Baylor now the hunted

Baylor now the hunted

January 03, 2017 3:09 AM
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Baylor head coach Scott Drew looked at his non-conference schedule during a Big 12 Media Day briefing last October and shook his head.

“Yeah, who made that?” Drew remarked as he saw his Bears had scheduled games and tournaments with the likes of Louisville, Michigan State, Xavier, Oregon and VCU.

Now 13-0 and ranked second in the country, Baylor sits square in the bullseye as one of the nation’s final three undefeated teams, along with Villanova and Gonzaga.

The Bears dumped usual conference stalwart Oklahoma in the opener on Saturday, but still project to be underdogs in two of their remaining games during the regular season when they face West Virginia (Jan. 10) and Kansas (Feb. 18).

The program has come a long way from the scandals that plagued the it and decimated the basketball team for several years, including the first years of Drew’s arrival.

But once the coach got his parts in place and his recruits began to arrive in Waco, BU has gone to the postseason in eight of the last nine years, including an Elite Eight, a Sweet 16 and two NIT finals appearances (with one championship).

Sure it has been tough sledding for the Bears in the Big 12, especially with the perennial champ Jayhawks, which have finished atop the conference for 12-straight seasons. But for now, Baylor is certainly considered a threat to KU’s title dominance.

Junior forward Johnathan Motley recorded his fourth double-double of the season in the 76-50 blowout of the Sooners. The player of the year candidate from Houston is averaging 16 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. His production has actually been hampered by his lack of minutes in a handful of blowouts against outmatched opponents.

Another steady vet has been Miami (Fla.) transfer Manu Lecomte, a no-frills floor leader from Belgium that finally seems to have Baylor playing a more patient and efficient brand than past BU outfits over the last several years.

Senior Jo Lual-Acuil, a 7-footer from Australia, is one of the nation’s top shot blockers.

The Bears will be home favorites to Iowa State and Oklahoma State leading up to next Tuesday’s trip to West Virginia, where they will likely come up as around a 3-to-4-point underdog with the total around 142.

We’ll look ahead to that date against the Mountaineers, who have one loss (Temple), but a signature win at Virginia. Bob Huggins has run a pretty deep rotation so far against what has been otherwise a pretty weak schedule.

Hometown senior Nathan Adrian leads WVU in what will be a raucous feature on ESPN2. The Mountaineers won both meetings last season after dropping seven of the previous eight in the series. WVU, 71-69

Villanova (-2, 139) at Butler (Wed., 3:30, FS1): Villanova took the big showdown of unbeatens Saturday at Creighton and although this is no gimme, the Bulldogs have some questions coming in conference play after dropping their opener at suddenly-surging St. John’s last Thursday.

Jalen Brunson, Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart aren’t just Nos. 1-2-3 in your programs, as the nation’s premier trio dominated their matchups against the Blue Jays. At this point, the Wildcats are expected to be favored in every game for the rest of the season.

Bulldogs’ star Kelan Martin has been dynamite and his senior front-court mate Andrew Chirabaszc is no slouch and can’t get out for an effective shot on the perimeter, as well.

The ‘Dogs have never beaten the ‘Cats in five previous meetings. VU, 69-65

Wisconsin (+2, 136) at Purdue (Sat., TBA, CBS): The Boilermakers lost at home in OT to hard-working Minnesota to suffer an early setback, but they’ll come a favorite here against the Badgers, who will be coming off a road game at Indiana on Tuesday.

Sophomore Caleb Swanigan was again terrific for Purdue in the loss to the Gophers, who got a historic scoring-assist performance from Nate Mason.

The Badgers have stars Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Happ, a sophomore, has particularly stepped up his play in just his second season and is one of the elite defensive interior players in the country, which should make for an awesome matchup against the Boilers’ star.

Purdue has covered the last five matchups in the series. Purdue, 71-66