By Michael Haag | Sports Writer
Mark my words: No. 4 Baylor men’s basketball (7-0) is legit. The Bears will make a major run in March Madness, and I expect that for not only this year, but for as long as head coach Scott Drew is at the helm.
There was skepticism and doubt over whether the squad would come back and be able to play at such a high level, after losing four starters from their national championship team. The thing is, coach Drew has built a program here that is designed to last. He’s not here to go one-and-done and be content with the 2021 title. What we are seeing here at our little school in Waco is a program that will routinely be in contention with the “Blue Bloods” of the country.
There was already a sense of doubt being placed on Baylor to start the season, as the team opened the year ranked No. 8. ESPN’s Dick Vitale ranked them ninth in his preseason power rankings, saying the Bears would be “in the hunt” for a Big 12 title behind the University of Kansas and the University of Texas.
We saw similarities last year, as even being a top-two team in the country for most of the year, no one thought Baylor would actually get the job done. Even after the blowout win in the Final Four against the University of Houston, ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith thought Baylor had no shot to beat Gonzaga. You would think that last year’s run would have silenced those doubts for the future; however, that’s far from the case. Even with a home-win against the University of Incarnate Word to open the season, the Associated Press dropped Baylor from No. 8 to No. 9. The doubts were settling in, and things were not pointing in the right direction.
All it took was a little time. Now, we see a month into the season that Baylor will be a major force come March. Last week in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, Baylor had to go through some stout competition. Although their opponents were unranked, the Bears beat a streaky-shooting Arizona State University, one of the best defenses in the country in Virginia Commonwealth University and a Michigan State University team that was in the final four in 2019 and is coached by legendary Tom Izzo. By going 3-0 and winning the tournament, those doubts were silenced once again. Following the win against MSU, the broadcast from ESPN told their nation-wide audience that Baylor is an “elite” program, letting everyone know that the Bears are not going away anytime soon.
Two days later, ESPN brought Baylor back into national discussion, coveting the culture and consistency that is brought night in and night out. It’s time that the Bears get taken seriously, and it’s finally trending toward being the case. Coach Drew and everyone that has played a role in the program has made it that way.
No longer will the Bears be just a roadblock en route to another school’s title-run. Baylor men’s basketball is a top-tier entity, and this will remain true for years to come. There is no doubt in my mind that you will see the Baylor Bears make a major run this spring.