Once-promising Baylor loses fifth straight, may be out of NCAA contention by Valentine’s Day

Only three weeks ago, Baylor had a top 10 ranking, an impressive non-league resumé and legitimate hope of dethroning Kansas and winning the Big 12.

My, how quickly fortunes change.

A disastrous 66-64 home loss to rebuilding West Virginia on Tuesday night extended Baylor's losing streak to five games and relegated the Bears to just 1-6 in Big 12 play. The only Big 12 team behind Baylor is winless TCU, a staggering midseason collapse even for a program with a reputation for baffling losses and for doing a better job collecting talent than developing it.

The worst part for Baylor is that its tailspin figures to deepen before the Bears can emerge from it. Up next for Baylor is a road game at Oklahoma State, a visit from first-place Kansas and a road game at Oklahoma, meaning the Bears will have to pull an upset to avoid starting 1-9 in Big 12 play.

Baylor's struggles are surprising considering it starts a pair of NBA prospects in the front court, an elite shooter at wing and a junior college All-American at point guard, but highs and lows have been the norm of late for the Bears.

In 2010, Baylor rode lottery pick Ekpe Udoh and standout guards Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn to the first Elite Eight in school history. In 2011, the Bears opened the season ranked No. 14 in the nation yet lost six of its final eight games and missed the NCAA tournament.

In 2012, another star-studded Baylor team won 30 games and reached its second Elite Eight before falling to eventual national champ Kentucky. In 2013, the Bears began the season in the top 20 thanks to the arrival of highly touted Isaiah Austin and the return of standout Pierre Jackson, but they crashed out of NCAA tournament contention with nine losses in their final 13 games and settled for an NIT bid.

It's difficult to pinpoint one cause of Baylor's latest collapse because aside from controlling the offensive and defensive glass, the Bears haven't done anything especially well since conference play began.

Their field goal percentage has plummeted from 46.7 percent in non-league play to 40.5 percent against Big 12 opponents. They're not hitting as many threes or getting to the foul line as often to compensate. And their two-three zone is getting sliced up as Big 12 teams are shooting 47.4 percent against Baylor and scoring a bloated 1.11 points per possession.

Baylor's defense was actually relatively effective against anemic West Virginia, but too many turnovers and too little frontcourt production ruined the Bears' bid to snap their losing streak. Standout big men Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin combined for a mere 12 points and 10 rebounds, not nearly enough production from two guys on the radar of NBA scouts entering the season.

To its credit, Baylor fought back from eight down in the final five minutes, but the Bears once again didn't make the plays they needed to make in the final seconds.

Juwan Staten broke a tie with a driving layup with 3.1 seconds left. The Bears then failed to get a shot off before the buzzer on their final possession.

That sequence definitely doomed Baylor on Tuesday night and probably doomed the Bears for the season. With a 1-6 league record and three ultra-challenging games ahead, Baylor's path back to NCAA tournament contention is probably too steep.

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