By DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer
After missing out on last year’s NCAA Tournament and falling to Mississippi State in the NIT, the Baylor men’s basketball team is all too excited to have earned a spot in March Madness this year.
The ninth seeded Bears will face eighth seeded Syracuse at 8:57 p.m. Thursday in Salt Lake City for round one of the NCAA Tournament.
Senior guard King McClure expressed that after not being selected in last year’s tournament, Baylor was determined to get a bid this season.
“It motivated us a lot, you know, for the guys who were here. That feeling that we felt, this same day, watching the selection show and not seeing our name called made us not ever want to experience that again,” McClure said. “I think the leaders like myself, Mark [Vital], Tristan [Clark], and Jake [Lindsey], I think we did a great job at getting the younger guys and the new guys acclimated and telling them that we felt last year, this time, was horrible. It was a feeling you never want to experience, so this is what we have to do in order to keep that from happening, and credit to them. They stuck with it and made sure it didn’t happen again, so I’m proud of them.”
Baylor sports a 19-13 record and is going into the post season on a four-game losing streak, dropping their last three regular season games and falling to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament. But dropping early from the conference tournament might just be the Bears’ saving grace, as the loss gave Baylor some resting time before post season play, especially with senior guard Makai Mason playing through a toe injury these past couple of weeks.
The last time Mason played in an NCAA Tournament was against Baylor when he was a sophomore at Yale in 2016, and he led the Bulldogs in their 79-75 win over the Bears. Now he’s ready to do the same at Baylor.
“It’s a pretty amazing feeling to have it culminate into the moment that we just had, seeing our name go up there,” Mason said. “This team’s been doubted all year and with the injuries and everything, just guys being out, it really shows the true character of this team, to fight every game throughout the season, continuing to get better and to be where we are right now.”
The Bears are matched up against Syracuse who have a 20-13 record and received the eight seed after losing four of their last six matches and falling to powerhouse Duke 84-72 in the ACC Tournament. Baylor knows it is facing a team known for its great zone defense and plans to prepare accordingly.
According to head coach Scott Drew, it will be refreshing to play against a team that isn’t familiar with their style of play.
“By the time you play everybody twice [in the Big 12 conference], everybody knows what you’re going to do,” Drew said. “That’s why the tournament’s always a breath of fresh air because now you’re not coming down the court where they’re calling out your plays for you.”