coverup, and you've got yourself a pretty damn sad representative of your church-sponsored University. It's almost enough to make a feller cuss and drink beer.
The Bears have made the tournament four times in their history, with three of them coming before the Eisenhower administration. The most recent was in 1988, when they lost to a Memphis team that never made it out of the round of 32. But this year's team has 20 wins, talent, and a cornball optimist for a head coach in Scott Drew (of the Valparaiso Drews). Even after losing to A&M at home last night, Baylor has a good chance to go from scandal-rocked outcast two years ago to the postseason. Ask St. Bonaventure how easy that is to do.
Shan, come back! Shan!!! Vanderbilt 86- Mississippi State 85 (OT). Well, that's one way to neutralize Varnado's shot-blocking skills. Shan Foster (42 points) was a blazing 9-15 from the three-point line in this one, including the winning points with .01 left on the clock in OT. Even more amazingly, the Commodores were a perfect 11-11 from the free-throw line as well, though only four Vandys total made it to the stripe.
NIT One, Pearl Two. Tennessee 89- Florida 86. OK, I'm going to go ahead and move the Volunteers into "lock" status for this season. Ha, whew, that joke never gets old. JaJuan Smith was so busy scoring (23 pts) that Forward Tyler Smith ended up leading the team in assists. Florida's Nick Calathes led all scorers with 24 points, and all assisters with 9, but it was not enough to keep the Gators on top all game long.
A Tale of Two Halves. Miami (FL) 74-Boston College 61. After scoring just 20 points in the first half, Frank Haith's Hurricanes found the Eye of the Tiger and damn near tripled that in the second stanza, putting up 54 to inch a little bit higher on the bubble.
Minute Made Men. UMass 100-LaSalle 63. This might be the one that puts the Minutemen in the driver's seat for the second bid in the Atlantic XIV. Each UMass starter scored in double figures, and the bench put in the remaining ten points to lay an even C on Balls State.
Fair To Middlin'. Oklahoma 67-Oklahoma State 56. These two teams sit smack in the middle of the Big 12 geographically and record-wise. The Sooners reached the 20-win plateau despite a season full of injuries, and might be able to eke into the big dance if they can put together a run in Kansas City.
Tonight's Big Game
Stanford (24-4) at UCLA (26-3). Through a quirk of scheduling, it's been more than two full months since the last time these teams played, a 76-67 Bruin victory. If the Cardinal can somehow pull off a win at Pauley, these two teams will end the evening tied atop the Pac-10.