With the time between now and Selection Sunday getting shorter, every opportunity for a team to bolster its resume takes on added importance. This is the situation that Texas (17-10, 7-7), coming off of a 90-78 loss at Oklahoma State, finds itself in as they host #14 Baylor (22-5, 9-5) in the second of two meetings this season. Baylor is looking to rebound themselves as they fell 57-56 at home to Kansas State, a loss that essentially shuts the door on the chance of winning the league as the Bears sit three games behind both Kansas and Missouri. The goal now: improve every game leading into the Big 12 tournament and lock down the #3 position in the Big 12 standings (currently tied with Iowa State).
A quick look at the Longhorns' credentials underlines the importance of Monday night, as Rick Barnes' team was 2-6 against teams in the RPI Top 50 according to the NCAA's most recently released (to the public) numbers. And if they're to beat Baylor, Texas' front court has to do a better job of defending Perry Jones III than they did in Baylor's 76-71 win in Waco on January 28th. Jones III posted one of his best lines of the season on that day as he finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds, a far cry from his four-point, four-rebound outing against K-State. That's not going to get it done against Texas, and that level of play should be unacceptable for a player of Jones III's talent.
Overall the Baylor big men were far superior in the first meeting, with Quincy Acy scoring ten points and grabbing ten rebounds while Quincy Miller added 18 points. Clint Chapman and freshman Jaylen Bond have shown flashes of being able to get some things done but on paper this matchup shouldn't be all that close. Alexis Wangmene has been very quiet after back-to-back double figure scoring outings against Texas A&M and Kansas State, and he accounted for just two points and four rebounds in the first meeting. Texas will likely need to hope that their big men can do enough to remain competitive in the paint and allow their guards to win the game.
Leading scorer J'Covan Brown definitely has the ability to do so, and Baylor should have a very good idea of what the junior brings to the table as he scored 32 in the January meeting. Brown also dished out five assists, and while there are still bouts with questionable decision-making to be fair he has to be the "risk-taker" for this young group. Freshman Myck Kabongo has turned the ball over five times in each of the last three games, but that number doesn't tell the entire story when it comes to the strides being made by the Toronto native. Kabongo, who scored 22 points in Stillwater, is averaging 16.0 points per game over the last three and he did rack up seven assists in the win over Oklahoma.
Turnovers have also been the focus for Baylor's perimeter and for much of the season the group led by junior Pierre Jackson has been solid in that area. Jackson may not start but if there's a play to be made in late-game situations more often than not the ball is in his hands. Jackson did finish the first meeting with five turnovers but he also had seven assists, and he's racked up 20 helpers over the last three games. But he's been quiet in the scoring department, and when combined with A.J. Walton not being a lights-out scorer and Brady Heslip reaching double figures on Saturday (13 points) for the first time since the first game against Texas it's easy to see how important Pierre is offensively.
To win Texas is going to need their youngsters to step up, and that's beyond what Bond, Kabongo and Sheldon McClellan bring to the table. Jonathan Holmes and Julien Lewis combine to average 14.9 points per game and they combined for 13 in the first meeting (Lewis: 3-9 FG). Also important will be the rebounding, as Baylor's had issues in this department on the defensive end of the floor. Texas grabbed 13 offensive boards in the first meeting but was out-rebounded 40-28 thanks to the fact that they took 13 more shots. If Baylor doesn't box out and watch the back side when in their zone defense, Texas can do more than simple compete. They'll likely win.
Also on Monday's slate is a possible preview of the SWAC title game as first-place (and undefeated) Mississippi Valley State hosts Texas Southern, who would be the two-seed if the season ended today. MVSU won the first meeting 77-69 in overtime thanks to a balanced effort led by Terrence Joyner (18 points) and Brent Arrington (17), and Paul Crosby added a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Crosby's been one of the best players in the SWAC all season long and the Tigers will need to neutralize him in order to win in Itta Bena, and Omar Strong will need to play well for a team that has six players averaging between 5.5 and 12.1 (Strong) points per game. Texas Southern also turns the ball over 17 times per game but it was rebounding and not turnovers that hurt them in the first meeting, as MVSU out-rebounded the Tigers 47-36 and grabbed 18 offensive rebounds.
The top two teams in the Atlantic Sun are also in action as Mercer visits North Florida and first-place Belmont hosts USC Upstate. The Bruins regained the top spot thanks to Mercer's loss on Saturday, and given the fact that Rick Byrd's team has won eight straight the Bears may need to win out until the two meet in the regular season finale for both on the 28th.
And despite the struggles of both we can't forget about Connecticut's trip to Philadelphia to take on Villanova, a game that will say a lot about where the Huskies are headed. The aftermath of Saturday's loss to Marquette was ugly, and it's a situation that can either motivate or incinerate a team. UConn really hasn't shown the leadership needed to turn things around so maybe the Wildcats can get a much-needed win even with Maalik Wayns likely out.
Top 25 Games
9:00 PM (14) Baylor at Texas (ESPN)
NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Texas Southern at Mississippi Valley State (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Connecticut at Villanova (ESPN)
7:00 PM Kennesaw State at Jacksonville
7:00 PM Fairfield at Marist
7:00 PM Longwood at Norfolk State
7:00 PM Mercer at North Florida
7:30 PM Maryland-Eastern Shore at Howard
7:30 PM East Tennessee State at Lipscomb (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Florida A&M at South Carolina State
8:00 PM USC Upstate at Belmont
8:00 PM Delaware State at Hampton
8:00 PM Bethune-Cookman at Savannah State
8:30 PM Alcorn State at Alabama A&M
8:30 PM Southern University at Alabama State
8:30 PM Prairie View A&M at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
9:00 PM DePaul at St. John's (ESPNU)
10:10 PM UC Davis at Seattle