(18) West Virginia Mountaineers at (16) Baylor Bears (-3.5, 137.5)
The Big 12 conference tournament kicks-off today with Kansas State facing TCU and Texas battling Texas Tech. But, due to the ten-team tournament structure, two of tomorrow’s quarter-final matchups are already set. In the first, the No. 18 West Virginia Mountaineers (23-8, 11-7 Big 12) will square off with the No. 16 Baylor Bears (23-8, 11-7 Big 12) for the third time this season (12:30 p.m. Eastern at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri).
Baylor won both previous meetings this season and neither was close; in early February, the Bears routed the Mountaineers 87-69 in Morgantown; later in the month, they cruised to a 78-66 win in Waco (after taking a 45-29 lead into the break).
Baylor’s sixth man, Taurean Prince, came up big in the latter game, scoring 20 points and adding three steals and three assists.
“It helps a lot more when you have 12 to 13 guys telling you to shoot when you’re open,” said Prince after the game. “When they have that type of confidence in you, the confidence in yourself starts to build off that.”
Baylor comes into tonight winners of four of its last five. Their last regular season game left a lot to be desired, though, as the Bears narrowly edged the Big 12’s last place team, Texas Tech, 77-74 at home.
“It’s real tough when you’re pressing,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Everybody wanted to win for Royce [O’Neill]. They wanted to win for Kenny [Chery, two seniors who were playing their last home games for the team]. The only thing that I really got to credit is the perseverance to stay within the game because we could have gotten more frustrated and we didn’t.”
West Virginia, meanwhile, went 11-7 in the Big 12 in the regular season and has won four of the last six games, including an 81-72 win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys in their last outing. That win stopped a two-game losing streak for the Mountaineers. Coach Bob Huggins wasn’t surprised with the way his team responded after the setbacks to Kansas and Baylor earlier in the month.
“They’re not going to let the season go,” said Huggins. “They’re too competitive to do that. It’s not in their DNA to give up.”
This isn’t the first time this year the Mountaineers have bounced back from a rough patch. The team lost three of four in early February, but responded with massive wins over then-No. 8 Kansas (62-61 at home) and then-No. 22 Oklahoma State (73-63 on the road).
The Mountaineers’ feistiness has them sitting as 3.5-point dogs, despite the two blowouts at the hands of Baylor earlier in the season.
Looking at the trends, Baylor has won six of its last seven against West Virginia, posting a 5-2 ATS record in those contests.
(Photo credit: Kevin Coles (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)