There are only so many times you can answer the same terrible arguments before it gets to be too much. Somehow the idea Scott Drew isn’t a good coach pops up, and it’s time for it to stop.
Most people seem to recognize Scott Drew is a good coach. But for a few, they hold onto something. It’s about time we just had an article to link to that takes down the hottest take in college basketball.
To paraphrase a line from Rent, “how do you measure a coach?” For Drew’s critics, the metric never stops shifting. Coaching had nothing to do with recruiting, therefore, Drew’s wins are irrelevant because he is just a recruiter and anybody could win with his incredible recruiting. When Drew wins with less talented recruits, then it becomes about his in game coaching. When Drew wins with in game coaching adjustments, people complain he hasn’t made a Final Four.
The above takes are bad. But bad takes need a good death. I’m going to answer every criticism I’ve heard of Scott Drew as a coach. Maybe his critics will come back with another bad reason he can’t coach. But before answering the Drew critics, Drew has a phenomenal case.
Drew completed one of the greatest turnarounds in sports history
History did not begin in 2011. Baylor basketball had very little basketball success before Drew. The Bears made it to the Final Four in 1948 and 1950. They made the NCAA Tournament in 1988. And then there’s about nothing else.
Drew’s history at Baylor began in August of 2003. He took over after a horrendous scandal where one player murdered another. The head coach during the murder, Dave Bliss, tried to portray the murdered player as a drug dealer. Bliss did that to cover up that he was paying tuition for players to skirt NCAA scholarship limitations.
In response to the scandal, the NCAA levied severe penalties against Baylor basketball. The team was not even allowed to play non-conference games in Drew’s third season. Two seasons later, the Bears were in the NCAA Tournament for the second time since the beginning of the Korean War.
If Scott Drew had done nothing beyond getting Baylor to a single NCAA Tournament, his tenure at Baylor would probably be successful. That he’s achieved what he has is an absolute miracle.
Drew wins consistently
Since 2010, Baylor has been in two Elite Eights. Only sixteen teams have two Elite Eights this decade. Both times Baylor fell in the Elite Eight they lost to the eventual national champion. Baylor is also the only Big 12 team besides Kansas to have made two Elite Eights this decade.
Drew also has made the tournament on four other occasions. In 2008, they went dancing for the first time since 1988. In 2014, they made the Sweet 16 before falling to a Wisconsin team that made the Final Four. In 2015, they made it as a three seed, and in 2016, they made it as a five seed. The man wins.
Drew is a fantastic offensive coach
Baylor has won by building consistently dominant offenses. Since Drew’s first tournament appearance in 2008, Baylor has ranked in the top 20 of KenPom’s offensive efficiency eight times. The only other team to do that is Duke.
Drew does that by building great offenses for his players. This season, Drew has taken advantage of Ish Wainright’s fantastic passing and designed sets like this:
Or when he plays an elite team like Xavier, he adds a new look to beat Xavier’s 1-3-1 :
For the sake of laying out the case Drew is a good coach, it’s easier to just lay out the next arguments by responding to the criticisms Drew draws. So, we begin with:
“But Drew is just a great recruiter”
This is a really weird, and somehow, still wrong argument. First, recruiting is far and away the most important thing about being a good college basketball coach. A college coach recruits the players. Bill Self and Mike Krzyzewski win with the best players in the country. They’re good in game coaches too, but they’re not out there winning with two star guys. If Drew recruited top five talent and produced top fifteen results, that would still make him a good coach. Drew is tasked with winning games. Even if he does not get the maximum out of his recruiting, he’d still be a good coach.
Second, Drew is not just a great recruiter. Drew’s 2015 and 2016 teams had one top fifty player. One of those teams was a three seed, the other was a five seed. His 2017 team (if you have not figured out, I number by the year they would play in the tournament), has zero top 50 players and has the best resume in the country, including wins against Hall of Fame coaches Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino.
