Baylor looking to make history when it starts season at No. 1

Four weeks before the Baylor Bears begin their 2020 season, Scott Drew settled into a chair for his weekly scheduled video call.

Within a few moments, his confidence beamed through the virtual wall separating him from a dozen media members. Drew let out a short, villainous laugh at the mention of one reporter receiving preferential treatment for wearing a tie to the Zoom meeting.

Drew asked the reporter, “Now the question is, do you got slacks and dress shoes on underneath?” Another laugh followed, this one deeper, rising up from his belly.

Drew, entering his 18th season as the head men’s basketball coach in Waco, Texas, hasn’t always been in a position of such comfort during early November — not after managing a single victory in conference play in 2005, or after the Bears’ four-win campaign the following season.

Baylor coach Scott Drew talks with his team during the second half of their 2020 game against Oklahoma State at Ferrell Center. (Photo: Raymond Carlin III, USA TODAY Sports)

The Baylor of late, however, has given Drew room to quip.

Last season’s Bears ushered in the program’s greatest winning percentage in over 100 years, carrying a 26–4 record into March. A dream season that could have awarded them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament was deflated once COVID-19 struck.

This season, they'll start at No. 1 in the preseason USA TODAY men's basketball poll for the first time with hopes of winning the school's first national title.

PRESEASON POLL: Baylor narrowly edges Gonzaga, Villanova for top spot

TEAM OUTLOOKS: Analyzing each of the Top 25 teams in the preseason poll

The NCAA still faces difficult questions surrounding how games will be played, especially considering many college football games have been canceled while the coronavirus continues to affect campuses with case numbers rising nationally.

“Everybody’s going through the rainy days of COVID,” Baylor guard Jared Butler said, “and we’re trying to be a team that’s ready when the sun starts shining and that’s been our approach throughout all the practices and through the upcoming games.”

When the sun shines on Baylor’s season opener Nov. 25, this group may prove capable of yielding greater results than the previous one. The Bears, who retained 75% of last season’s total scoring, were selected most likely to win the Big 12 by the conference’s coaches for the first time.

Junior guard Jared Butler, who led the team in scoring a season ago, was chosen as the Big 12’s preseason player of the year — a first for any Bears player since 2012. Baylor rolled over much of the league last season with Butler shooting NBA-range threes and threatening airtight defenders with difficult makes near the basket.

He isn’t alone, either. Three more starters return in MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital, each of them previously averaging at least 26 minutes per game. The Bears will miss the presence of Freddie Gillespie as a rebounder and shot-blocker, but the 7-foot-3 wingspan of UNLV transfer Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua may serve as nice consolation. 

The Big 12, while still paying its rent to Kansas, has grown less narrow each of the last three seasons. The front-running Jayhawks are fending off more competition than they’re accustomed to and the Bears are now garnering more preseason interest than any other challenger in a decade.

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