Baylor hasn’t forgotten how its unbeaten run through a tough nonconference schedule played a major role in landing a No. 3 regional seed in last year’s NCAA tournament.
The No. 25 Bears hope to do the same this season, so they know the importance of the next two games in the Hall of Fame Classic at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
After lopsided home wins over Central Arkansas, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Alcorn State, the Bears will begin to hit the crux of their nonconference schedule with Monday’s date against Wisconsin at 8:30 p.m. Baylor will play Tuesday night against either UCLA or Creighton, which play at 6 p.m. Monday.
“Wisconsin for 17 straight years has been a top four team in the Big Ten,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “They’ve been consistent. They don’t turn the ball over, they play great fundamentally sound defense, and they’re very efficient on the offensive end. The last memory we have of them and Frank the Tank, we weren’t very good in the Sweet 16. Hopefully we’ll be better this time.”
Drew was referring to Frank Kaminsky’s 19-point performance in Wisconsin’s 69-52 thrashing of the Bears in the 2014 Sweet 16 in Anaheim, Calif., in the only previous meeting between the two schools.
Baylor senior point guard Manu Lecomte is off to a tremendous start by averaging 20.7 points and 3.3 assists while shooting 46.2 percent from 3-point range.
Four other Baylor players are in double figure scoring as center Jo Lual-Acuil is averaging 12 points, forwards Terry Maston and Tristan Clark are averaging 10.3 points, and guard King McClure is averaging 10 points. Lual-Acuil leads Baylor’s rebounders with 10.3 per game while Maston is averaging 9.7 boards.
Wisconsin is off to a 2-1 start after wins over South Carolina State and Yale and Thursday’s 80-70 loss to No. 15 Xavier.
Ethan Happ, a 6-10 forward, leads the Badgers with 17.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while dishing out 3.7 assists. Guard D’Mitrik Trice is averaging 12 points and is shooting 46.2 percent from 3-point range while guard Brevin Pritzl is averaging 12 points and shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range.
Andy Van Vliet, a seven-foot forward, is averaging 10.7 points and has hit 54.5 percent of his 3-pointers.
The Bears haven’t faced a team with Wisconsin’s size, so matching up will be a challenge. Clark, a 6-9 freshman forward, is looking forward to his first road game.
“I’m very excited,” Clark said. “It’s our first road game, a big test that counts. They’ve got a great team and I’m just ready to go at them. We’re definitely ready.”
UCLA is off to a 3-0 start even though LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill are suspended after they were caught shoplifting on the team’s trip to China. Creighton is also 3-0 after wins over Yale, Alcorn State and No. 20 Northwestern.
Drew believes that playing two games in two days will prepare the Bears for postseason games. Since the Bears only have eight scholarship players available, their lack of depth will be tested.
“That’s tough for any team, and it’s especially tough for teams that have fewer people,” Drew said. “But at the same time that’s what you’re going to do in the conference tournament and that helps prepare you for later down the road.”