Men’s basketball headed to NCAA tournament for 5th time in 6 years
There’s no questioning the fact that Scott Drew is the most successful coach in Baylor men’s basketball history. In his 16 seasons leading the Bears, he’s won more games (and a higher percentage of his games) than any coach in program history, reached the Sweet 16 four times and the Elite Eight twice, and produced nine NBA players.
But this year might be his best coaching job yet. Even before the injuries started to mount, the Bears were predicted to finish ninth in the Big 12 by league coaches, and at times this spring they started a lineup that featured just one of the five projected starters as Clark and seniors Jake Lindsey, Makai Mason and King McClure all missed significant time.
Despite such obstacles, the Bears battled for first in the Big 12 into the season’s final month, and ended up fourth in the league’s toughest conference. As a reward, Baylor is back in the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in the last six years. The Bears are headed to Salt Lake City as a No. 9 seed in this year’s NCAA championship; they will face Syracuse in the first round on Thursday (approximately 8:57 p.m. CT, TruTV). The winner of that game would likely face No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the next round on Saturday.
Syracuse enters the tournament with a very similar resume to Baylor: 20-13 overall, with a 10-8 record in the ACC, and having lost three of their last four games. The Orange are led by legendary coach Jim Boeheim, now in his 43rd season at Syracuse, and All-ACC guard Tyus Battle, who tops the team in scoring at 17.2 points per game. The Orange lean on their defense for success, ranking among the top 20 nationally in field-goal percentage defense, blocks and steals per game; Syracuse is 41st nationally in points allowed per game, but 255th in points scored per game.
Baylor enters the tournament at 19-13 on the season (10-8 Big 12), led by four all-Big 12 players in Mason, freshman Jared Butler, and sophomores Mario Kegler and Mark Vital. Despite battling a foot injury all season, Mason has led the Bears in points (14.6) and assists (3.3) per game. Butler, Kegler and Vital each came on as the season progressed. Butler averaged 13 points and 3.5 assists per game after joining the starting lineup when Clark went down. Kegler has led the Bears in scoring four of the last six games, averaging 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds over that time. Vital averaged 10.2 points, 9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks over the last six games (while shooting almost 70% on free throws).
Ready for March Madness? Tickets are on sale now — see you in Salt Lake!
Sic ’em, Bears!