Baylor begins 2020-21 basketball season as the only school with two top-5 teams
When you take a look at the top 25 preseason men’s and women’s basketball rankings, you don’t have to study hard to realize Baylor again has something special brewing.
The Baylor men open the 2020-21 season at No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 2 in the AP top 25, the program’s best-ever preseason ranking in either poll. The Baylor women — still the defending national champions, after COVID-19 canceled this spring’s NCAA tournament — open the season at No. 4 in both polls.
Baylor is the only school in the nation — and one of just five schools in the last 20 years — to begin the year with both the men and women ranked in the AP’s top five. In fact, no other school even has both programs in the top 10 to open 2020-21.
Not surprisingly, both the Bears and Lady Bears are the favorites to win the Big 12. After winning the last 10 Big 12 regular season titles, the honor is nothing new for coach Kim Mulkey’s squad — but this year marks the first time Scott Drew’s Bears have begun the year in the league’s top spot.
Reasons abound for optimism that go far beyond piggybacking off stellar performances that were cut short by COVID-19 last season.
The Lady Bears once again begin the year with a talented mix of returning stars and promising newcomers, as the Big 12 preseason awards clearly demonstrate. Baylor swept the top three individual awards, with junior NaLyssa Smith tabbed as Preseason Player of the Year, highly-touted recruit Sarah Andrews named as Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and star Stanford transfer DiJonai Carrington earning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors. Smith also earned an AP Preseason All-America nod. They’ll help lead the Lady Bears through a challenging preseason schedule as veterans DiDi Richards and Moon Ursin recover from injury.
The Bears are led by junior guard Jared Butler, who was one of named to the AP Preseason All-America first team. Butler, also the Big 12 preseason player of the year, is joined on the preseason All Big 12 team by veterans Mark Vital and MaCio Teague — all three of whom opted to come back to Baylor rather than pursue last week’s NBA Draft. Additionally, Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Davion Mitchell provides another award-winning returnee to a team that will miss senior Tristan Clark, who has elected to retire after multiple injuries. The Bears are also bolstered by newcomers like transfers Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Adam Flagler who redshirted last year after transferring.
(Fun note: With Butler and Smith earning Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year honors, Baylor has now swept that title for the third time in the last decade. No other school has done that even once in that time.)
The Lady Bears begin their schedule Wednesday night at home against Central Arkansas. The Bears’ season-opening games this week have been canceled after Drew tested positive for COVID last weekend. (Thankfully, he is reportedly asymptomatic and feeling well.) As of this writing, the men’s schedule is now slated to begin Dec. 2 against No. 8 Illinois.
Sic ’em, Bears and Lady Bears!