A year after having the best team in Baylor basketball’s 114 year history, the Bears should be even better this season.
With four returning starters, including the Big 12’s Preseason Player of the Year (Jared Butler), the Bears are Big 12 title favorites and possibly national title favorites. They rank No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. KenPom has the Bears No. 1. The Associate Press ranks Baylor No. 2—though the Bears are just one point behind Gonzaga.
Giant expectations necessitates a giant preview. We’ll take a look at each rotation player, then turn to 10 big questions about the 2020-2021 Bears. After that, we’ll make a game-by-game prediction.
Jared Butler- The Bears’ best player was a unanimous First Team All-Big 12 selection last year. He earned First Team All-America honors from the AP’s preseason vote.
Butler is a walking bucket. He dropped 22 points in Baylor’s 12 point victory in Allen Fieldhouse last season. Marcus Garrett won the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award. Butler didn’t care:
By the end of the season, Butler should end any debate about the best player in Baylor history. With a cadre of talented scorers around him, teams will be unable to devote the required attention to him. Expect his assist-to-turnover rate to improve, as the NBA teams he interviewed with flagged that.
MaCio Teague- Named to a bevy of preseason watchlists, Teague returns after testing the NBA Draft waters. He’s an underrated defender and skilled shooter.
Evan Miya, a graduate student in statistics at Baylor, has a wonderful advanced stats website. His data finds every returning Bear, except Flo Thamba, played better with Teague on the court.
The Bears need Teague to be a knockdown shooter again. His triple late against Texas Tech showed how good he can be:
Davion Mitchell- One of the country’s best defensive guards. Mitchell will look to boost his 3-point shooting to take his game to the next level, though his 35% mark in his last 26 games (shout to CJ Moore of The Athletic for the stat) portends well. He’s slightly altered his form (something I noted would help him when he transferred from Auburn) and appears to be due for a big season:
Mitchell’s speed makes him nearly automatic near the rim. He took 37.4% of his shots at the rim last season, per hoop-math. That mark was double any other Baylor guard.
If his jumper is more of a threat, he’ll put opponents in the unfortunate position of having to play close enough to respect the shot while risking he flies by them for a shot at the hoop.
Mark Vital- One of the country’s premiere defenders, and someone that can play either the four or the five. While I don’t expect Baylor to play the Fival (Mark Vital at the five) a ton early, that lineup remains a possible death lineup against the best teams.
Vital’s defense comes from intense study of opponents. With a tough schedule, Vital told me at last week’s press conference, “You gotta actually learn and sit there just like you study for an exam. You have to study for the players; back-to-back games, you have to stay up a little later. Coach takes the phone so you can’t do nothing... Then you gotta focus on the main players and the guys that might sneak through. The coaches do a good job breaking it down. You gotta watch your part.”
He also worked on his 3-point shot in the offseason. Vital told me in that same press conference, “It improved. I’m good with it. For me, I think it was all confidence. I didn’t have to shoot as much because we had Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Devonte Bandoo. My 3-pointer and free throw have improved, but I still need to learn and stay in my role...I just got to stay in my role.”
The Bears don’t need Vital to hit threes, but this does look better than previous Vital attempts:
Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (JTT)- He wants to go by Jon, but sometimes initials are too good.
JTT’s stats at UNLV didn’t wow. But Tristan Clark mentioned in this week’s press conference, “He (JTT) is super athletic. One of the most athletic players I’ve ever played with or seen. I think he’s going to lead the team in rebounding, in my eyes. He’s an underrated defender on the perimeter, as well as the interior. I just feel like he’s a good fit for the team.”
His UNLV stats weren’t great. That’s fine. He’s not asked to score 20 points a game like Johnathan Motley. Instead, he’ll be asked to play excellent defense, rebound and catch lobs.
I asked Davion Mitchell about Baylor’s clearout play without Gillespie. The Bears opened a variety of games with that set. The other four players need to move at the right moment for Mitchell to get the perfect path to the hoop. He’s optimistic about that play this year. He said, “I feel like I’ll score on it, especially because we space the floor a lot. That will open a lot, especially we can throw the lob now to Jonathan and our bigs that will open up that iso play.” JTT does look good catching lobs:
Matthew Mayer- Maybe it’s an unfair comparison, but I’ve long maintained Taurean Prince is the right comp. for Mayer. The two had flashes as sophomores but sometimes played a bit out of control.
