Scott Drew is the winningest coach in Baylor men’s basketball history and is regarded as a great recruiter.
It’s time to give him props for the job he does coaching the team.
Especially this team.
Picked sixth with West Virginia in the Big 12 preseason poll, Baylor has been one of the league’s biggest surprises with its 21-7 record. With three regular season games remaining, the Bears are fifth in the Big 12 with a 9-6 record but stand just two games behind conference leading Kansas.
In the Associated Press preseason poll, the Bears got one vote from 65 voters, and it wasn’t from me. Now they’re No. 19 with a bullet. Make that a speeding bullet after Baylor knocked off No. 12 Iowa State, 79-70, on Wednesday night for their first win ever in Ames after 12 straight losses.
When the Bears face No. 20 West Virginia on Saturday afternoon at the Ferrell Center, it will be a battle between the leading candidates for Big 12 coach of the year. Like Drew, West Virginia’s Bob Huggins has done a superb job guiding his team to a 22-6 record after little was expected of the Mountaineers this season.
If anybody doubted whether Baylor would make the NCAA tournament, quit worrying. After the win over the Cyclones, the Bears will make the dance no matter what happens the rest of the year. From now on, it’s just a question of how high the Bears will be seeded.
Baylor’s history of never making the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons will finally end. This overachieving team has played with cohesiveness, unity and cold-blooded nerve at critical times that few people could have imagined.
Baylor’s poise was on full display in Wednesday night’s win over the Cyclones.
Playing before a full house of 14,384 fans at Hilton Coliseum, the Bears could have easily folded when they trailed by eight points with less than nine minutes remaining. Iowa State had won 21 straight games at an arena where it has one of the best home-court advantages in college basketball.
The Cyclones had everything to gain since a win would have vaulted them into a first-place tie with Kansas in the Big 12 standings.
But the Bears overcame all those forces working against them by draining five straight 3-pointers in the game’s decisive moments. The last three by Taurean Prince gave the Bears a 72-66 lead with 4:43 remaining. Baylor played lockdown defense the rest of the way to earn one of the biggest road wins in Drew’s 12 seasons.
Drew has always been an underrated floor coach. Sure he’s had NBA draft choices like Ekpe Udoh, Perry Jones, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller, Pierre Jackson and Cory Jefferson. But it also took good coaching to lead the Bears to the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012 and last year’s appearance in the Sweet 16.
Winning ways in March
Drew has gone 8-4 in the NCAA tournament and 9-1 in the NIT including two trips to the championship game. The Bears won the 2013 NIT title. His teams always seem to peak when March Madness rolls around.
One of the reasons for Baylor’s postseason success is a zone defense that Drew tweaks in different ways depending on the opponent. That zone has left many teams baffled because they rarely see it and the Bears execute it so well.
Just ask Creighton, a great shooting team that never found its groove in last year’s NCAA tournament round of 32 as the Bears romped to an 85-55 win. National player of the year Doug McDermott looked completely out of sorts as he struggled through a rare off night.
After losing inside forces Jefferson and Isaiah Austin and 3-point shooting specialist Brady Heslip from last year’s team, it seemed quite possible that Baylor would continue its history of never making the NCAA tournament in an odd-numbered year.
But point guard Kenny Chery and versatile forward Royce O’Neale have been inspiring senior leaders. Rico Gathers has been one of the nation’s best rebounders and an incomparable physical presence in the paint. Prince always gives the Bears a lift with his dynamic scoring off the bench.
The rest of the guys know their roles and contribute in different ways. It’s an unselfish team that shares the ball, goes hard to the glass for rebounds and plays some of the best defense in the Big 12.
Drew has been on the sideline and in the huddle pushing the right buttons and doing one of the best coaching jobs of his career.