The records of the Baylor and Briarcrest Christian boys' basketball teams would indicate that Baylor's Red Raiders will be heavy underdogs when the Division II-AA state tournament starts this afternoon. Yet they will have no lack of confidence, because it's a spot they've been in before.
Saturday's 60-48 defeat of top-ranked McCallie improved Baylor's record to 15-10 heading into today's 4:30 p.m. EST game against the third-ranked Saints (22-5) at Lipscomb University in Nashville. The Raiders were 3-5 in the East/Middle Region, but those five losses were by a combined 13 points.
"This has just been a credit to these young men," Baylor coach Austin Clark said. "We've lost some close games, but they never gave up. In a lot of those cases, the losses were our fault, but once we started to finish games, good things happened."
The toughness of the East/Middle has shown in the teams playing today, as region members Ensworth and Father Ryan will play in the other semifinal.
"I'd say overall every team in our region is a legit contender," Baylor senior Leo Born said. "I know all of the games were close. McCallie did beat some teams by 20, but every other game was like three or four points."
Briarcrest is led by 6-foot-8 junior forward Austin Nichols, a Mr. Basketball finalist. Nichols has more than 25 offers from NCAA Division I programs to date.
"I've played against him in AAU," Baylor junior guard and forward Reggie Upshaw said. "He uses his length in the post and runs the court well, so our biggest challenge will be getting back defensively."
Said Clark: "They're a well-balanced team, and they have a kid who is 6-8 and runs the floor well. He has great hands and can both score and pass. On offense we'll have to work the ball around and try to avoid taking quick shots, which could lead to transition opportunities for them."
Even after two regular-season losses by a combined six points -- and one on a last-second 3-pointer -- the Red Raiders surprised many with their win over McCallie last Saturday, but don't count Briarcrest coach John Harrington among them.
"They are a well-coached and very disciplined team," he said. "Upshaw is a tough matchup for anybody in the state, and a unique zone defense that you have to be able to attack the right way.
"When you have those three things -- discipline, a great defense and a great player -- you're going to be tough to beat."