There’s something familiar and something new in this year’s Big XII basketball season.
Kansas sits atop the preseason polls, as one would expect. Familiar as the cold north wind in February.
Texas threatens to be a looming giant, garbed and billowing with expectations, a severe aspect, and a fanbase ready to throw in the towel at the first sign of weakness.
Iowa State and Kansas State are in the midst of rebuilds they never intended, although Bruce Webber’s mere presence presaged Manhattan’s setting sun even as he led them to a share of the conference title.
TCU is a football school that will soon be masquerading as a dark horse basketball program.
Texas Tech will convince itself that scores in the 50s constitute good basketball.
West Virginia lurks in its mountain lair, ready to pounce on those who walk too carelessly into their lands.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are there to fill the schedule out and hand Bill Self an unexpected road loss.
All of this is familiar.
Then there’s Baylor, who comes into the season with an air wholly new.
Last season, Baylor was universally acclaimed as the second best team all season. No one had returned more talent in the country, and no one had been hotter or hungrier before the shutdown. So in the Bears lumbered with an intensity that forced to flight anyone before them. Within the first month of the season, their course was set. That was something new.
But so is this. This season, the Baylor Bears will walk in with the swaggering confidence befitting the champion. True, the team is different. Davion Mitchell is handing out Off Nights in the league, and Jared Butler is finding his way in Utah. Mark Vital and MaCio Teague aren’t walking through that door to deliver the team from possible defeat. Yet, Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer will step on the floor with something to prove, and the confidence that they’ve been there before. James Akinjo will want to prove he belongs. Dain Dainja will engulf the court with arms extending from the mists of ancient myth. Freshman wings Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan will add dynamism and creativity that was, somehow, not present on a championship roster. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua is coming for the rim.
When Baylor walks in, the champ is here. That’s something new.
Last season is last season, of course. Everything must be earned new, and the path is hard.
Let’s map out the journey and preview this season’s schedule.
Incarnate Word | Nov. 15th - The season begins with Ring Night and a Banner. Show up just for that. Game optional.
Stanford Cardinal | Nov. 20th - Baylor will match up against the Tree/Bird mascot paradox in Waco for a game that features a familiar matchup for Akinjo and a perfect tune-up game before Baylor’s trip to the Bahamas.
The 2021 Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis | Nov. 24th-26th - First, I can’t even with this sponsorship. Next, Baylor will open the tourney with a matchup against Arizona State, a team that absolutely ducked them last year, and don’t forget it. The Bears likely will likely remind them why. After that, the field also features a wounded Auburn, Loyola-Chicago without former head coach Porter Moser, a Michigan State program trying to right itself from a multi-year slump, and then Syracuse and VCU. Also, UConn, I guess. Baylor is clearly the top Bad Boy Mower this go-round in the Bahamas, another first for the Bears.
Villanova Wildcats | Dec. 12th - College Basketball’s suavest coach, Jay Wright, will come to Waco with the preseason No. 4 squad in the country. This is undoubtedly the biggest non-conference game of the season. The Wildcats are returning a lot of talent, including Collin Gillespie, considered by some to be a pre-season All American guard. Villanova would love nothing more than avenging the soul exposing defeat suffered in the Tournament last season. Thankfully, this game’s in the friendly confines of the Ferrel Center.
Oregon Ducks | Dec. 18th - Going to Eugene is a tough ask, especially against the preseason No. 13 Ducks. The basketball series between these green-and-yellow clad rivals has been reliably high-level basketball for several years. With Franck Kepnang and N’Faly Dante, Dana Altman can throw out the sorts of giant lineups that have trouble past Baylor teams reliant on guard play and athletic if shorter bigs. Five-star freshman Nate Bittle joins the team along with Syracuse transfer Quincy Guerrier, two more giants to roam the paint. Baylor’s interior scoring and defense will be well tested in this matchup. May the best hues win.
Alabama Crimson Tide | Jan. 29th - A mid-season Big XII reprieve won’t be very restful this season as the Bears will face an SEC contender in Alabama, who earned itself a No. 2 seed under Nate Oats last season. The key playmakers are back on that roster, and they’ve added a high-flying freshman to pluck lobs from the rafters. The game’s in Tuscaloosa, too. SEC-Big XII challenge, indeed.
Conference Schedule in Segments
Back-and-Forth Fodder | Jan. 1st-15th - Baylor will begin Big XII play with a great shot at being 6-0. Starting on the road at Iowa State, Baylor will bounce from a home game against Oklahoma, a road game against TCU, rounded out by two home games against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. It’s tough to win 6 straight in the Big XII, of course, and Oklahoma State, in particular, boasts some upset potential with the addition of Moussa Cisse in the middle, a transfer from Memphis and formerly high-ranked prospect. OSU and Tech will both be tight games, in all likelihood, and we’ll know by January how seriously to take Porter Moser in his first year with the Sooners.
Road Tests | Jan. 18th-Feb 9th - Anytime you play five of seven games on the road, you’re being tested. By the time this stretch finishes up, Baylor will have completed the season series against West Virginia, Kansas State, and Oklahoma. Plus the matchup in Lawrence against the Kansas Jayhawks will come just after the second game against the Mountaineers, two tough back-to-back opponents. Splitting the series against West Virginia might be the best to be expected, although more can be hoped for. Kansas brings back all of their good players, welcomes Arizona State transfer Remy Martin into its back court, and no features a record-scratch offensive player in Marcus Garrett. If ASU had actually played Baylor last season, Remy Martin likely wouldn’t be getting quite the hype he’s gotten headed into the season, and he’s just the sort of guard that Bill Self either loves irrationally or will cause his coach to turn an unexplored shade of purple. Thankfully, Baylor has a palate cleanser against Kansas State to end this stretch and to re-gear for the home stretch. If Baylor exits this tough road stretch with three or fewer losses, they’ll be sitting pretty.
Money Time | Feb. 12th-Mar. 5th - The final month of the season starts with Texas in Waco, which could very well have conference title implications on the line for both teams. Of course, Texas might be proven to be frauds by then. That’s always a possibility. Road games in Lubbock (Feb. 16th) and Stillwater (Feb. 21st) will be real tests of mettle, but the undeniably toughest back-to-back Baylor will have all season — perhaps postseason included — will be a Feb. 26th battle against KU in Waco and a road trip to Austin on the 28th. The Saturday-Monday turnaround is tough enough, never mind playing against two uber-talented, top 10 preseason teams. That three day stretch will make or break Baylor’s hopes to repeat as Big XII regular season champions.
We’ll leave predictions for another day, but the schedule offers Baylor a fair shot at competing for a top two NCAA seed down to the wire. The schedule is balanced well, setting Baylor up for strong win streaks while also providing some cushion after most of its toughest games. Scott Drew and his Bears are well positioned to be in the mix when it matters most.
Which is something pretty familiar.