Mayer’s looked good in practice. He gives the Bears the ability to play smaller with him as a stretch four, and he gives the Bears length as a stretch three. He finished the year 38% from three, but he hit 31% in conference. If his 3-point number is closer to the former, then he’ll be top five in minutes played.
King McClure once said that Mayer is the most talented guy on the roster. His combination of size, shooting and athleticism gives the Bears another dimension. If he puts it all together, the Bears are the definitive No. 1 team. If not, we’ll still enjoy the best plays:
Adam Flagler: The Presbyterian transfer becomes eligible and should slot in for Devonte Bandoo. He dropped 49 points in back-to-back games against Marquette and UCLA during his freshman season. On an unbelievable 284 attempts as a freshman, he hit 38% of his threes.
I’d expect the Bears to experiment with four guard lineups and a big man. They used that allotment against Oklahoma State in Waco. Flagler needs to prove he can defend at the same level as Baylor’s other guards. He’ll be right there offensively.
Flo Thamba- With Gillespie, Clark and Vital playing center, Thamba had eight DNPs in 18 Big 12 games last year. He should play in all of them this season because of Clark’s medical retirement.
The staff has raved about Thamba’s improvement. He’s an adept screener. His challenge is how well he can move defensively. I asked him about that at this week’s press conference and he said, “As far as that’s concerned, me and Freddie have been having a lot of conversations about it and how I can improve on my defensive side. Basically it was going into the gym and working on our guards 1-on-1 since their elite and working with them each and every day.”
L.J. Cryer- If Baylor didn’t have so many guards, Cryer would be playing a ton now. He might be too good to keep out of games for long.
The freshman averaged over 35 points a game his senior year in high school. His scoring prowess should make him a starter next season.
Jordan Turner- Teague told me that Turner has improved the most since the end of last season.
A long wing, Turner gives the Bears needed depth. He may not play a ton of minutes this season. He will going forward:
Zach Loveday- At 7 feet, Loveday will get plenty of opportunities in the years ahead. He likely won’t see the court too much this season, but I’ve been wrong about how much guys will play before.
Dain Dainja- He may have the highest ceiling of any Baylor player. This season gives him the chance to work on his body and play against higher level competition in practice. I wouldn’t expect to see him much this year. If he keeps working hard and develops his body, he’ll play in the NBA.
10 Big Questions:
The Bears have an exceptional case as the nation’s best squad. But there are 10 potential questions I can think about with their future. Let’s address each of them.
1) Can the Bears offensive rebound without Gillespie?
Baylor’s offense finished 17th in efficiency, but the Bears were 188th in effective field goal percentage and 228th in getting to the line. As they have most seasons, the Bears built a great offense by getting second chances. The Bears finished 8th in offensive rebounding rate.
Gillespie finished 6th nationally in offensive rebounding rate. If he’s gone, then how do the Bears keep rebounding?
The easy answer is that Baylor always offensive rebounds. Vital finished 58th nationally in offensive rebounding rate. He should grab plenty if he plays center. JTT should slide in well too. The Bears lost Rico Gathers, the county’s best offensive rebounder, and got one spot better in the national ranking the following season. There may be no safer bet than “Baylor will finish top 10 in offensive rebounding rate.”
2) Can Baylor play their no middle defense without Gillespie?
The Bears switched to a modified version of Texas Tech’s no middle defense last year. The basic framework is to prevent the offense from getting to the middle of the court. The principle that underlines that defense is that if a player is contained on one side of the court, he’ll have a much tougher time hitting teammates on the other side of the court. That lets the defense to pack (not to be confused with the packline defense) one side of the court and make life miserable. The offensive player has to either throw the ball across the court, risking a turnover or the chance for the defense to recover, or the offensive player can take a bad 2-point shot.
The no middle defense led to Baylor ranking No. 4 in adjusted defensive efficiency. As the graph above demonstrates, last season Baylor ranked in the top 25 in both effective field goal defense and turnover margin. That’s the only season Baylor ranked in the top 70 in both categories. Every other year this decade, Baylor’s struggled in one of those two areas.
I asked Drew about that defense at an earlier press conference. He said, “Our players and staff deserve a lot of credit with that, and at the same time, why we changed defenses really fit our personnel. Playing guys that are a little smaller. We’ve had a little more length in the past, especially at the 3 where we’ve had 6-10, 6-11 guys. Different defenses schematically fit based on your personnel. We thought our team would be successful. They deserve all the credit for believing in it and executing it and now coming off a year like we did, you want to make tweaks and adjustments. But it’d be foolish to leave something that was so good for this personnel and you return so many of them.”
