Texas College Hoops Roundup: Surging No. 17 Baylor braces for No. 9 Kansas while Texas Tech searches for answers

Jan 21, 2023; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Baylor Bears guard Adam Flagler (10) celebrates after scoring a three point basket against the Oklahoma Sooners during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Texas College Hoops Roundup: Surging No. 17 Baylor braces for No. 9 Kansas while Texas Tech searches for answers

Each week, Gallery Sports will take a quick look at the week that was and the week that’s coming up for several of the premier NCAA men’s basketball programs in Texas. Andy Yanez covers the Houston Cougars for Gallery Sports, while this space is reserved for the Big 12 and SEC programs around the Lone Star State.

No. 17 BAYLOR BEARS (14-5, 4-3 Big 12)

The week that was: Won, 81-74 at Texas Tech; Won, 62-60 at Oklahoma

After an 0-3 start to conference play, Baylor has now won four in a row and finds itself back in the thick of what is sure to be an incredible Big 12 title race. Last week, both wins came on the road – one at Texas Tech and one at Oklahoma. The Bears’ win at Texas Tech was more dominant than the 81-74 final suggested; Baylor led by as many as 16 and never trailed in the second half after dropping 48 first-half points on the Red Raiders. Freshman Keyonte George continued to sizzle in Big 12 play, leading Baylor with 27 points while making 8 of his 15 shots. The Bears’ 62-60 win at Oklahoma was a tight battle the whole way, but junior Jalen Bridges’ late 3-pointers helped secure a huge Baylor win in Norman. Bridges drilled three shots from beyond the arc in the game’s final five minutes, including one that pushed Baylor ahead for good with 1:26 to play. The win moved Baylor above .500 in league play for the first time this season, as Scott Drew’s team is beginning to show why its lofty preseason expectations were warranted.

The week to come: Monday, Jan. 23 vs. No. 9 Kansas; Saturday, Jan. 28 vs. Arkansas 

No. 17 Baylor comes home for a pair of challenging games this week, first welcoming No. 9 Kansas to Waco for a showdown Monday night. The defending National Champion Jayhawks saw their 10-game winning streak snapped with two straight losses last week, so they’ll be ravenously hungry to get back into the win column against Baylor. Bill Self’s team is talented and well-rounded, led by junior forward Jalen Wilson (21.3 points per game). Kansas is not a team with many weaknesses, but the Jayhawks have allowed 83 points in back-to-back Big 12 games and are seemingly as vulnerable defensively as they’ve been all season. If Baylor’s talented guards can lead the way with crisp ball movement, the Bears have a huge opportunity to pick up a signature win Monday night.

Baylor stays home Saturday and will welcome the Arkansas Razorbacks out of the SEC as part of the 2023 Big 12/SEC challenge. Arkansas has struggled to a 2-5 record in conference play, partially because of injuries to several contributors. Still, Eric Musselman’s team is talented and plays excellent defense. The Hogs rank in Kenpom’s top 25 in both forcing turnovers and keeping teams off the offensive glass, so taking good care of the ball and creating good looks on offense will be keys if Baylor is going to pick up an out-of-conference win.

No. 11 TCU HORNED FROGS (15-4, 4-3 Big 12)

The week that was: Lost, 74-65 at West Virginia; Won, 83-60 at No. 2 Kansas 

For the second straight week, the Horned Frogs went 1-1 in Big 12 play last week. TCU struggled from the tip at West Virginia, falling behind by 15 points less than 10 minutes into the game and never fully recovering. The Frogs trailed by as many as 17 in the second half but eventually made things interesting with a 13-2 run. With just over five minutes left, TCU trailed just 62-60 – but the Frogs made just two field goals the rest of the way and lost by nine. Head coach Jamie Dixon felt that his team did not match the Mountaineers’ physicality in the loss – and based on the TCU performance that followed at No. 2 Kansas, his message was heard loud and clear. In stark contrast to the West Virginia loss, TCU jumped out to a 33-13 lead in the game’s first 10 minutes and never let the Jayhawks back within single digits the rest of the way. Junior Jalen Wilson poured in 30 of the 60 points Kansas scored, but TCU held the Jayhawks to just 39% shooting overall and forced 17 turnovers. Shahada Wells led the Frogs with 17 points off the bench, including making three of his four 3-point attempts. The 23-point road win against the No. 2 team in the nation is arguably the most impressive win any team in college hoops has recorded this season.

