On August 22, 2003, a mere 4,889 days ago, then 32 year old Valparaiso head coach Scott Drew agreed to become the new head men's basketball coach at Baylor University. If you are reading this blog, I don't need to rehash the details of why Baylor was needing to hire a basketball coach in late August but it's safe to say that Coach Drew was about to step into one of the toughest rebuilding jobs in the history of the sport. That first season in 2003-04, Baylor only had a handful of scholarship players as Drew was literally pulling guys off the intramural floor at the SLC and throwing them into the lion’s den that we know as the Big 12. The Bears actually surprised many in that first season by winning three conference games on their way to an 8-21 overall record. Two years later, Baylor was not even allowed to play a non-conference schedule due to the sanctions that were a result of the actions of the previous regime.
Slowly but surely, Drew would begin to make his mark on Baylor basketball. A breakthrough campaign in 2007-08 led to the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1988 and Baylor spent two weeks at #25 in the AP poll, the Bears' first appearance in the poll in nearly forty years. Another breakthrough would come in the 2009-10 season when Baylor won its first NCAA Tournament game in sixty years and would kickstart a magical run to the Elite Eight. The Bears would repeat that feat again in 2011-12, winning 30 games in the process. Scott Drew was accomplishing this at a school that had impossible sanctions when he walked in and a mostly fruitless basketball history. It's now a program that consistently appears in the Top 25, makes NCAA Tournaments, puts players in the NBA, and holds its own in the toughest conference in America.
Now today, January 9, 2017, Coach Drew can check off an accomplishment that nobody could have ever predicted when he took the job some 4,889 days ago: your Baylor Bears have been voted the #1 ranked team in the country in the newest AP poll, receiving 55 of 65 1st place votes. Baylor becomes just the fourth team since the poll expanded in 1969 to reach the #1 ranking after beginning the season unranked, joining 1979 Indiana State, 1990 Kansas and 2010 Syracuse. It's also the second consecutive season for the Big 12 to hold #1 and #2 at the same time as Kansas checks in at #2 this week.
Now you are likely to hear quite a bit of chatter about Baylor being the #1 team in the country, especially in a year where so many blueblood programs are having great seasons. The advanced stats certainly have Baylor pegged as a top 10 team at this point, but maybe not THE best team. And there is a very real possibility that this may only be a one week stay at the top. The Bears have an extremely difficult two game stretch this week with road trips to West Virginia and Kansas State. Those would be difficult games without the target of having the #1 ranking strapped to your name. But Baylor has earned the right to be #1 based on what this team has accomplished in the first two months of the season. Baylor is one of two unbeaten teams remaining out of the 351 that play Division I basketball and the Bears also own seven wins over teams in the top 55 in KenPom, more than any other team in the country. If the NCAA Tournament started today, Baylor would absolutely be the #1 overall seed based on their resume. So it makes complete sense for Baylor to be #1 in the polls this week.
But this is more than about just this 2016-17 team and what they've accomplished. Drew and his staff have built a program from the ground up and every player who has signed on to play at Baylor should feel like they have a piece of this accomplishment. From Aaron Bruce and Curtis Jerrells to Tweety Carter and Quincy Acy. From Pierre Jackson and Isaiah Austin to Johnathan Motley and the rest of this current squad. Everyone had a part in this and everyone should feel proud to be a Bear today.
Now the end goal is not to have the #1 ranking at some point in the season. This is a team that is going after a first ever Big 12 championship and a Final Four that the program has not reached since 1950. Yet this is a moment to be enjoyed. It's one that can never be taken away from this program. Just as long as you remember one thing...
We still suck.