Baylor’s NCAA Tournament chances might rest on the shoulders of Isaiah Austin

Every year, it seems like Baylor deals with the same old problem.

More than enough talent to win a Big 12 championship. Not enough coaching and team chemistry to live up to that potential.

Once again, the Bears (17-11, 8-7 Big 12) are trying to salvage their season with a late charge.

Can they pull one off? To his credit, Scott Drew’s teams have played their best basketball in March in two of the past three years. Three seasons ago, Baylor made it to the Elite Eight. Last season, the Bears knocked off Kansas and K-State in the Big 12 Tournament and advanced to another Elite Eight. The year in between, they lost their first Big 12 Tournament game and didn’t qualify for the postseason.

So what will it be this time? Baylor can certainly play spoiler in the Big 12 title race, with home games remaining against K-State and Kansas. If Pierre Jackson, who leads the conference in both scoring and assists, or Isaiah Austin, a potential NBA lottery pick, gets hot the Bears are more than capable of pulling off a few upsets.

But they have also lost six of their last nine games and would likely be NIT-bound if the season ended today. Maybe they will continue underachieving.

Austin might be the key. K-State’s small frontline outplayed him during an 81-61 victory two weeks at Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats held the 7-foot-1 forward to 13 points and six rebounds in 31 minutes. They succeeded by throwing different looks at him.

Shane Southwell defended him at the start of the game, and drew him outside on offense by making six three-pointers. Then Jordan Henriquez and Thomas Gipson went up against him an Austin was unable to get into a rhythm.

“I don’t think we gave him too many easy looks in the game,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “He never really got going.”

But he looked like a different player in Baylor’s latest win over West Virginia. He was much more aggressive, scoring inside and out. He finished with 21 points and six rebounds.

K-State is expecting a different challenge in Saturday’s rematch.

“He hit a little freshman wall around our game,” Weber said. “Now he is at the end of the tunnel, they are trying to win and he is playing with a lot more emotion.”

Angel Rodriguez vs. Jackson will once again be an important matchup. And the Wildcats will need to account for three-point specialist Brady Heslip and forward Cory Jefferson. But slowing down Austin might be the priority.

If he plays well, the Bears might be able to get back on track. If K-State makes him play poorly, Baylor’s underachieving ways will likely continue.

Jevon Thomas explanation
When K-State announced that point guard Jevon Thomas had officially signed with the program as a mid-year enrollee, but wouldn’t be eligible to practice or play until the conclusion of the 2013 fall semester, there were naturally questions.

The main one: Why can’t he play immediately?

The delay revolves around academics. But the rest is a bit confusing.

“He was a prep school kid, so as soon as he was done with his games he was pretty much done for the year,” Weber explained following practice Thursday. “We have a mid-semester enrollee, we were able to get him here. I don’t know how to explain the whole thing, but the NCAA has some different situations to handle academics now … We hope he is going to be enrolled full time here in March then be here all summer, get in good academic standing and move forward.”

When asked if that is what he expected to happen, Weber answered: “We are just going to have to wait and see. Right now we are just happy he is here.”

Thomas should certainly be able to help K-State next season if/when he becomes available. He is a talented point guard who was once viewed as a top 150 recruit before switching commitments from St. John’s to Dayton and then to K-State.