That indicates the Bears will still play that defense. And with Mitchell and Vital back, the defense should still be quite good. Mitchell is difficult to get past, which means the Bears may not have to count on switching so many screens. And Vital can guard anyone, so if JTT or Thamba can’t play the five as effectively as the staff believes, then Vital can just switch screens and play center.
My guess is that the Bears just switch fewer screens, and they’ll work to switch well off the ball. If JTT can’t quiet handle the fastest guards, the Bears can switch Teague and Vital’s men off the ball, then they can switch Vital back onto those quick guards. That requires a lot of movement, which might lead to a few buckets as the defense tries to avoid botching any rotation. The defense may not be No. 4, but it should finish top 10.
3) How does Baylor avoid the disease of me?
Pat Riley dubbed the term “disease of me” to describe the phenomenon teams face when they start winning. Each player can focus on their individual interest and want more. Once someone has sacrificed, they think they deserve more and start putting self before the collective.
The easiest way Baylor avoids this disease is by remembering they didn’t achieve their goals yet. Last season’s team wanted to win the Big 12. It’s impressive Baylor won 15 games—the most by a non-champion in Big 12 history—but they didn’t win a Big 12 title or get the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bears also have a strong culture. Nobody went pro or transferred. The four best players—due to Mitchell and Teague sitting out a year—have all been together for three years. They have the cachet to tell a teammate if they’re putting their individual goals ahead of the team’s. I’m not worried about this one.
4) Are there too many cooks?
Good problems are still problems. And the Bears have a coterie of players that would have gotten plenty of minutes on good Baylor teams. On this great one, several won’t be in the rotation.
The staff seems ready to play the best players. With a schedule this tough, the Bears can’t play their 11th best guy eight minutes a game.
Everyone in the program seems to understand the unique window they have this season. While the roster lacks a 5-star, they have plenty of solid recruits that turned into elite players. It’s easier when you’re winning to understand why you’re not playing. I don’t think this will prove a big issue during the season.
5) Is there a ceiling on the team’s shooting?
Baylor finished 256th in 2-point shooting in 2020. Opponents blocked 13% of Baylor’s shots, which ranked 350th nationally. It doesn’t get much worse than that.
When the Bears got to the line, things weren’t good either. The team finished 248th in free throw percentage.
The Bears should be a better 3-point shooting team. That will boost their effective field goal percentage. Teague hit 35% from deep. That was down from 45% and 43% in his two seasons at UNC-Asheville. Stepping into the Big 12 made hitting so many threes difficult, but Teague led the Big 12 in free throw percentage during conference games. Brady Heslip had his worst shooting season in 2013 where he hit 6% worse from three than the prior season. That happens sometimes.
Baylor’s 2-point shooting is my biggest fear for the offense. I’d expect a second year of Butler-Teague-Mitchell playing together to figure out how to get better shots. Mayer should also make a leap. The Bears have not ranked in the top 115 nationally this decade in percent of shots from three. They should break into that territory this season.
It’s unrealistic to assume all of Baylor’s guards will shoot 40% or better from distance. But Mitchell shot better at the rim at Auburn, Mayer had better stretches than he finished from deep and Butler shot 8% better from deep in Big 12 games as a freshman than he did as a sophomore.
Someone will shoot poorly compared to expectations. That happens. But they have enough guys that shot below what they’re capable of last season, and a marksmen in Flagler, that I’d bet on improvement from the field.
6) Does the middle ball screen prove fatal?
In Waco, Kansas highlighted that sometimes the best way to beat the no middle defense is to just run a middle ball screen. The Bears did about everything they could—beyond trying to switch to a zone defense they hadn’t played much—to defend screens with Udoka Azubuike as the roll man. They couldn’t quite do it.
I wouldn’t take much away from the Kansas game. Azubuike was one of the country’s best players and by far the nation’s best roll man. The Utah Jazz made him, an older center, a first round pick. Nobody will bring someone like him out this campaign.
The rest of the league has some good size, from West Virginia to Texas. But they don’t have anyone like Azubuike. The Bears probably overreacted to Marcus Garrett making threes against Oklahoma and should have just gone under all those screens. But that discussion remains academic because Azubuike isn’t coming back.
7) Is the schedule going to break this team?
