KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Oklahoma, which entered the Big 12 Tournament as the conference's No. 7 seed, knocked off conference co-champion Baylor 72-67 Thursday, potentially putting the Bears' status as a No. 1 seed at risk. The Sooners' win marked Oklahoma's fourth straight as they try to scrape their way into the NCAA Tournament field.
Oklahoma trailed by six points at halftime, but the Sooners' hot 3-point shooting — they made 5-of-12 in the first half, or 41.7% — carried over to the second half. And a 3-pointer from Marvin Johnson put the Sooners up nine points with 9:52 remaining.
But Baylor, which swept Oklahoma in the regular season, clawed its way back into the game with defensive pressure. Twice, the Bears pulled to within one point in the final four minutes. Oklahoma led by three with 49 seconds left when Umoja Gibson drove to the rim and finished a layup through contact, tacking on a free throw for a six-point edge. The Sooners then finished off the game at the free-throw line.
Five Sooners scored in double figures, led by Jacob Groves, who had 15 points while making 3-of-5 from 3. He added a team-high nine rebounds.
Baylor (26-6) entered the game as a projected No. 1 seed according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm, and will stay there for now. The Bears led college basketball with 10 Quadrant I victories according to the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). But Baylor's early loss in the Big 12 Tournament, and the continuation of the Bears' primary competition for a No. 1 seed means Baylor could slide down a seed line by Selection Sunday, depending on what happens to those other teams. That includes Baylor's Big 12 rival Kansas, which won its Thursday game over West Virginia.
Baylor's battle for a No. 1 seed
According to Palm, Baylor's shot at a second consecutive No. 1 seed remains on strong footing as of Thursday night -- but that might not be the case by Selection Sunday.
"Baylor remains a No. 1 seed for now," Palm said. "However, the Bears are done playing and could get passed by teams like Kentucky and Kansas as the conference tournaments move ahead."
Gonzaga appears likely to land the No. 1 overall seed, and the Bulldogs are tied with Baylor with 10 Quad I victories. Auburn and Arizona also have strong cases to wind up with a No. 1 in a few days. But a Big 12 Tournament title would mean that Kansas would likely pass Baylor in Quad I wins and would have both the a share of the Big 12 regular season title with the Bears and the conference tournament championship. The two schools also split their two regular-season matchups, with Kansas winning in Lawrence and Baylor triumphing in the second game in Waco.
Oklahoma's tough task
The Sooners' NCAA Tournament fate, meanwhile, is far murkier. Oklahoma appeared to be dead in the water when the Sooners were crushed by Texas Tech in Lubbock on Feb. 22, leaving it at 14-14 and just 4-11 in Big 12 play.
But the Sooners have gotten some life since, closing the regular season with three straight victories and adding a fourth by toppling Baylor. The case remains grim, according to Palm; the Sooners may need to win the Big 12 Tournament outright to get in. At the same time, a victory in the semifinals would leave the Sooners with 19 victories, four of which would sit in Quad I, including wins over two of the Big 12's best teams in Baylor and Texas Tech. When coupled with the way Oklahoma may look in the advanced metrics — after Thursday night's win, the Sooners jumped to No. 33 on KenPom — it's at least an interesting case, and likely one that's somewhat reliant on what happens with other bubble teams.
It's tough to draw too many conclusions about Baylor from Thursday night's game.
Oklahoma entered the game making 33.6% of its 3-pointers, good for 183rd in the nation, and the Sooners made 11 of 21 from deep against the Bears. It did mark Oklahoma's third straight game of making at least eight 3-pointers while shooting at least 40%. With the way Oklahoma plays defense, that's typically going to be enough for the Sooners to win, which explains why Oklahoma won all three of those sweet-shooting games.
It's worth noting that last year's Baylor team wasn't great in the Big 12 Tournament either, winning a close game against a nine-win Kansas State team before falling in the league semifinals to Oklahoma State. A week later, Baylor won the first of six straight games to capture the national championship.
The added rest could be a boon for the injury-weary Bears, who have played much of the season without their full complement of players. Baylor's leading scorer, LJ Cryer, has seemingly been day-to-day since late January and hasn't played since Feb. 16. There's at least a chance he returns once the NCAA Tournament starts.