The Road To Dallas
SAN ANTONIO — It's hard to imagine any NCAA Tournament game garnering less attention than Baylor University's ugly 74-60 dispatching of Nebraska. After all, Duke and its bully coach Mike Krzyzewski were going down to 14th seed Mercer at the same time that the under-the-radar Bears played — and there's little doubt which game held the nation's attention.
Even many in the crowd of 12,000-plus at the San Antonio Spurs' rather NBA quaint AT&T Center found themselves glancing up at the side scoreboards to try and catch the latest on Duke melting down as Nebraska missed its first 11 3-point shots and fell down by 20 points.
Not that Scott Drew and his Baylor players much care. They tend to be at their best when people stop paying them any heed.
"I feel like we're one of the tougher teams to come out of the Big 12. We're just looking forward to getting out there and playing."
Drew's team found itself left for dead — and the NIT — after it limped out to a 2-8 start in Big 12 play. Now? Baylor's a 25-win squad that's won 11 of its last 13 games, setting itself up for a Sunday shot at No. 3 Creighton and America's favorite supposed new-age Larry Bird, Doug McDermott.
And Baylor's 1-3-1 zone already has the attention of Dougie McBuckets.
"They're a great team, very long," McDermott says after putting up 30 points and 12 rebounds in a 76-66 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. "I kind of know a couple of guys from (Big 12) Iowa State and they emphasized how their length can really frustrate you."
Baylor's already annoyed the entire state of Nebraska. Cornhuskers hoops coach Tim Miles was the one ejected from the game, but Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini is the one who really lost it, tweeting, "Can I get fined if I comment about basketball officiating?"
Baylor did shoot a whooping 48 free throws (to Nebraska's 16). But Drew's ramped up, more aggressive zone is what caused the real Cornhusker pain. It's that zone and Baylor's seemingly endless parade of big bodies that have the Bears not-so quietly thinking they have enough talent to make a run to Dallas (or at least, Jerry World) for the Final Four.
"Coaches are only as good as their players," Drew says. "We're blessed to have a lot of length and size inside . . . And each of them possesses something different they bring to the table."
The Baylor Pressure
For much of the past two years, Drew's heard how he's not a good enough coach for his players. The thinking goes that with the talent he's brought in, Baylor should have more to show for it. Last season's NIT title satisfied no one.
Drew exudes none of the down-home charm that makes Baylor football coach Art Briles such an instantly likable figure. He's a much harder read, a slipperier figure. He still finds himself needing to prove himself despite the fact that he's the all-time wins leader in Baylor basketball's often woeful history.
With four Bears scoring in double figures led by senior forward Cory Jefferson's 16 and Rico Gathers popping off the bench to put on a dunk-a-thon in the second half, this Baylor team is starting to look more and more like the Drew-led ones that made Elite Eight runs in 2012 and 2010.
For much of the past two years, Drew's heard how he's not a good enough coach for his players. The thinking goes that with the talent he's brought in, Baylor should have more to show for it.
And those Big 12 battles are starting to pay off. Already, a Big Ten longshot's had trouble keeping up.
"The Big 12 is definitely just as physical," Gathers says. "I feel like we're one of the tougher teams to come out of the Big 12. We're just looking forward to getting out there and playing.
"A team like Nebraska hasn't faced a whole lot of zone . . . barely any at all in the Big 10 . . . so we expect to give them problems. They can take that as soft if they want, but it's only soft until you play against it."
Next up the Big East and McBuckets. McDermott is a one-man scoring machine. But sometimes it's good to have company.
"The Big 12's the best conference in the country," says Baylor senior guard Brady Heslip, who's already predicted a Final Four berth for his sixth-seeded team.
Time will tell on that. It's good to still be alive and bold in March though. Just ask Coach K.