After winning 24 games and advancing to the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament, Baylor assumed it was a lock for the NCAA Tournament. But after the selection committee unveiled its first three regions without mentioning the Bears, nerves started to set in and heart began racing a little faster.
“I will be honest,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence, laughing. “No matter how much you feel like you’re always in the tournament – even years when I was at Valparaiso and we had an automatic bid – when it gets toward that last bracket and your name hasn’t come up, you’re like, ‘I hope they didn’t forget about us.’”
The committee did no such thing. As it turns out, Baylor was given a No. 3 seed in the West region. The Bears (24-9, 11-7) will face No. 14 Georgia State (24-9, 15-5) this Thursday at 1:40 p.m. ET.
“We were one of the last teams in, so (we were) excited to see when the West bracket came out and we were 3-seeded,” Drew said.
The Bears had the tenth-rated RPI and the third-rated strength of schedule.
“I think the committee rewarded teams that played the tough schedule and had quality wins,” Drew said. “That doesn’t guarantee success (in the tournament) by any stretch of the imagination, but at least you’re in the tournament and hopefully now everybody plays their best basketball if they’re wearing a Baylor jersey.”
Baylor finished fourth in the Big 12 this year; 12 of its 18 games were against ranked teams, as the Big 12 had the top conference RPI for the second straight season.
“Every year, the competition and the environment help prepare you for the postseason,” Drew said. “But years like this year where we had some teams playing completely different styles, I think will help us even more. You had some teams that pressed, some teams that played real fast in transition, some that were half-court, some that were zone – so the more you’ve seen during the regular season, the more you’re not caught off guard or surprised. Or at least as long as you’ve faced teams that have done something similar, at least your players have an offensive and defensive mentality and something they can relate to. Hopefully it prepared all of us this year.”
Baylor has four players averaging double-figures, including Taurean Prince, who is averaging 13.8 points per game, and Rico Gathers, who is averaging 11.7.
The Bears have had great success in the tournament in recent years, advancing to the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012 before losing to eventual nation champions Duke and Kentucky. Last year, they advanced to the Sweet 16 and lost to Wisconsin, which came within a three-pointer of playing for a national title.
“The closer you get, the more you want to get there,” Drew said. “As we all know this time of March – which is so exciting – is anyone can win, and so many games come down to one or two possession and who’s able to execute.”