Third, Drew has developed players incredibly well. Taurean Prince was an LIU-Brooklyn commit and ranked 194th by 247. He was the 12th pick in the draft. Quincy Acy was ranked 194th by 247 and was the 37th pick in the NBA draft. Brady Heslip was told he would not have a scholarship at Boston College. Heslip went on to be the starting shooting guard on Baylor’s second Elite Eight team and their 2014 Sweet 16 team. Ekpe Udoh was the 229th composite player in his class. He was the sixth pick in the draft after two seasons with the Baylor program.
One might counter, “but what about Perry Jones or Quincy Miller.” This criticism is pretty stupid, and I consider it so bad, it’s unworthy of its own bold heading. Perry Jones’ sophomore season numbers compare favorably to a number of wings who went in the top five of the draft. Jones fell in the draft after concerns about his knee. In the NBA, he had a few big games, including 32 points against the Clippers. But the knee has been a big issue as he battles to get back into the NBA.
Quincy Miller left Baylor one season removed from an A.C.L. tear. Miller had a good freshman season and ended up the 38th pick in the draft. Miller is out of the NBA now and never seemed to regain all his explosiveness after his A.C.L. tear. But still, Miller was the starting small forward for Baylor’s Elite Eight team. He was playing well enough he pushed Anthony Jones—a senior who started two years earlier on Drew’s other Elite Eight team—to the bench. Miller played in the league for a number of years. And if your criticism of Drew is about those two guys, it’s absolutely ludicrous. Josh Selby has been an absolute bust after playing at Kansas, and Cole Aldrich has averaged 3.6 points in his career. This is not me criticizing Bill Self or Kansas’ NBA players. Rather, it’s me saying that you can have two guys who fail to have the NBA career many thought they would have at 18.
In addition, Drew has shown he’s a good coach by adapting his recruiting. Drew did well with early departure guys like Perry Jones, Quincy Miller, and Isaiah Austin. But as Baylor has failed to land the early departure guys lately, Drew has been successful by adapting his recruiting. The Bears are winning with four year guys like Ish Wainright. And they’re winning by redshirting guys like Al Freeman, and Johnathan Motley, who may be the best big man in the country:
Drew has also done well grabbing junior college players. While Baylor missed out on Tyus Jones, and other point guards, Baylor has gotten it done with junior college transfers Pierre Jackson, Kenny Chery, and Lester Medford. Two years of Pierre Jackson—the first player since Jason Terry in 1999 to lead a power six conference in points and assists—is better than one season of many of the best one and done point guards:
“But Scott Drew is a terrible in game coach”
This is a tough one to evaluate without saying the other metrics do a good job capturing that this is wrong. But there are a few examples to offer to say this is not true.
First, Baylor picked up a huge win in the Big 12 Tournament in 2012 by switching to man-to-man defense against Kansas. The Bears entered that game playing zone throughout the season, with the exception of a few sequences here or there. But against a Kansas team Baylor had been blitzed by in Allen Fieldhouse and destroyed by in the second half in Waco, Baylor pulled off a nine point win in a home game for Kansas (the Sprint Center in Kansas City—especially against Baylor—is a home venue for Kansas. If you don’t believe this, I can’t even argue with you).
Second, Baylor won against Iowa State last season by switching to a box-and-one. Iowa State led by three with five minutes left in Ames. Then, Baylor freshman Jake Lindsey began covering Georges Niang in the box-and-one. Niang had torched Baylor most of the day to the tune of 20 points. Niang scored just once the rest of the way, as the Bears left with the victory.
This season, Drew has shown he’s not afraid to experiment with lineups. King McClure began the season in a funk. But as I noted here, he came alive against Louisville. Drew began pressuring the ball up high, and these kind of plays keyed the Bears to a Battle 4 Atlantis title:
And if someone wants to actually offer evidence of this theory, I will certainly answer it. Maybe Drew has had a moment where he’s made an adjustment that’s failed. That happens. But he’s shown on a number of recent occasions that he can adjust and win. That’s good in game coaching.
