By Tyler Alley
Baylor men’s basketball is elite again. That is to say, the Bears have once again earned a spot in the Regional Finals of the NCAA tournament, also known as the “Elite Eight.”
The Bears last made the Elite Eight in 2010, setting a then-program record of 28 wins. Now head coach Scott Drew has the Bears back and looking to go farther.
“I think the big thing is when you’ve done something, human nature is you want to go to the next step,” Drew said. “With people experiencing the Elite Eight before, that’s helped us stay grounded, focused, to try to be in a situation where you can cut down the nets and go to a Final Four.”
Looking back at that team, one can find some (almost uncanny) similarities between 2010 and 2012.
First the random and not-so-significant similarity: Baylor is a 3-seed now and was a 3-seed then, and in both years, the road to the Elite Eight went through a 14-, 10- and 11- seed.
More importantly is who was on both teams – five players bring experience from that team (redshirt sophomore Cory Jefferson, junior A.J. Walton and seniors Fred Ellis, Anthony Jones and Quincy Acy) but only one of those players starts (Acy). Those who were there before, Acy said, don’t want to go out like last time.
“I think the guys, the younger guys as well as the seniors, upperclassmen, we made a commitment this year that we know we have the talent,” Acy said. “We just have to execute and do what Coach has for us. He always puts us in good positions to do what we’re capable of doing. It’s just up to us to execute and get stops and stuff like that.”
The Bears of 2010 had a 6-foot-10-inch NBA-bound forward who could put good points and snag key rebounds. The 2012 version of Ekpe Udoh? Sophomore Perry Jones III fits much of the mold Udoh was as a player.
Jones III is among a starting lineup which sports four of five players with zero prior tournament experience before this season.
“I mean, it’s exciting to be in the Elite Eight, especially experiencing it with the guys that have been here before,” Jones III said. “We’re just looking forward to go a little further and make a little history.”
The Bears of 2012 do share a couple other aspects. Both teams have an offense capable of scoring from outside jumpers or down in the low post.
Having said all that, there are key differences as well. The 2010 Elite Eight team had a senior point guard with four seasons of experience. The 2012 Bears’ starting point guard is Pierre Jackson, who may be a junior but is still in his rookie season for Division I basketball, and must now handle the ball for a team three wins away from an NCAA Championship.
“I’m always nervous before every game,” Jackson said. “It’s my first trip here. But my teammates do a good job of keeping me confident and positive. I just have to go out there and help my team win.”
The other big differences are that the 2012 Bears do not have their own variation of guard LaceDarius Dunn or center Josh Lomers. Dunn served as a pure point-scorer for the 2010 Bears, and Lomers was pure inside presence.
This is not necessarily a downside, however. The Bears do not have a Dunn-type player who is guaranteed to put up a good amount of points; instead, the Bears have multiple players who can. All five members of the starting lineup have led the team in scoring in at least one game.
As for Lomers? Again, there is not one player designed for inside presence; Jones III, Acy, Jefferson and freshman Quincy Miller have all shown post play as a part of their game along with other strengths.
So while the Bears have similarities with the former Elite Eight Baylor team, there are enough anomalies to set them apart and possibly move them forward in this year’s tournament.
Should Baylor fail, it might be good news for 1-seed Kentucky. The team that knocked Baylor out in 2010, 1-seed Duke, won the NCAA Championship that year.