The week to come: Tuesday, Jan. 24 vs. Oklahoma; Saturday, Jan. 28 at Mississippi State

No. 11 TCU comes home for a battle with Oklahoma on Tuesday night before heading back on the road next weekend. The Sooners come to Fort Worth battered from the throes of Big 12 play, 2-5 in conference, despite only one of their losses coming by more than four points. Oklahoma is an above-average team at shooting the basketball but has really struggled to deal with the pressure that Big 12 defenses can apply. The Sooners rank 247th nationally in turnover rate and are pulling down fewer offensive rebounds than any other team in the Big 12, according to KenPom. If TCU brings the same physicality to its game with Oklahoma as it did to Lawrence on Saturday, the Frogs should be able to topple the Sooners.

The Frogs take a brief break from conference play with Sunday’s trip to Mississippi State as part of the 2023 SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Bulldogs are struggling, having lost six of their seven conference games so far, including a 34-point defeat on the road at Tennessee. First-year coach Chris Jans has struggled to build a competent offense in Starkville – Mississippi State ranks 338th nationally in effective field goal percentage, per KenPom. What the Bulldogs do exceptionally well is apply defensive pressure and force turnovers, but if TCU can take care of the basketball, Saturday’s game is as winnable as any the Horned Frogs have left on the schedule.

No. 10 TEXAS LONGHORNS (16-3, 5-2 Big 12)

The week that was: Lost, 78-67 at No. 12 Iowa State; Won, 69-61 at West Virginia

Texas went 1-1 for the second consecutive week in Big 12 play last week, falling 78-67 on the road to No. 12 Iowa State before picking up a road win at West Virginia. The Longhorns played Iowa State tight in a difficult road environment for most of Tuesday night’s bout at Hilton Coliseum, but the Cyclones grabbed control for good over the final eight minutes. Texas failed to score for more than four minutes straight at one point in the second half, a stretch during which Iowa State scored eight straight points that all but put the game away. Texas went just 4-for-17 on 3-pointers, while four of the Cyclones’ five starters finished in double figures. The Longhorns then turned around and topped West Virginia on the road in Morgantown, finishing on a 6-0 run over the game’s final 2:21 to win 69-61. The Longhorns struggled from behind the arc for a second consecutive game but forced 20 Mountaineer turnovers as Marcus Carr led the way with 23 points.

The week to come: Tuesday, Jan. 24 vs. Oklahoma State; Saturday, Jan. 28 at No. 4 Tennessee

No. 10 Texas comes home for a conference matchup with Oklahoma State before traveling to No. 4 Tennessee for an incredible challenge on Saturday. The Longhorns defeated Oklahoma State 56-46 on the road back on Jan. 7, an impressive defensive showing that saw Texas finish on a 9-0 run over the game’s final six minutes. The Cowboys have had mixed results since, going 2-2 in conference play but are entering Tuesday night’s game having won two in a row. Texas cannot afford to look past Oklahoma State with Tennessee on deck – the Cowboys are holding teams to the sixth-lowest effective field goal percentage in the nation, per KenPom.

The game that follows for Texas is arguably its toughest challenge to date, a trip to Knoxville to take on No. 4 Tennessee as part of the 2023 SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Volunteers are the undisputed best defensive team in the nation, ranking No. 1 overall in KenPom’s overall defensive efficiency metric as well as in opponent’s effective field goal percentage and in defending the three-point line. Tennessee is also the second-best offensive rebounding team in the nation and has five different seniors in its typical rotation. A win at Tennessee would be the Longhorns’ most impressive of the season.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES (13-6, 5-1 SEC)