“But Scott Drew never has timeouts”
And with that, Scott Drew has used Baylor's last timeout. With 7:35 to go. Iowa State up 68-67.— Dylan Montz (@dylanmontz) January 9, 2016
Who cares? Yes, Drew often uses timeouts earlier than other coaches do. But what’s the value of saving a timeout to draw up a game winning play if the team is so far behind they never get to the game winning play situation? In college, the ball doesn’t even advance on a timeout, which makes the value of hoarding timeouts way lower. In the above tweet, Drew did use all of his timeouts. The Bears went on to win that game. If anyone can identify a spot where Baylor’s lack of timeouts has killed them, show me. Instead, Drew has recognized saving timeouts is often worthless in the college game, and that games often end with giving a shooter a decent isolation chance anyway:
“But his defenses are terrible”
I’ve already written a lot on Baylor’s defense, here, but a few things matter. First, Drew’s teams have been better on offense than defense. There are many coaches that fit the same mold and win, including Krzyzewski and Mike Brey. Being less good on defense does not mean the coach is terrible.
Second, Drew has built some pretty good defenses. The 2010 team finished in the top 50 on defense on KenPom, the 2012 squad finished 37th, and the 2015 team was 23rd.
Third, this year’s defense looks to be Drew’s best. At the time of this writing, the Bears are 11th in defense on KenPom. Drew has built a strong defense tailored to the weak side help of Jo Lual-Acuil and his ability to sometimes just meet people at the rim:
Drew has also done a wonderful job switching defenses this season, which is a sign of in game adjustments and good coaching. Against Michigan State, the Bears flipped to man-to-man after trailing by three at the half. The Bears have also built an impressive defense by contesting shots and avoiding fouling. As a result, Baylor is 19th in effective field goal defense on KenPom, and they’re the 9th best in free throw rate because they defend like this:
“But he made the N.I.T. three times. He must be terrible”
Scott Drew has made the N.I.T. three times. The first time was in 2009, which followed Baylor’s first tournament season since 1988. That Bears team did not have a ton of size, and they struggled to stop people throughout the season. The team got it together late in the season by switching to a 2-3 zone and made it to the N.I.T. title. The following season, the Bears were picked 10th in the Big 12. They made the Elite Eight.
His 2011 team struggled in two respects. First, the team was assembled with the expectation Ekpe Udoh would be on it. Udoh developed so well he was the sixth pick in the draft. The Bears relied on Bobo Morgan and others to make up the gap, but they could never get enough going in the post. Second, A.J. Walton at 19 was not a good point guard for that team. Walton is a strong defender, and in an offense with another primary ball handler—sort of like the 2012 team that made the Elite Eight—the Bears were excellent with Walton. But Walton alone as the primary ball handler did not work.
A few counter that a team with LaceDarius Dunn, Quincy Acy, and Perry Jones has to be better. I’d caution that the departed Tweety Carter and Dunn just worked so well together:
Jones and Dunn were not point guards. Baylor eventually tried the “Perry Jones must touch the ball” theory. It failed too. That team just did not work.
The 2013 team was never the same when Quincy Miller went pro after announcing he would return. I do not blame Miller for doing that. If I could be a millionaire playing hoops, I would go pro too. Miller was set to be the Bears small forward. Without him, Baylor played three guys 6’2 or smaller as their starting back court. They finished with the 64th KenPom defense as they struggled to contest shots and limit offensive rebounding.
That Baylor team was also the victim of bad luck. They finished 333rd in luck on KenPom. They lost a game against Kansas State on one of the oddest circumstances imaginable. They did not make the tournament after finishing 9-9 in the Big 12. They beat Kansas by 23 point points in the final game of the regular season. That Baylor team probably should have made the tournament given those two factors, and they went on to win the N.I.T.
A ton of great coaches make the N.I.T. Roy Williams made the N.I.T. in 2010. Jim Calhoun missed the tournament in 2007. Jim Boehiem made the N.I.T. in 2007 and 2008. Not making the tournament is not a sign of coaching failure.
Drew has made the tournament the last three seasons. He’s well on his way to four in a row. The failures of a few teams with extenuating circumstances does not outweigh his incredibly successful performances and recent run of making the tournament.
