Baylor Bears

‘Blame’ Villanova for Baylor’s Rise as a National Power

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Baylor

If you want to blame someone for the Baylor Bears’ national rise the past two seasons, you could ‘blame’ the Villanova Wildcats for losing to the Bears two years ago.

To understand, you have to go back to last season and the Myrtle Beach Invitational. There, with the Bears coming off their first loss of the 2019-20 season to Washington up in Anchorage, Alaska, and then a home win over Texas State, the Bears were just hoping to get in three quality games.

After beating Ohio and Coastal Carolina, the Bears got the matchup they wanted against then-No. 17 Villanova. The Bears won, 87-78. To Bears guard MaCio Teague, that win jump-started the run the Bears are on now, as they face the Wildcats in the Sweet 16 on Saturday in Indianapolis.

 

“I think that was definitely was a turning point for our season,” Teague said earlier this week.

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Three Baylor starters return from that game last year — Teague (who had 18 points), Jared Butler, (22 points) and Davion Mitchell (13 points). The frontcourt starters, Freddie Gillespie and Tristan Clark are gone. Of particular note was that Matthew Mayer came off the bench in the game and score 10 points, and Mark Vital, who starts this year for the Bears, had just three rebounds.

Villanova’s Collin Gillespie led the Wildcats with 27 points, but he’s out for the season with a torn MCL. The Wildcats’ second-leading scorer that game, Saddiq Bey, is also gone. That leaves Jeremiah Robinson-Earl as the lead dog for the Wildcats going into Saturday’s game. He scored 12 points in that game, but he was the co-Big East Player of the Year this season, along with Gillespie.

Jermaine Samuels and Justin Moore also started in last year’s meeting, with Samuels scoring five points and Moore failing to score.

That win over Villanova last season was the Bears’ fourth straight since that loss to the Huskies in Anchorage. But it does serve as a handy line of demarcation. Since the win over the Wildcats, the Bears have lost just five games, giving them a record of 46-5 in that span. The Bears haven’t lost a single non-conference game and spent a significant portion of last season as the No. 1 team in the nation. This season, the Bears have been primarily the country’s No. 2 behind Gonzaga, but fell to No. 3 in the last regular season polls after a Big 12 Tournament loss to Oklahoma State.

 

That Villanova win helped get the Bears rolling, Teague said, as the Bears started the Big 12 conference slate last year with three tough games against Texas, Tech Tech and Kansas, winning all three.

They haven’t looked back since. But the Bears HAVE looked back, a bit, at last year’s tape, said Bears head coach Scott Drew.

“Well I think you can always take some things from your past experience, you know, this worked, this didn’t work, and you’re gonna put that into context, what we’ll work with against this year’s (Villanova) team,” Drew said. “At the same time I thought last year when we played Villanova, I know some of the media said it was the best college game of the year, and it was really one of those games, back and forth and whoever made the last shot down the stretch was going to win it.

“Again Villanova, they’re not going to beat themselves, you’re gonna have to beat them, and you have two teams that are used to winning, you have two teams that have a lot of guys that care about each other. So, it’s definitely going to be a war, we’ll take some of the stuff that worked from the last time and I’m sure they will as well.”

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.

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