KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When deciding Baylor’s NCAA Tournament fate, coach Scott Drew said look to Virginia Commonwealth.VCU earned an at-large berth in 2010-2011 and reached the Final Four before losing to Butler in the national semifinals despite a 23-11 regular season, in which it lost its last four Colonial Athletic Association games and lost the league’s tournament championship game.“People were like, ‘Why did they get in?’ Well, the committee knew they were a Final Four-type team,” Drew said after the Bears lost to Oklahoma State in the final seconds late Thursday at the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament.Baylor (18-14) is the classic bubble team as to whether it will earn an at-large berth to the NCAA field a year after reaching the Elite 8.The Bears have signature wins to their credit, including against top 15 teams in Kansas and Oklahoma State and won at Kentucky in December.But they’ve also lost home games to the College of Charleston and Northwestern. Baylor has lost 11 games by fewer than 10 points. Whether that’s a plus in the selection committee’s eyes is hard to say. Regardless, there’s no question in Drew’s mind that his team deserves an invitation.“Who recently has beaten Kentucky in Rupp [Arena] and beaten Kansas?” he asked a gathering of reporters after the Bears’ 74-72 loss. “I think we can beat anybody in the country. That means we can play in the Final Four. At the same time, I know everyone in the country has games like, why didn’t you win? But I think we can compete with anybody in the country.”OSU coach Travis Ford doesn’t need any convincing on Baylor’s bona fides. His team lost by 10 in Waco and escaped with two two-point wins against Baylor, including an overtime thriller in Stillwater, Okla. in February.“I think it’s easy, yes,” Ford said. “They won a lot of games, a lot of big games in this league. They’ve beaten Kansas. They’ve beaten us. They’ve beaten Kentucky in Rupp Arena, which is not an easy thing to do.”Ford said the “eye test” should be enough for Baylor.“I don’t know about numbers things, but if you know basketball and you look at that team, that’s a team that can win a lot of games in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “And I think they call that the eye test, if I’m not mistaken. So if there’s an eye test, it’s an easy one.”If Baylor is left out, senior guard Pierre Jackson will likely finish his illustrious career playing in the National Invitation Tournament.“Of course, it’s going to be very disappointing,” said Jackson, if the Bears aren’t selected. “Can’t do nothing about it. All I want is my teammates to play hard for me and I just wanted to play hard for my teammates at the end of the day. You can’t really complain about that. That’s how the cards are dealt, and we can’t complain about it.”The NCAA Tournament field will be announced at 5 p.m. Sunday.“So if the committee sees us worthy, we would definitely be excited,” Drew said. “That’s an understatement. I know we can compete with anybody in the country.”Baylor just wants a chance to prove it in the tournament.Avert your eyesWhen Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte went to the line with the game tied and 2.9 seconds left on the clock Thursday night, his longtime friend, teammate and fellow freshman Marcus Smart, looked away. Smart didn’t watch as Forte sank the first shot.“It’s a little thing I do,” said Smart, who won two Class 5A titles with Forte at Flower Mound Marcus High School. “I was playing with Phil my whole life. In close games like that [when] he’s been at the free-throw line it’s just a tradition I do, to turn away, I guess. Relieve some of the pressure off of him looking for his teammates’ eyes and having to make a big shot in a big moment.”Forte hit them both and the Cowboys beat Baylor to advance to the Big 12 tournament semifinals.
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @FollowtheFrog