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Its time to start mentioning Baylor in the same breath as Ohio State, Syracuse, Kentucky and North Carolina.
I firmly believe that.
And its not just because they left the Octagon of Doom with a 75-73 win over a scrappy Kansas State team on Tuesday night. Just take a look at what this team has done this season:
- They beat a good San Diego State team without Perry Jones.
- They absolutely abused Northwestern in Chicago.
- After being down by 13 in the first half, the Bears came back and won at BYU, which is one of the most difficult places in the country to win regardless of how good the Cougars are.
- They beat St. Mary's convincingly in Las Vegas.
- West Virginia took them to overtime the next night, but Baylor made enough plays down the stretch to knock off what looks like a top four team in the Big East.
- They beat Mississippi State in Dallas.
- And now, after winning in Manhattan, Baylor is sitting all alone at 3-0 in the Big 12
What else do you need to see? Do the Bears have to go in and win at the Phog on Monday to convince you?
Look, I know Baylor has flaws. Pierre Jackson is one of the most entertaining players in the country to watch, but there are times where his decision making is a bit questionable. When he embraces the role of a dynamic playmaker -- the guy that gets into the paint and finds his big guys for dunks and Brady Heslip for threes -- he's terrific. Where he gets into trouble is when he goes into takeover mode. Jackson is great as a facilitator. He's quite a bit less effective when he's trying to be Allen Iverson.
Jackson finished the night with 10 points and 11 assists to just three turnovers in 33 minutes off the bench.
I also find myself getting frustrated with PJ3. He's has as much raw talent as anyone we've seen at the college level in a while. At 6'11", he's athletic and mobile enough to play on the perimeter but he is also able to score the ball when he's in the post. The issue with Jones is that he doesn't have enough dog in him. He's not mean. He has a tendency to get too passive in big moments, opting to fade away from 15 feet against a 6'7" defender instead of trying to dunk over him or getting pushed around under the basket.
Tonight, PJ3 had 17 points and eight boards, including a key offensive rebound in the final minute that helped Baylor hold on to win.
And then there's the issue of Scott Drew, a coach that anyone with even a casual interest in college hoops knows has a reputation as being a great recruiter and a subpar x's-and-o's coach.
Hasn't cost them yet, and there have been plenty of chances. Of the seven wins I listed above, four of then were single possession victories. And its not just one player making the big plays.
In an 86-83 win over BYU, it was PJ3 tipping in an offensive rebound with 21 seconds left for a three point lead and Jackson blocking a potential, game-tying three from Brandon Davies in the final seconds. In the 83-81 overtime win against the Mountaineers, it was Jackson burying a three with 20 seconds left to force the extra period. Against Mississippi State, it was Jackson's driving layup with 31 seconds left that broke a 52-all tie. And on Tuesday, it was Quincy Acy steal and breakaway dunk with two minutes left, PJ3's offensive rebound with 14 seconds left and Walton stripping Angel Rodriguez, preventing what appeared to be a wide-open layup that would have tied the game.
I'm not saying Baylor is going to win the national title.
And I'm not trying to say that anyone that Baylor has beaten is headed for the Final Four.
But given the talent on their roster, their body of work to date and the number of players they have making game-deciding plays in the clutch, requiring them to win at Kansas to be considered a contender for the national title is unfair.