By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
On Sunday, the Baylor men’s basketball team was selected as a No. 3 seed at-large bid for the 2017 NCAA March Madness tournament.
The Bears are slotted in the East Region with Villanova and Duke taking the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the region, respectively.
The selection marks the fourth year in a row that Baylor has been in the NCAA tournament, a school record.
Lone senior Ishmail Wainright said he is grateful to be back in the tournament but does not want to lose early like the past two years.
“I’m extremely excited to make it four years in a row. Not too many people can say that, especially at Baylor,” Wainright said. “We want to go as far as possible. We’ve got to focus, lock-in, don’t take anyone for granted. It doesn’t matter who we play, we’ve got to play like it’s our last game. We’ve got to play like our backs are against the wall. We’ve got to play like we did at the beginning of the season.”
In 2015, the Bears, a No. 3 seed, lost to No. 14-seed Georgia State in the first round. In 2016, the Bears fell to No. 12-seed Yale, getting knocked out in the first round for the second year in a row.
Junior forward Johnathan Motley says the team is motivated to extend Wainright’s Baylor career after failing to do so last year with seniors Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers.
“We just want to do this for Ish; it’s his last run,” Motley said. “I didn’t like the way we sent out Taurean and Rico. Those guys are real close to me and real good friends. Ish is our captain, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we send him out in a good way.”
The Bears’ first-round game is against No. 14-seed New Mexico State in Tulsa, Okla. Baylor head coach Scott Drew expressed his excitement about the location of the game following Sunday’s selection show.
“I’m really excited about Tulsa,” Drew said. “Whoever you play, you’re not going to be as excited about. But the location, especially after going to Providence last year and Jacksonville before that, being closer so our fans can hopefully drive there, that’s huge. I’m very excited about that.”
New Mexico State has made the tournament five times in the last six years after having won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. The Aggies have already accumulated a program-record 28 wins this season including wins over UTEP, New Mexico and Arizona State.
Drew says New Mexico State has lots of athleticism that he hopes his team can keep in check.
“You’re going to see a lot of players that athletically do a lot of things that are very exciting,” Drew said. “Hopefully, they see it in warmups and not in the game because we don’t need any SportsCenter dunks against us. But this is a really talented team and Coach Weir has done a tremendous job this year.”
If Baylor wins, they will move on to play the winner of No. 6-seed SMU or the winner of the No. 11-seed play-in game between Providence and USC.
The Bears and Aggies kickoff the tournament at 11:40 a.m. Friday at the Pan American Center in Tulsa, Okla.