Baylor: The Team Nobody Saw Coming…Posted by Justin Fedich on January 7th, 2017
It’s only January 7, but with Baylor going into tonight’s game against Oklahoma State as one of two remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball, many are wondering where this team came from. The Bears started the season with a grand total of zero votes in the AP preseason Top 25, but through 14 games against an excellent schedule, no opponent has been able to touch them. Under longtime head coach Scott Drew, Baylor has never made the Final Four but his teams have gotten close. During a three-year stretch from 2010-12, the Bears made two Elite Eights but had the misfortune of playing the eventual National Champion on both occasions (Duke – 2010; Kentucky 2012). This year, Baylor is better equipped to make its first Final Four in school history, but it’s not because expectations in Waco will be high. On the contrary, it’s because expectations are not high, which is exactly how Baylor has thrived to this point of the season.
Baylor had plenty of question marks coming into this season. Senior forward Johnathan Motley was a preseason All-Big 12 pick, but beyond that was mostly unknown. The most notable concern was how Miami transfer Manu Lecomte would fare in his first season with the Bears. The answer is so far, so good. Lecomte is leveraging his additional time in Drew’s lineup by averaging 5.1 assists per game, ranking among the nation’s top 60 in assist rate at 32.3 percent. As outstanding as the possible Big 12 Transfer of the Year has been, he hasn’t even been the most pleasant surprise on the team. Junior center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. has gone from relative anonymity to averages of 11.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, pairing with Motley to create a formidable frontcourt that no team in the Big 12 — not even Kansas — wants to face. The starters have been exceptionally consistent to this point, and a bench of which little was expected continues to get better as the season rolls along. Sophomore wing Jake Lindsey contributed his first double-figure game of the season against Iowa State on Wednesday night.
It’s all come together for Drew to model a team with both a top 10 offense and defense, which only Kentucky and West Virginia can also claim. And Baylor’s resume to date is stellar. Wins over likely NCAA Tournament teams Oregon, Michigan State and Xavier were by double-figures, but a 22-point comeback win over Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis put the rest of the country on notice that this team should be taken seriously. Another comeback win — Baylor trailed Iowa State by six points with 5:33 remaining on Wednesday — has put the Bears in position to earn their first-ever #1 ranking. And yet they’re still overlooked. Most pundits continue talking about Kentucky, UCLA, Duke, Kansas and Villanova as National Championship contenders without throwing so much as a bone to a team that literally nobody saw coming.
During the 2011-12 season, Baylor started 17-0 before losing nearly half of its remaining regular season games. That isn’t likely to happen this season because Baylor is already battle-tested and hungry to play the no-respect card through the final few months of the season. Still, no matter how high the number next to Baylor’s name in the rankings rises, there will always be greater focus on several other programs because these Baylor players are unproven in March. And the Bears are fine with that. They just plan on quietly continuing to win every game put in front of them. Can the Bears go unbeaten? Probably not, but there’s at least one person who isn’t ruling it out. “At some point, every record is meant to be broken,” Drew said during Thursday’s media teleconference. Who’s to argue with him?