There is temptation to anoint this as Coach Scott Drew’s best team, but that’s a tad premature. He’s led the Bears within a game of a Final Four in 2010 and 2012, and four times secured a No. 3 seed (2010, 2012, 2015 and 2017). There’s a long way to go before the Bears earn that comparison.
But they do own five Quadrant 1 victories, tied for second nationally with Oregon and West Virginia and one behind Kansas. The usual Baylor traits are present in this team: Exceptional offensive rebounding, a fair bit of rim protection and (connected to that) some fine interior defense.
But these Bears are doing some other things of note. The defense, which is yielding 50.3 points per game in Big 12 play, is playing at a new level for a Drew-led team. And after years of chronic ballhandling problems, Baylor ranks 76th in KenPom.com’s turnover percentage metric. It’s finished in the top 100 in the category once in the last decade.
The results, including a 12-game winning streak since a neutral-site loss to Washington in the season’s first week, have vaulted the Bears into contention for a No. 1 seed. If Baylor’s usual strengths remain and its improvements take root, the Bears will flirt with the top line well beyond January — and perhaps deliver the school’s first Final Four trip since 1950.
Last four in the field: Virginia Commonwealth, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Virginia
First four on the outside: N.C. State, Oregon State, Tennessee, TCU
Next four on the outside: Georgetown, Washington, Southern Cal, Saint Louis
Moving in: Charlotte, Georgia State, North Carolina A&T, Minnesota, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Quinnipiac, Radford, South Dakota State, Stony Brook, Virginia Tech, Western Carolina, William & Mary
Moving out: College of Charleston, Furman, Georgia, Little Rock, Louisiana Tech, Loyola Chicago, Morgan State, N.C. State, North Dakota State, Rider, Vermont, Washington, Winthrop
Conference call: Big Ten (12), Big East (6), ACC (5), Big 12 (5), SEC (5), Pac-12 (4), AAC (3), West Coast (3), Atlantic 10 (2)
East vs. Midwest; South vs. West
(1) ACC/Duke vs. winner of (16) MID-EASTERN/North Carolina A&T-METRO ATLANTIC/Quinnipiac
(8) Iowa vs. (9) ATLANTIC SUN/Liberty
(5) Kentucky vs. (12) MID-AMERICAN/Akron
(4) Villanova vs. (13) BIG WEST/UC Irvine
(3) West Virginia vs. (14) COLONIAL/William & Mary
(6) Ohio State vs. (11) Houston
(7) Arizona vs. (10) Rutgers
(2) MOUNTAIN WEST/San Diego State vs. (15) AMERICA EAST/Stony Brook
Duke slides into the No. 1 overall seed, nosing out Baylor. … Liberty is giving up 43.3 points per game in Atlantic Sun play. The Flames’ defense makes them as good a bet as anyone to run the table in conference play.
Who knows if it lasts, but former George Mason assistant Dane Fischer has done as good a job as just about any first-year coach in Division I at William & Mary. … The numbers still say Ohio State belongs on at least the No. 6 line. … Arizona is in no danger of tumbling out of the field, but its strength lies in metrics rather than quality victories.
(1) BIG EAST/Butler vs. winner of (16) SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC/Prairie View A&M-NORTHEAST/Robert Morris
(8) Michigan vs. (9) Saint Mary’s
(5) Colorado vs. (12) IVY/Yale
(4) ATLANTIC 10/Dayton vs. (13) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State
(3) Maryland vs. (14) SOUTHERN/Western Carolina
(6) Memphis vs. (11) Xavier
(7) Texas Tech vs. (10) Indiana
(2) SEC/Auburn vs. (15) CONFERENCE USA/Charlotte
Some perspective on Butler landing on the No. 1 line: The Bulldogs have never been seeded higher than fourth (2017) in 15 NCAA tournament appearances since seeding began. … Yale will finally begin Ivy League play Friday against Brown. In fact, the only Ancient Eight games to date were Princeton’s home-and-home sweep of Penn. …
At 12-3, Western Carolina is nine games over .500 for the first time since going 22-12 in 2009-10. Mark Prosser has the Catamounts in the middle of a Southern Conference race that features some imposing contenders (East Tennessee State, Furman, UNC Greensboro and Wofford among them). … This week in Metrics Can Be Weird: 15-0 Auburn’s schedule is ranked 10th nationally in the NCAA’s NET ratings, but the Tigers have played only one Quadrant 1 game (at least for now).
(1) BIG 12/Baylor vs. (16) OHIO VALLEY/Austin Peay
(8) Illinois vs. (9) Virginia Tech
(5) Seton Hall vs. (12) Virginia-Virginia Commonwealth winner
(4) AMERICAN/Wichita State vs. (13) SOUTHLAND/Stephen F. Austin
(3) Florida State vs. (14) PATRIOT/Colgate
(6) Arkansas vs. (11) Purdue
(7) PAC-12/Stanford vs. (10) MISSOURI VALLEY/Northern Iowa
(2) BIG TEN/Michigan State vs. (15) HORIZON/Wright State
If Virginia Tech keeps this up, it won’t matter that the Hokies played basically no one of value in nonconference play other than in the Maui Invitational. … Staying in the Old Dominion, Virginia and VCU are just barely inside the field at the moment. What a play-in game that would be. …
At this stage of the season, one game can be the difference between being tucked safely inside the field and being on the outside. Purdue is a fine example of that after upending Michigan State on Sunday. … The NET loves Stanford more than any other metric system, but as the last undefeated team in Pac-12 play, the Cardinal is in the field because of its performance during the conference schedule
(1) WEST COAST/Gonzaga vs. (16) SUMMIT/South Dakota State
(8) Marquette vs. (9) Penn State
(5) LSU vs. (12) Minnesota-Oklahoma winner
(4) Louisville vs. (13) SUN BELT/Georgia State
(3) Oregon vs. (14) BIG SKY/Northern Colorado
(6) Creighton vs. (11) BYU
(7) Wisconsin vs. (10) Florida
(2) Kansas vs. (15) BIG SOUTH/Radford
Penn State is part of a logjam of Big Ten teams that belong between a No. 7 and No. 10 seed at this point. … Two months out, here’s guessing the Sun Belt tournament is an ode to chaos. Everyone in the league (including Georgia State) sits between 5-2 and 2-5 in conference play at this stage. …
It’s been a few years since this required attention, but BYU must be slotted in a Thursday-Saturday site (and regional) to avoid a religious conflict. That means the Cougars must be in the West or the Midwest if they make the field. … Kansas drops a line after its loss to Baylor, but there’s a case to be made the Jayhawks are the best of the No. 2 seeds. That nod goes to Auburn in this bracket.