Seeding and Location:
Baylor will likely be a 3-seed when the NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed tomorrow. With Arizona’s win over UCLA, and Duke knocking off North Carolina, Baylor probably will not capture a 2-seed.
The Bears will still likely end up in Tulsa for the first two games. Joe Lunardi has them playing Florida Gulf Coast—an opponent Baylor knocked off in Waco earlier this season. I’d be surprised if Baylor does not open in Tulsa. If they’re in the South Region, they would likely—if the seeds hold—meet Kentucky in Memphis for the Sweet 16. But there’s a lot of basketball left, and bracketing principals can get weird. The PAC-12, ACC and Big 12 will all have at least three teams in the top 16. That means a few teams may play a long way from home.
State of the team:
The Bears are still a good team, but the defense has regressed a bit recently. Baylor now has the #13 KenPom defense. The Bears spent almost the entire season in the top 10. Excluding the Kansas State game, the Bears have played pretty solid defensively during that slide. A large reason for the defensive slip has been because sometimes guys just make shots:
In the Kansas State game, the Wildcats were incredibly effective. They scored 1.37 points per possession in the second half. Over the course of a full season, that total would easily be the best offense (Oklahoma State’s #1 offense averages 1.25 points per possession).
Against the Wildcats, the Bears did a poor job defending the pick-and-roll in man-to-man sets. Manu Lecomte wasn’t quite as mobile as the Bears hoped, which limited his ability to stay tight on the ball handler. Once Kansas State found their way into the paint, they were excellent.
It would be a massive upset if Baylor lost in the first round. The Bear’s recent losses have been close and to good teams. This team’s ceiling is probably as high as any Baylor team--as evidenced by wins against Louisville and West Virginia. But the moments where the offense stalls—and the potential for a hot shooting day by a Baylor opponent—means a second round upset is a distinct possibility.
The NCAA Tournament is a weird and awesome four week event. The Bears have some clear weaknesses: turning it over too often, mediocre 3-point shooting and moments the offense stalls. But the Bears have the best player in school history (Johnathan Motley), an incredible offensive rebounding team and the best defense in the Drew era. Anything can still happen.
We all suffer from recency bias. Duke wasn’t back, until they were, until they weren’t again, until now they might be after beating North Carolina. Kansas looked like the best team in the country, then they survived some close games and just lost to TCU. Gonzaga looked unbeatable, then BYU destroyed them. My point is that the full body of work gives you a better idea of what a team is then the last 10, or 12 or whatever number of games you want to arbitrarily decide matter. The full body of work tells us that Baylor is a good team with an excellent chance to make the second weekend.
The Bears could lose earlier than we hope in the tournament, but it won’t be because of many of the hot takes that people will offer. Baylor has given incredible effort throughout the season. Two examples from the last game are illustrative. Manu Lecomte refuses—maybe sometimes even to the team’s detriment—to leave a game when his ankle starts acting up. He gives it his all and doesn’t quit. Johnathan Motley dislocated his finger against Kansas State and returned a few minutes later. If Baylor losses early it could be for a host of reasons, but it won’t be because of effort. Sometimes your best effort isn’t good enough on a given day against someone playing their best.
Baylor will give their best shot and look to advance. Three times that has led to the second weekend. Twice it has led to a first round loss. As Jon Rothstein has told us:
Lonzo Ball is like The Godfather Epic. Watch once and you're hooked.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 5, 2017
Wait, no, wrong Rothsteinism:
This is March.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 11, 2017
Scott Drew and Jobs:
Scott Drew’s name has been mentioned for several jobs: North Carolina State, Missouri, LSU and Illinois. If Indiana opens, Drew will be mentioned as candidate there too.
I don’t know what Drew will do. My feeling is that he won’t take an SEC job because he does not like coaching against his brother (Bryce Drew is the head coach at Vanderbilt). We just don’t know what one person will think when the time to decide arrives. His focus is rightfully on this season. But if you search for Baylor on google, expect to see quite a few takes—many of them pretty bad from people who never watch Baylor basketball—about why Drew will or will not leave.
Enjoy a team and an era while you have it. You can worry all day about Scott Drew leaving for Illinois or the Bears getting upset. But Johnathan Motley, Ish Wainright and Scott Drew have been the kind of men you can be proud to have represent Baylor on and off the court. It could all be over before next weekend, but those three have been the kind of people to always make you think it won’t be. And that’s why we keep coming back.