The week that was: Won, 54-52 vs Florida; Lost, 76-67 at Kentucky

Texas A&M improved to 5-0 in SEC play with a win over Florida before finally losing on the road at Kentucky. The Aggies’ 54-52 win over the Gators was truly a battle of attrition, as both defenses controlled the game, and points were at a premium. Texas A&M only allowed 12 points in the first half, a new low in points allowed in a half for the Aggies, as well as a new low in points scored in a half for the Gators this season. Texas A&M’s lead ballooned to 25-12 early in the second half, but a flurry of second-half points for Florida made the game tense in its final moments. The Gators made it 50-49 with 29 seconds left on Riley Kugel’s 3-pointer, but two free throws by Wade Taylor IV and a dunk by Tyrece Radford in the game’s final moments clinched the win for A&M. The Aggies then traveled to Lexington for Saturday’s tussle with Kentucky, a team that had mostly failed to live up to lofty expectations this season. The Aggies carried a small lead into halftime, but the Wildcats took over for good with 8:30 to play. Texas A&M made just three of its 16 3-pointers in the game and were beaten 38-31 on the glass by the country’s No. 1 offensive rebounding team. Kentucky’s star center Oscar Tshiebwe finished the game with 17 boards on his own.

The week to come: Wednesday, Jan. 25 at No. 15 Auburn; Saturday, Jan. 28 vs. Vanderbilt

Another difficult road trip lies ahead for the Aggies, who will travel to No. 15 Auburn for a difficult assignment Wednesday night. The Tigers have won five straight in SEC play, including three wins by double-digits. Auburn is a team of extremes, ranking second nationally at defending the 3-point line but making just 29.9% of their own shots from beyond the arc. Bruce Pearl’s team is 10-0 at home, making Wednesday night an excellent opportunity for the Aggies to prove their mettle in the SEC.

Texas A&M returns home Saturday to take on Vanderbilt. The Commodores have had an up-and-down season to date, impressively defeating the likes of Arkansas by double digits but also losing at home to Grambling State back in December. Vanderbilt is a team the Aggies have to be able to beat at home if Buzz Williams’ team desires to compete among the best in the SEC.

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (10-9, 0-7 Big 12)

The week that was: Lost, 81-74 vs. No. 21 Baylor; Lost, 68-58 at No. 13 Kansas State

It would have been difficult to imagine before conference play that Texas Tech’s season could have taken this aggressive of a downward turn. The Red Raiders have lost all seven of their Big 12 contests, including to No. 21 Baylor and No. 13 Kansas State last week. Baylor put up 48 first-half points in Lubbock Tuesday night, and Texas Tech never really made the game close down the stretch. The defensive prowess that led Mark Adams’ team to the Elite Eight last season was nonexistent, forcing just three Baylor turnovers, while Bears’ freshman Keyonte George got anything he wanted offensively all night. The Red Raiders finally looked ready to end their losing streak in the second half of Saturday’s game at Kansas State, but once again crumbled in the game’s final minutes to lose by double digits. Texas Tech held an eight-point lead with 13:22 to play but allowed the Wildcats to finish on a 31-13 run. Markquis Nowell and Keyonte Johnson scored 23 and 15 respectively for Kansas State, which capped off a huge week that also saw it topple No. 2 Kansas.

The week to come: Wednesday, Jan. 25 vs. West Virginia; Saturday, Jan. 28 at LSU

The Red Raiders are in desperate need of a win to get their season moving back in the right direction and have two more opportunities this week at home versus West Virginia and on the road at LSU. The Mountaineers, who visit Lubbock Wednesday night, are just 1-6 in Big 12 play this season and have not won a game on the road since Nov. 11 at Pittsburgh. West Virginia brings a balanced attack to United Supermarkets Arena, with four different starters averaging more than 10 points per game.

Texas Tech takes a brief break from Big 12 play for Saturday’s matchup on the road at LSU, part of the 2023 SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Tigers have begun to see their season spiral out of control, losing six straight – and the last five straight losses have all come by double digits. A win in Baton Rouge would not help the Red Raiders at all in the Big 12 but could go a long way for team morale with still more than a month of regular season action remaining.

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