It’s hard to come up with a better term to encapsulate all that was achieved tonight by the Baylor Bears.
Baylor won a top-10 overtime thriller on the road after trailing in the second half and with its best player fouling out in the final minutes of overtime.
Baylor is one win away from its twelfth 20-win season in the last 14 years.
Baylor won its first regular season Big XII conference title.
Baylor won its first conference title since 1950.
Baylor is poised to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a real shot at winning the National Championship.
Remarkable, one and all.
Remarkable, too, are the players who have earned these accomplishments.
Jared Butler is the likely Big XII Player of the Year, particularly after his 25 point game on the road tonight. Cade Cunningham is right on his heels (and the two will face off on Thursday night), but Butler is the best player on the best team in the conference. Tonight he controlled the pace of the game by matching the entire West Virginia guard rotation shot for shot. Remarkable.
Davion Mitchell, who has perhaps improved more than any other Bear from last season, is a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year not only in the Big XII, but in the nation. The charge he drew against McBride in the final seconds of tonight’s game was a product of the next-level anticipation he brings to the defensive end. No one in the country gets to his spot better than Mitchell. Remarkable.
Mark Vital, who is himself a DPOY candidate in the conference and nationally, played with a force that blew West Virginia right out of the game. He made the 6-10 Derek Culver look small the way he muscled through the Mountaineers for offensive put backs, loose balls, and crucial defensive rebounds. And he’s 6-5. Remarkable.
MaCio Teague, cool as they come, is the perfect complement to Butler and Mitchell. He’s a long-armed rebounder. He can catch-and-shoot with the best of them. He can make tough shots from every angle when nothing else is working. His role on the team this season as the third head of Cerberus has been essential to Baylor’s achievements. Remarkable.
Matthew Mayer has been the ultimate “No no no no YES” player his entire career, and he did it just the same tonight. With Baylor down 71-72 under three minutes to go, Mayer drove down the left side of the lane after putting on a (terrifying) dribbling exhibition up top. Baylor fans everywhere screamed at their televisions. Then the ball went in to give the Bears the lead. The next possession down? Mayer splashed a three. The next possession? Another Mayer triple. His 8-straight points help keep pace with the white-hot Mountaineers and gave Baylor a 77-76 lead. And he did it while taunting the entire state of West Virginia with his mullet. Remarkable.
Flo Thamba, an afterthought for much of the season, played key minutes with confidence down the stretch of regulation. He finished with the layup when Butler found him rolling to the rim to keep Baylor within 2 points. He split his free throws a little earlier as the Bears were clawing their way back from behind. He switched out onto guards aggressively and managed to get back to his man before any damage could be done. Typically, with less than ten minutes remaining in a tight game, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua would have been on the floor. Tonight, Thamba played three minutes of basketball that earned Baylor its conference title. Remarkable.
Adam Flagler, the usual fourth guard in the Fival lineup, played steadily tonight and stepped in for Butler when he fouled out in overtime. Cool as you like, he sank the two free throws that put the game out of reach, as though he were the one who had scored 20+ points tonight. His shining scoring moments have come in other games. Tonight, he gave Baylor fans comfort. He was the fourth starting guard that could pick up right were his fellow guard left off. Remarkable.
Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua is likely the player most visibly effected by the COVID pause. He’s still finding his legs and his wind in his second game back. He scored a couple of monster dunks, though, and there’s hardly a better way to make a comeback than by destroying the rim. He’s been the beating heart of this team all year - the unstoppable force that has made Baylor an immoveable object. The rest of the team has picked him up while he recovers, and when he does, his manic energy and infectious sideline celebrations will make the difference for at least one game in the Tournament. Remarkable.
Scott Drew deserves some mention, too. He came into a program that was hopeless, and tonight celebrated the highest regular season achievement in the school’s history by jumping onto his player’s back like a schoolboy. That encapsulated so much of what Drew brings and means to his program: unwieldy, unyielding joy. We’ve all been inoculated to his unparalleled success at Baylor: the weeks as a ranked team, the Tournament runs, the 20-win seasons, the offensive efficiency molded to his roster, the humility to change his signature defense. His joy and success have won over the most ardent “Scott Drew can’t coach”-ers out there. He’s blown so far past it that it’s almost passé to argue that he’s a good coach. It’s too obvious now. Drew has proven he’s the guy who can take Baylor to the top. Baylor doesn’t need to look for the coach to take them to the mountain on Scott Drew’s foundation. Drew has built his own mountain from scratch. Remarkable.
There is more to be done this season, more to be overcome. Baylor has two more regular season games to make up before the Big XII Tournament next week. I will personally take the condescending perspective of so many Kansas fans over the years who say it doesn’t really matter for the legacy of this team what happens in that tournament. All that matters is that these guys get locked in for Baylor best shot ever at a national championship. Given all that’s happened this season and last, that’s pretty, well, you know.