Brice Cherry: Throw out those old myths about Baylor basketball

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Brice Cherry, a 17-year veteran of the Tribune-Herald, has been sports editor since 2012.

Posted: Monday, March 24, 2014 12:01 am

SAN ANTONIO — A myth tends to hang around until someone comes along to disprove it.

If the Baylor Bears didn’t finally put to death some of the longstanding myths surrounding their program Sunday night, well, then some college basketball fans just really have a thing for Zeus.

You’ve heard the myths. The Bears have heard them. Everyone has heard them.

But they just don’t fly anymore. Not unless you want to be greeted with any eye roll by the listener who knows better.

Let’s go ahead and run through the list, anyway. Hopefully once and for all.

Here they are, in no particular order: Scott Drew can’t coach. The Bears aren’t tough enough to win in March. Baylor can’t play defense. And one specific to this particular matchup: Baylor doesn’t want to get in a 3-point shooting contest with Creighton.

To those of you still hanging onto those myths, I’ll give you a chance to recant now. Because the evidence just doesn’t support your flat-earth theories.

Myth 1: Drew can’t coach. Perhaps the most pervasive of them all, and also the most unfair.

First of all, can we all come to a permanent agreement that in college basketball, recruiting is part of coaching? A rather critical part, if you ask me.

For every coach who has ever lived knows that great players make their job a heck of a lot easier. Drew has sold a whole slew of great ones on Baylor — NBA guys like Ekpe Udoh, Quincy Miller and Perry Jones and a will-be-there-someday guy in Pierre Jackson. That’s part of his job, and Drew does it as well as anyone south of John Calipari.

Yet even the most uber-talented teams get tenderized into sausage patties in the meat grinder that is the NCAA tournament. You can’t consistently win without a certain amount of tactical acumen, without some savvy in-game adjustments.

Drew is making his third Sweet 16 trip in the past five years, and the two previous trips proceeded to the Elite Eight. For a guy who “can’t coach,” he sure is faking it nicely.

Myth 2: The Bears aren’t tough enough. This one seems like a not-so-subtle dig in the direction of Isaiah Austin, a slender center with no shortage of finesse in his game.

We’ll get back to Austin in a moment, but how in the world could any team with Rico Gathers not be considered hard-nosed and gritty? Rico’s muscles have muscles. He attacks the rim like a bull in a china shop. He’s fearless out there. He could get drafted . . . in the NFL.

Gathers and Cory Jefferson own that rugged, lunch pail element so evident in the teams that get labeled tough. But don’t dismiss Austin as someone who isn’t a warrior, just because the 7-foot-1 sophomore might prefer length over strength. Sure, you’d like Austin to improve as a rebounder, but it’s not for a lack of effort. And he’s always willing to stick his nose into the fray as a willing (and effective) shotblocker, too.

More than that, as ESPN first reported, Austin played with a secret for much of the past five years, that secret being that he had only one good eye.

You don’t have to look like you just stepped off muscle beach to be tough. If a one-eyed center doesn’t impress you, what exactly will?

Myth 3: Baylor can’t defend. I mean, they play a zone, right?

Oh, really? Please pass that word along to Dougie McBuckets, because he might disagree with the doubters out there.

Baylor absolutely hounded Creighton’s Doug McDermott, the nation’s leading scorer, all night long. No less than McDermott and his dad Greg, Creighton’s coach, admitted as much. The Bears played their usual zone, but also used a defender to shadow and chase McDermott in more of a box-and-one look — nice ploy by He Who Can’t Coach — and the results spoke for themselves.

McDermott finished with hard-earned 15 points, most of them late in the game when the outcome had long since been decided, far below his usual average of 27 a night.

Myth 4: Baylor can’t outshoot the Bluejays.

Statistically, this myth had some merit. Remember, Creighton led the nation in both 3-point makes and percentage. Baylor hasn’t been bad from deep, but the Bears haven’t hit them at that same sharp clip, ranking 32nd and 33rd nationally in those two categories.

Yet right out of the bat, Baylor came out firing (Kenny) Chery Bombs, and Creighton never recovered. Rising to the challenge as great shooters do, the Bears sank their first five 3-point shots and hit a ridiculous 11-for-18 overall, a scorching 61 percent. Creighton, pushed back on its heels by, yep, Baylor’s defense, shot only 5-for-24.

Baylor isn’t going to shoot like that every night. No one can. But the Bears do have Brady Heslip in their holster, and when their Canadian assault rifle gets going, he’s as deadly a shooter as anyone in the land. So much so that when Heslip missed a wide-open 3-point look with about five minutes to go, it felt almost like someone else missing a layup.

So let the non-believers cling to their bizarre, man-from-monkey myths. If Sunday’s amazing show by the Bears won’t convince them, nothing ever will.

“We definitely hear them, but we don’t see them,” Austin said. “We take pride in people hating on us, and we love proving people wrong. Our team has a tremendous amount of confidence and everybody has bought into the one goal that we have in mind, and that is winning a national championship.”

What, are you going to tell him that he’s crazy?

Good luck with that.

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