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The Bounce: Forged in Fire

Baylor is about to attempt something done only once in the last 20 years. Plus: some notes on women’s athletics.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

There is a show on the History Channel called “Forged in Fire.” Airing just around the time you’ve stumbled back from the bar with a few too many Irish car bombs in you, Forged in Fire is a competition show in which amateur blacksmiths must work against the clock, limited resources, and each other to forge a master weapon. The victor wins thousands of dollars, presumably to buy those billows with golden studding they’ve been eying for months now.

One segment features a sharpness test. Blade master Doug Marcaida swings each of the competitors’ blades at a target (frequently pig carcasses) to determine battle-readiness. It’s one of television’s most stirring segments thanks to Marcaida’s performance, who deserves some sort of Emmy nomination. With each cloven silicone mannequin head or swine blood splatter, the blade master declares whether the weapon answers this essential question: will it kill? The pure jubilation in his eyes as he proclaims his judgment is enough to elicit tears of joy and cries of terror. Here is a compilation of his greatest moments:

You might be wondering why I bring this up. Well, have you seen Baylor’s opening schedule for the 2020-2021 men’s basketball season?

A basketball team is like a skillfully but hastily crafted pickaxe: how do you know it’s any good unless you jab it into a blood-filled dummy a few times?

What Scott Drew has done here is something that, perhaps, has never really been done in college basketball before. He intends to send a team that has had limited practice into a true furnace of top-30 opponent after top-15 opponent after top-10 opponent. It’s a schedule to make Bill Self blush. If you flip back through Kansas schedule history, you’ll find no more than 3 top 25 opponents in non-conference play in any of the past 10 seasons. That from the school that has a reputation of scheduling a challenging opening slate to battle test its team.

Drew has taken things to a whole new level.

In the past 20 seasons, only four national champions have played three games against top 25 opponents in non-conference play. Of those teams (UNC, 2017; Kentucky, 2012; Maryland, 2002; Duke, 2001), two went 2-1 (Kentucky & Maryland), while the other two went 1-2 (UNC & Duke). Only one team in the last 20 years attempted what Baylor is about to attempt and went on to win the NCAA Championship: Michigan State in 2000. Sparty played against Texas (20), North Carolina (2), Kansas (5), and Arizona (2). They went 2-2 against those opponents with loses to Texas and Arizona.

There simply is not a terribly large amount of precedent for what the Bears are aiming for this season.

That one precedent, though, is enough to for me to say this: The Baylor Bears - possibly the best Baylor Bears team in program history - are probably going to enter conference play with two losses, and that will be okay. Two losses will not signal disaster. Two loses will not diminish the shiny future of this season’s star. Much like last season’s loss to Washington in Alaska, Drew can use any early losses as fuel to push his team to their absolute apex potential.

At the end of this stretch, we will truly know the answer to the question: has this team been forged in fire, or will it melt under the heat?

Pickup Game

  • Baylor could be a volleyball school once it’s all said and done. The Lady Bears volleyball squad may have dropped their weekend bout against No. 1 Texas, but keep this in mind: after concluding Big 12 play later this month, the volleyball season will restart near the ned of January, with the national tournament serving up at the beginning of April. This is something akin to what happened with the NBA this summer. Will the long break freshen up Baylor’s legs and give some of the better players, including POY-candidate Yossiana Pressley, a chance to become even better? A strange volleyball season could prove to demonstrate who the real workers are.
  • Baylor could also be a women’s golf school once it’s all said and done. Elodie Chapelet, a grad-transfer last season who originally hales from France, is set to be the Big 12 women’s golf player of the month for the next three months as golf is on a break until the start of February. That’s quite the accomplishment! Another feat made possible by COVID-19: Chapelet could play as a grad-transfer for three years thanks to the waving of NCAA eligibility for all sports. Grad-transfers are typically one-and-dones with their new team. But when you come from France, isn’t Waco just where you want to play golf for as long as you can?
  • Another week, a continuing quarterback controversy. I will note, though, that Charlie Brewer looked much more comfortable this Saturday against Iowa State. Admittedly, the third quarter put a damper on any burgeoning optimism that the offense had finally turned the corner. I suggested last week, though, that part of Brewer’s problem stemmed from lack of recognition and comfort in the scheme. Baylor’s next game is against a defensively questionable Texas Tech. Could this game be the time when Brewer finds himself in the Larry Fedora offense and the Bears finally find their second win of the season?