With University of North Carolina’s 71-65 win over Gonzaga on Monday, the NCAA national conference has ended. It feels like ages since Baylor’s 70-50 drubbing at the hands of South Carolina. Shockingly, the 20-point loss to the Gamecocks was actually less than two weeks ago.
By now, the initial heartbreak has faded, and we can look back at what was one of the most successful seasons in recent Baylor basketball history. Remember when Baylor did not have an Associated Press rank next to their name? They entered the season on the heels of two straight rounds of 64 tournament losses and were unranked in the first two AP polls. They did not receive one single AP vote.
Then the magic started to happen. Fifteen games into the season, Baylor was atop the college basketball world. The Bears had claimed top 25 wins over Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier. For the first time in program history, the Bears were ranked No.1 in the nation. From that point on, a large majority of people would call the rest of the Baylor season a failure. The once undefeated Bears went on to suffer bad losses to West Virginia, Kansas State and Texas Tech. Not to mention the two meetings with the legendary Jayhawks of Kansas where the Bears lost both games by a combined seven points. Forward Johnathan Motley and guard Manu Lecomte were doing their part, but the rest tended to not show up on some nights.
On any one of these nights Al Freeman, King McClure and Jake Lindsay could be non-factors. Still, all of this culminated in a 12-6 Big 12 record (our best conference record in the past five years) and an overall record of 25-7 entering the tournament. We seem to only remember the loss to South Carolina, and we gloss over the fact that Baylor took care of business in the first two rounds winning by a combined 22 points. Have we all already forgotten that Baylor lost in the first round each of the last two years? The point is that the 2016-17 Baylor basketball season was a success — going from unranked to first does not just happen. Motley and Lecomte helped turn this team into a contender. Never in my couple of years at Baylor have I seen the campus so united behind the basketball program. Every game had an electric crowd.
Students even camped out to get tickets when Kansas came to town, and for the most part, the Bears delivered quality performances. The honest truth is that Baylor had so much success early against teams that only started to get good later in the season. Oregon was without Dillon Brooks, Louisville lost in the round of 32 and Xavier was 21-13 heading into the tournament and at one point had a six-game losing streak in the regular season. The fact that Baylor even made it to the round of 16 should count as a huge victory for the program and the school.
I was just as disappointed as my fellow students watching Baylor shoot 30.4 percent from the field and 3-13 from behind the arc in the loss to South Carolina. I was just as disappointed as you watching Johnathan Motley be the only Baylor player in double figures. I was just as disappointed as you watching TJ Maston go 0-7 from the field after having 19 points the round before. Instead of throwing in the towel and calling the season a failure, I paused and reflected on what had really been an amazing season for the Bears.