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Ish Wainright is an Exceptional Leader and Player

The team’s lone senior is playing well enough to give the Bears hope for their first Final Four since 1950

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Along the way to having the best resume in the country, a lot of guys for Baylor have played spectacularly. But for all the talk that Ish Wainright is just a glue guy, his play this season has fueled the Bears to a spectacular level.

Elite Passing

Wainright has fantastic touch on his passes. When he needs to zip the ball, he’s more than capable. Oregon tried to trap Wainright. But he fired the ball to Terry Maston at a difficult angle, which sets up a pass to Johnathan Motley for the score:

Wainright’s passing has allowed the Bears to consistently score from one particular set. I jokingly refer to it as “the awesome play” on Twitter, and I’m going to stick with that.

With the awesome play, Ish Wainright runs around a big man up high, and collects a pass at the three point line. Wainright then fires the ball to Motley—who is freed up by a guard—underneath the hoop for a dunk. This play almost always works:

Part of what makes this play so successful is how quickly Wainright can fire the ball:

Michigan State thought they stopped the awesome play, but don’t doubt Wainright’s ability to make the correct pass:

And Wainright has a phenomenal skill to hit players in stride up the court:

Wainright’s passing skills show up in his offensive numbers. Wainright leads the team in offensive rating and is in the top 200 nationally in assist rate. And when racking up all of those assists, he rarely turns it over, which is reflected with his top 350 turnover rate on KenPom.

Physical Defense

Baylor currently has the 12th best defense on KenPom. That ranking is 11 spots higher than any other Baylor defense. While Jo Lual-Acuil’s shooting blocking and weakside help are major reasons why, Wainright is a major factor too.

First, he has excellent instincts. Wainright comes away with the steal here:

And on this play, Wainright times the shot well and rips the ball away from VCU:

Second, Wainright is a menace to play on the perimeter. Wainright is 6’6 with a 7’2 wingspan. If you put the ball down against Wainright, good luck:

Third, Wainright gives it his all on every play. On a number of occassions, Wainright has saved the ball as it’s going out and thrown it off a grown man:

And other times, Wainright does not care where he lands. He just cares if Baylor will get the ball:

I’m not someone who is a big believer in momentum. But immediately after that save, Baylor’s energy picked up. The Bears grabbed an offensive rebound, and Johnathan Motley banked in a three. Call it luck, but it’s the luck Ish Wainright made.


I’m also not someone who believes much in the psychological impact of the game. Usually, teams win because they have better players.

But there’s something going on in the second halves of Baylor games:

And there’s something going on with how this team rallies and plays together. The Bears have trailed by at least eight points in wins against VCU, Michigan State, Louisville, and Xavier. The Bears have trailed at the half of all of those games. The Bears have won all of those games.

You can account for the Bears comebacks by just saying they’re the better team, or at least close enough to being the better team that if you give them 40 minutes, they’ll eventually win. The Bears are no doubt a good team, and in my mind, they have a legitimate case for being ranked #1 right now. Yet, all of that leads to a difficult causation question: do the Bears play well together because they’re so good, or are the Bears so good because they play well together?

To me, the Bears have hit another level because the team can survive tough runs. King McClure had a terrible start to the year, then is the team’s best player for two games. Manu Lecomte played poorly for large stretches in the Battle 4 Atlantis, then comes back and has a career high in points against Xavier. McClure mentioned they were able to come back against Louisville, “Because of the great leadership we have with Ishmail Wainright and Johnathan Motley and all the upper class-men, they just said we got this.” They were right as the Bears cameback from down 22 and pulled off the victory. The team bought in and got it done.

You can call Ish Wainright a glue guy, but he’s not. He’s a fantastic defender and creator for his teammates. That’s not a glue guy. That’s an excellent player. With a leader like Wainright, the Bears are ready to face any setbacks and have a legitimate shot to win a championship.