Baylor plays the No. 1 team (Gonzaga), No. 3 (Villanova, if they meet in a tournament, which seems likely), No. 8 (Illinois), No. 18 (Arizona State) and a team receiving votes (Seton Hall).
The Bears are extremely unlikely to make it through that gauntlet undefeated. Going 4-1 would be a major accomplishment.
The Big 12 has four other teams ranked in KenPom’s top 10 (Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Texas). Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are in the top 35 too.
This kind of schedule could break a mediocre team, and someone in that top 35 range of the Big 12 is going to take a lot of losses. Nobody should go 17-1 or 15-3 like the Jayhawks and Bears did in last year’s Big 12. But taking losses shouldn’t doom anyone in a league this good.
8) Will turnovers doom the offense?
Baylor ranked 258th in turnover rate last season. It’s miraculous Baylor had such a good defense last season because the Bears gave teams some live-ball opportunities to destroy them in transition.
The Bears turn it over a lot, and they’ve built great offenses:
We’re getting wild with charts. The Bears turn it over. The Bears could never turn it over by just shooting the ball instantly. But their offense works in a variety of looks that will lead to some turnovers. That’s okay. Offense tests the maxim that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s hard to shoot well, offensive rebound, play transition defense, defensive rebound, not turn it over, turn the opponent over, get to the line and not foul. Basketball isn’t baseball; decisions are connected. Get better—or turn your focus somewhere—and you’ll get worse somewhere else. Despite turning it over a lot, the Bears have finished top 25 in offensive efficiency in 9-of-11 seasons, which only Duke and Kentucky have done too.
Turnovers won’t doom the Bears. if they can’t shoot with two bigs, they’ll switch to a smaller lineup, aka the Fival:
Very excited that Baylor finally played Mark Vital at the five. The Fival lineup lives! pic.twitter.com/EguSFCTYXI— Kendall (@kendallkaut) November 28, 2018
No matter what lineup the Bears play, they’ll probably rank outside the top 100 in turnover rate. But they’ll rank in the top 15 in offensive efficiency.
9) What if COVID-19 or an injury hits the team?
Obviously COVID-19 should lead to some uncertainty about this season. Plenty of games could be cancelled. Maybe a few guys test positive and miss a brutal two week stretch.
The Bears are uniquely positioned to handle missing a player or two, regardless of what removes them. Baylor’s in a much worse spot if one of their four returning guys miss significant time. But this is not Baylor 2010 where if Ekpe Udoh, Tweety Carter or LaceDarius Dunny missed time, the Bears would go from a top 10 team to a team that would have been happy to win one NCAA Tournament game. That could be unfair to the 2010 team. It’s not for the 2021 squad.
Baylor’s so good because they have top end talent like Butler and Teague and they have a phalanx of options that can step up. This is not 2011 where Baylor played seven guys and prayed someone besides Dunn or Perry Jones could score. If any team is well-positioned to navigate the challenges of this season, it’s one led by the longest tenured Big 12 coach and lead assistant, with the deepest roster.
10) How do the Bears replace Bandoo?
Bandoo won Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year and provided a needed spark off the bench. While I think he’s better than the advanced stats, the advanced stats weren’t big fans of him.
Miya’s system showed every Baylor player performed worse with Bandoo on the court (check out the above/below average part):
Bandoo had an offensive rating of 98.9 last year. Again, I think some of these advanced stats miss that he had to create a bit off the bench and worked with some lineups that weren’t as good as others.
Despite my caveat that Bandoo is better than what the numbers paint, I also think he wasn’t quite as good as the prevailing narrative. Bandoo was a good player. He was not an irreplaceable player.
Flagler should step in and be as good. He will never have to be Baylor’s best offensive player on the floor, and he should knock down triples:
If the Bears play all these games in order, we’ll be in a fantastic world. With COVID-19, I’d be shocked if that happens.
I’d bet a substantial amount of money we’ll play the NCAA Tournament though. The tournament brings in the vast majority of the NCAA’s revenue. The organization announced the tournament will take place in a centralized location (probably Indianapolis), which allows them to create a functional bubble.
Basketball is a better sport than football for a host of reasons. The sport can be played over a few weeks in multi-game increments. They could play a 16 game Big 12 schedule in one month if things get bad. Football requires a week between most games. Basketball doesn’t.