“But he loses early in the tournament”
History did not begin in 2015. In 2010, Baylor made the Elite Eight. That team lost to eventual national champion Duke. The 2012 team lost to eventual national champion Kentucky, and that Anthony Davis led team is one of the best college basketball teams of all-time. In 2014, Baylor made the Sweet 16 before losing to Final Four participant Wisconsin. Those are all good tournament runs.
The 2015 Bears did lose to Georgia State and the 2016 team did lose to Yale. This is a sign of what can happen in a one game tournament. We can’t forget the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead or that Texas football lost to Kansas, but we also should not forget in a one game basketball tournament, the worse team can sometimes win. That happened when Baylor played two solid teams.
Tons of teams also fall early in the tournament. Self has lost in the first round twice. The Jayhawks were a three seed when they fell to Bucknell. They fell as a four seed to Bradley. Self has also lost in the second round to Northern Iowa because in the tournament, this can happen:
Izzo lost in the first round of the tournament last season as a two seed to Middle Tennessee State. Krzyzewski lost as a two seed to Lehigh in 2012. Two years later, Coach K lost as a three seed with Jabari Parker to 14th seeded Mercer.
“But he can’t win the big game”
This, like many of these arguments, requires defining what the big game actually is. Yes, Baylor basketball has not been Kansas basketball. And the reason I keep using Kansas is because a lot of the people I interact with who hate on Scott Drew are Kansas fans. That’s also probably because I live in Kansas. And I would agree #NotAllKansasfans.
Kansas basketball is one of the five best, and possibly the best program in the country. They have the best home court in college basketball. And Bill Self is one of the best coaches in the country. And to once again give an analogy, Self has “only” made the Final four twice at Kansas.
The point here is that it is ridiculously tough to make a Final Four. KU beat Davidson in 2008—with the best KenPom team ever—with Steph Curry not taking the final shot. They beat North Carolina without Kendall Marshall in 2012 to advance to their other Final Four in the Self era. In the seasons KU has missed the final four with some great teams: 2007 when they ran into UCLA’s assortment of professionals, 2010 when a man from the Missouri Valley was too good, 2011 when they missed more threes than they ever would in 1,000 games against VCU, or 2013 when Trey Burke hit a ridiculous three to force overtime, luck swung against them. And nobody says Bill Self can’t win the big game because of that. Instead, they recognize that we love sports because the tournament can produce some incredible moments.
At the risk of this becoming 5,000 words instead of 3,500, I’ll close this section by saying Scott Drew has won plenty of big games. He’s beaten Kansas to advance to a Big 12 final. He’s won a Battle 4 Atlantis title with his team down 22 to a Pitino coached Louisville. That Louisville team had the #1 KenPom defense. He’s won in Ames twice. When Bob Huggins began “Press Virginia,” at West Virginia and began knocking off Big 12 teams, Drew went 3-0 against him. And he’s managed to make the Elite Eight twice. Drew has also won the N.I.T.
“But you’re just making excuses for him”
Life does occasionally involve things breaking your way. Machiavelli once noted, “fortune is the arbiter of half the things we do, leaving the other half or so to be controlled by ourselves.” I might disagree that fortune or luck controls that much, but it plays a role. And if you are criticizing Drew, most of those situations involve blowing up a few moments where luck has worked against him.
In contrast, Drew’s critics end up minimizing his success to an unbelievable degree. All people make mistakes, and Drew is no different in coaching. But you have to excuse a lot more success than you have to excuse failure to explain Scott Drew is not a good coach.
In a perfect world, I would not have to write this article. The article may not achieve much. By any actual metric, it’s overwhelmingly obvious Scott Drew is a good coach. With apologies to Bill Snyder, Drew may have completed the greatest turnaround in college sports history.
Drew has not made a Final Four or won the Big 12. But he’s been close on the former, and this season he has a team capable of doing both the former and the latter.
To many of Drew’s critics, history begins at selective points to advance their terrible argument that he can’t coach. And those people will soon find that so much in life seems so certain until it’s not.
Drew’s critics have probably not taken the time to consider any of these things. Which is fine because regardless of what a dwindling groups thinks, Drew has been an excellent coach for a long time.