Baylor didn’t even receive a single vote in this season’s first USA Today coaches poll. (Scott Drew is even on the panel of voters this season! Is he disallowed from ranking his own team? Is he trying to inculcate a “THEY SLEEP” culture to motivate his players?) Expectations around the country aren’t very high for Baylor, and that can largely be attributed, I believe, to its lack of name recognition.
The preseason is all about starpower. Does a team have a top ten recruiting class and/or feature former all-american talent that has experience deep into the NCAA Tournament? Then that team will probably rate in the top 15 at least. That’s why Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona, et al. are at the top of every preseason poll every year. Those teams have stars that people have heard of, whether those are fresh talents or reliable veterans.
So let’s face it, Baylor doesn’t exactly fit into that category. Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers are gone, and their replacements are barely known within the Big XII conference. Nationally? It would be a stretch for any Pac-12 or ACC fan to name even one Baylor player. When Dick Vitale leaves Baylor out of his preseason top 40 list, then, it shouldn’t be too surprising. Vitale is as likely to launch into an anecdote about his great uncle’s second cousin in eastern Nebraska whose hay baling business suffered in the Great Depression but he showed such fortitude, grit, and perseverance that it shouldn’t be a surprise if Grayson Allen turns out to be the best player in America this season no matter how many diaper dandies John Calipari has at Kentucky year after year as he is to recognize Baylor as a mainstay in the top 30 of college basketball for the past several seasons.
CBS Sports, which tends to pay a bit more attention to detail than Vitale or even ESPN more broadly, rates Baylor as the 40th best team in the country headed into the season and 6th in the Big XII. (For its part, the Big XII ranked Baylor 5th in its preseason poll ahead of Oklahoma.) CBS Sports has this to say about the Bears:
For now, let’s lay aside some questions about the details of that blurb (Are we sure the defense is going to be good? Offensive efficiency has actually been Scott Drew’s strength for years now, hasn’t it? Will people ever stop adding that second ‘W’ to Ish’s last name?) and focus on the larger picture it paints. Johnathan Motley is the lone returning player largely expected to make an impression, and the most that can be said for the rest of the team is a misapplied complement (maybe he actually meant Ish is a blurry enigma, not that he’s fast?), a couple of potentially misguided generalities, and that the two players who anchored this team are now gone. On a national level, not much is really known about this Baylor squad.
Over the next couple of weeks as the season nears, I will get into the details of what I think of this team, where it’s strengths and weaknesses are, and how it will fair over the course of the season (because predictions are fun and great). For now, it’s enough to point out that this year, Baylor will be playing catchup in the public discourse surrounding the sport.
This season will be an even greater test of Drew’s coaching ability than last. He has no clear star to carry the team, very few two-way players to rely on, and will have to rely on several complete unknown entities. He has one preseason All-Big XII player, the conference Newcomer of the Year, and a bunch of dudes who meet the baseline of “pretty good.” Drew has proven his mettle before, and while no one name stands out on a national level, this year’s squad could turn out to be as balanced from top to bottom as Baylor has seen, and it will have to earn every bit of respect it gets.