So I’m predicting as though Baylor plays every opponent. That probably won’t happen, but we’re rooting for things to go okay. I’m also assuming nobody misses time on either side. That’s also unlikely.
I’ll do a longer preview before Wednesday, but the Bears should be a decent favorite. Remy Martin is an exceptional guard. Mitchell should make his life difficult. They also lack the kind of size to take advantage of the Bears early. I’ll take Baylor 76-68.
The Bears knocked them off last season. Villanova lost Sediq Bey as an early entry NBA Draft pick. So I think the Bears have a better team when both teams get going.
It’s hard to win that many top-level games, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl will be a menace for JTT in his second power six basketball game. I’ll say the Wildcats get hot from distance and win 78-74.
Baylor has too much talent and rallies from the Villanova loss to throttle the Pirates 82-68.
Brad Underwood has things rolling at Illinois. They have good guards—perhaps the country’s second best backcourt. A loss here wouldn’t be terrible, but the Bears pull away late and get revenge for the 2015 loss, 68-60.
Gonzaga/Nicholls State/Arkansas-Pine Bluff/Central Arkansas:
Gonzaga has a phenomenal frontcourt. They might try and pound the ball and punish the Bears.
I think Baylor’s guards, despite rave reviews for Jalen Suggs, will prove too good for Gonzaga’s. I’ll say the Bears win 70-66.
Baylor will beat Nicholls State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Central Arkansas.
The Longhorns need to win now. Shaka Smart hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game at Texas. They return everyone and add a 5-star in Greg Brown. Tom Herman shouldn’t get one more year, and if Texas doesn’t win an NCAA Tournament game or at least get a top five seed, I’d expect Texas to find the money for a new basketball coach too.
Despite saying Smart hasn’t met expectations at Texas, I think they’re going to be really good. Torvik has them No. 1 in his preseason ranking. I’ll say the Bears split the season series.
Bruce Weber might find himself on the hot seat if things don’t turn around in Manhattan. He’s won a share of two Big 12 titles and made the Elite Eight in 2018. On paper, the Wildcats are the league’s worst team.
Baylor should sweep Kansas State. The Wildcats aren’t 2014 TCU bad. Still, they’re much worse than Baylor, and the Bears get two wins.
Iowa State wasn’t good with Tyrese Haliburton last year. They played some without him last year and didn’t inspire anybody. The best that came from Baylor-Iowa State last season was Mitchell’s block:
Steve Prohm might look for an exit to a non-power five job. Baylor gets two wins.
There’s a case for Oklahoma being underrated. Austin Reaves shot 26% form three after hitting 42% as a sophomore and 51% as a freshman. He figures to improve from distance. Brady Manek is somehow still in school, and De’Vioni harmon is good too.
Oklahoma does not play a physical style, and even with a close game in the Ferrell Center, the Bears have matched up well with the Sooners lately. I’ll take the Bears to sweep.
Jamie Dixon’s squad showed some fight at the end of last year. Desmond Bane is gone, and they don’t have an impact recruit headed in to replace him.
After a tough loss in Fort Worth last year, the Bears should be motivated in both their games against the Horned Frogs. Nobody goes nuclear like Makai Mason in either game (9-of-12 from deep in 2019—which feels like such a long time ago now). Nobody will need to get that hot. Baylor wins both handily.
The Mountaineers play ugly offense and ugly defense. That works for them. They rank top 10 on both KenPom and Torvik.
With a bruising frontcourt, West Virginia is a catastrophe to face when they have a mediocre shooting day.
I’ll say each team wins once. West Virginia is the most likely Big 12 team to beat Baylor twice, but because of their shooting woes, they’ll probably take a few losses they shouldn’t in conference play.
Davide Moretti’s departure will matter a lot. Texas Tech didn’t have a great NCAA Tournament resume last year. They really needed the committee to look at advanced metrics because their second best win was a close loss to Baylor or Kansas.
Chris Beard is a fantastic coach. But his team had way too much hype entering last year, and that’s happening again. Give me Baylor twice.
The case for Kansas is that they looked good with Marcus Garrett leading the show in limited minutes in 2019-2020 and have a trio of newcomers. Jalen Wilson is also healthy, and they’re well placed to play big.
The argument against Kansas—and it still recognizes them as a top 20 team but not a top 10 one—is that Azubuike and Devon Dotson will be tough to replace. Christian Braun also might have shot a little better last season than he will this season. I’m not in love with Mitch Lightfoot or David McCormack.
