Baylor is one victory away from a No. 1 ranking.
If the No. 2 Bears take care of business against Oklahoma State at home this weekend, they will be the most likely option to replace Villanova atop the national polls on Monday. They have already proven themselves as an elite team by starting 14-0, joining Gonzaga as the final undefeated teams in college basketball, but one more victory would feel monumental.
Remember, Baylor didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason top 25. It would be an unprecedented rise.
“I think every coach would rather be ranked No. 1 than No. 351,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said Thursday during the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “It would be a great compliment to our program, but everyone realizes the fluidity of college basketball. It change fast. We have bigger goals and understand that our end-of-season goals are more important.”
Why is Baylor so good?
Start with its experienced rotation.
Johnathan Motley (16 points per game), Al Freeman (11.6), Manue Lecomte (11.4) and Jo Lual-Acuil (11.0) are all juniors that have been in college for four years. And Ishmail Wainright is a senior. They have not only developed and learned how to play at a high level, they have learned how to do so as a unit.
“There is a tremendous advantage,” Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said. “They are old. Ishmail Wainwright, I recruited him back when I was an assistant at Kansas State. In my eyes, he’s 30.”
Drew’s zone defense also seems to suit this group, allowing Baylor to use its size and length to disrupt teams without wearing down.
Add it up, and you have a team that was able to pass No. 3 Kansas in the AP poll without the Jayhawks losing.
“We have been 17-0 before. That was the best start we have had, so we have a couple more games before we get to that,” Drew said. “I know this year’s team has had great leadership from the upperclassmen. They really like one another and support one another. We also have great depth, and I think you have to have that, because not everybody has a good night every night. You have to have other guys who can step up.”
So far, they have.
Baylor has beaten Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier. It is also off to a 2-0 start in conference play.
The Bears have never won a Big 12 championship, but they appear poised to contend for one this season.
If you like basketball games that come down to the final possession, the Big 12 is the conference for you.
Five league games have been played this week, and all five went down to the wire. Baylor beat Iowa State by two, Texas beat Oklahoma State by three, Kansas walked past K-State by two, Texas Tech outlasted West Virginia by one and TCU knocked off Oklahoma by three. That’s five games decided by a combined 11 points.
Svi Mykhailiuk’s game-winning shot against K-State, and the lack of a traveling call preceding it, continued to be a topic of conversation Thursday.
Big 12 coaches agreed the officials got it wrong.
“It looked like he took extra steps, there is no question about that,” KU coach Bill Self said. “I don’t disagree with anybody from a K-State perspective being upset with that.”
Added Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger: “A big-time travel. I don’t think anyone disputes that. That’s disappointing.”
1. Baylor (14-0, 2-0 Big 12): One of two undefeated teams in college basketball.
2. Kansas (13-1, 2-0): Jayhawks have won 13 straight.
3. West Virginia (12-2, 1-1): Ranked second by KenPom, even after a loss at Texas Tech.
4. Texas Tech (12-1, 1-1): Huge overtime win over West Virginia.
5. Kansas State (12-2, 1-1): Lost to Maryland by one, Kansas by two. Wildcats not far away from 14-0.
6. TCU (12-2, 1-1): Jamie Dixon has the Frogs off to a great start.
7. Iowa State (9-4, 1-1): Almost pulled off the upset at Baylor.
8. Oklahoma State (10-4, 0-2): Cowboys haven’t looked very good in their first two Big 12 games.
9. Texas (7-7, 1-1): Longhorns surprisingly down in Shaka Smart’s second year.
10. Oklahoma (6-7, 0-2): Only Big 12 team with a losing record.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett