Since the Big 12 began basketball play during the 1996-97 season, familiar faces have regularly found themselves atop the conference throne. Kansas has been the epitome of a Midwest monopoly, as the Jayhawks have claimed 19 Big 12 regular season titles and 11 Big 12 Tournament crowns, to boot.
While the Jayhawks will certainly look to keep their Big 12 dominance going this season, one team might surprise a few. One team that, heading into the 2020-21 season, has never won a Big 12 regular season or tournament title.
The likes of the Jayhawks might scoff at the statement. The Baylor Bears, on the other hand, are well up to accomplishing this goal. The “goal” for the Bears, however, does not stop with the Big 12, as the team has legitimate (and obvious) aspirations of conquering the madness that is the NCAA Tournament.
Luckily for Baylor, they have the team to accomplish all of it.
Heading into Big 12 play, the Bears, despite COVID-19 cancellations and postponements, sit at 4-0 and already have a quality win to their resume, as the team defeated a top-five caliber team in the Illinois Fighting Illini, 82-69.
Their pathway to victory in the game was simple – maintain a quick pace, collect more offensive rebounds and keep the opposing offense at bay. After all, the Bears, despite shooting only 62.5% from the free-throw line (15-24), picked up more field goal attempts (66 vs. 59), total rebounds (38 vs. 35, including 16 offensive rebounds compared to 11), and held a potent opposing Illini offensive front to under 70 points for the first time in their season.
These three qualities, in fact, have helped the Bears stand out in relation to other Division I teams.
Heading into Dec. 15 action, the Bears rank 19th among 324 Division I teams to have played a game this season in terms of average points per game (90.8). This ranks first among all Big 12 teams. On the rebounding side of the ball, the Bears are tied for 89th in terms of total rebounds (39.3). While this does not look as illustrious as one would hope, their offensive rebound average per game (14.8) is tied for 16th among all Division I teams and first among all Big 12 teams. This leads to a scary production output for the Bears, as an already electric offense is aided by a plethora of second-chance opportunities from their production off of the glass. To sprinkle everything off, the Bears’ defense, in terms of opposing points per game, has only allowed opponents to score 63.8 points on average, which ranks 71st.
Once you stack everything together, you have a pretty well-rounded team. The basic statistics, in addition to the eye test, are not the only indicators of this, as the advanced analytics tell a similar story.
Per KenPom, the Bears, in terms of adjusted offense (AdjO) and adjusted defense (AdjD), are the only team in the country ranked in the top 10 for both (third for AdjO and ninth for AdjD).
While the numbers, at their most basic level, show a formidable team, so do the intangibles. Among five Baylor players averaging 10 or more points per game (Jared Butler and Adam Flagler with 15.3 points apiece, MaCio Teague with 14.0, Davion Mitchell with 12.5 and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua with 10.0), three are juniors or seniors (Butler, Teague and Mitchell). Additionally, Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Teague, in addition to Flagler and Mitchell, are all former transfers, which is a testament to Baylor’s recruiting and scouting led by head coach Scott Drew, who has been at the Waco helm since the 2003-04 season.
Although the Bears have not won a Big 12 regular season or tournament title, they are in prime position to make a good run at both as conference play begins to get underway. This is a goal the team knows they can achieve. March Madness glory is no exception.
While there is much more season to go, one thing is clear – the Bears have the team to do all of it.