With reduced capacity or no fans in Allen Fieldhouse, Baylor won’t face such a daunting task winning there. And Azubuike won’t crash the paint in Waco. For the first time in program history, Baylor wins both regular season games against Kansas.
Outside of Cade Cunningham and Isaac Likekele, the roster gets bad fast.
Cunningham is a star though. He’d have been the No. 1 pick in a second in the 2020 NBA Draft. He should be the top pick in the 2021 draft.
Cunningham will have a battle with Butler. Mike Boynton is a heck of a coach, facing a stupid postseason ban, after inheriting a weakened team from Travis Ford. For selfish reasons, I’d like to see Oklahoma State make a change. But I think that’d be a ridiculous error.
Baylor’s good enough to be favored to sweep this series. Butler smoked Oklahoma State in wedge screens at the Ferrell Center:
I’ll say Cunningham has his best day of the season and proves why he’s the No. 1 pick in one of those games, and the Bears split that series.
Mitchell faces his old squad in the Big 12-SEC challenge.
The Bears are 93% favorites on Torvik (though Baylor was a 93% favorite when they led Oklahoma 28-3 in football in 2019—sorry!).
The Bears have done well in Big 12-SEC Challenge games, only losing to Florida in a season where they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. Baylor cruises.
Big 12 Tournament:
At 15-3, the Bears win the league this year. They’ll eviscerate TCU in the 1-8 game, then beat Kansas in the 1-4 game. The Bears have a nice shooting day in the title game and knock off West Virginia.
With wins over Gonzaga, Illinois, Seton Hall, Kansas x3, West Virginia x2, Texas, Oklahoma x2 and Oklahoma State, the Bears will enter the NCAA Tournament with an unmatched resume in terms of wins. But with Villanova likely to do quite well in the Big East, the Wildcats earn the No. 1 overall seed while the Bears earn the No. 2 overall seed.
Baylor walks into the Sweet 16. Then Creighton comes out shooting hot, in a reversal from Baylor’s destruction of the Jays in 2014. But Baylor comes back in the second half for a close win.
In the Elite Eight, the Bears face Iowa. Luka Garza drops 30, and the Bears win by 15 as Flagler matches him. That sends the Bears to their first Final Four since 1950.
After some attacks from Kansas fans about finishing fourth in the league, Bill Self upsets Gonzaga in the Elite Eight to send the Jayhawks to a fourth meeting with Baylor. Garrett hits a few threes early, creating a dilemma about if the Bears should continue to duck under his screens. But the Bears stay the course, and Butler takes over late to send Baylor to the national title game.
In a rematch against Villanova, Mayer forces Jeremiah Robinson-Earl onto the perimeter and hits a couple ridiculous threes. Vital makes one in the second half to erase any doubt Villanova can come back, and Teague comes up with a few key defensive plays late to let Mitchell and Butler take Baylor to a title offensively.
Sports and so much in life ends poorly. Your best friends today may not even be in your life in a decade. Most relationships don’t lead to marriage; few businesses become Amazon.
Even the best teams fail to win titles. The 2015 Kentucky Wildcats were the best college basketball team of my life. 1997 Kansas was probably the second best. Neither won a title.
In the one off joy of the NCAA Tournament, someone gets hot and ruins your season. Someone on your team goes cold and wonders for the rest of their life why that day—the most important of their season, and as it will feel at the time, their life—had to be the day it all went wrong.
Life is deeply unfair. There’s no question about that.
Despite the unfairness of life and sports, it’s also deeply worth it. The friends you may not speak to in a decade sure mean something this decade. The relationships that don’t end in marriage are okay because eventually one will. And you don’t have to be Amazon to achieve the heights you aspire to. Jeff Bezos can become a trillionaire. The rest of us have different goals.
Baylor has the country’s best team. It’s hard to be objective when your favorite team is better than ever, when things are worse than ever. But even if it ends poorly when some random white dude drains 10 threes in the Sweet 16, the journey will make the suffering worth it. For in a time when hope always seemed just a little too far off, the Bears are about to begin the most promising journey in the program’s history.
I wouldn’t bet my life that Baylor wins the title. But if you told me I had the non-Baylor field in a life or death bet, I’d feel confident I were about to find out if I were right that the atheists were wrong about God.
This section is fittingly a rambling end to a rambling piece on the best Baylor team ever. Troll me in March, April, May, June or whenever this ends if they don’t win the national championship. I think they will.