3:40 P.M., THURSDAY, MARCH 29, 2012
After another strong postseason which saw Baylor's men's hoops team further magnify their national identity (this time with polarizing neon jerseys), the Bears bowed out to the better team on Sunday in Atlanta. Another Elite Eight appearance in the books, another painful loss that left BU just one win shy of the road to the Final Four's last stop.
Unfortunately, this was a familiar feeling for Baylor fans.
There is no reason for the team's 30 wins to be overshadowed. The Bears took their fans on a ridiculously fun four month journey that featured countless memories, thrilling last minute victories, a few close defeats and over three dozen nights of magnificent entertainment.
This season, above any other, showcased Baylor basketball on a national level better than any season ever had before.
It was this significant element I decided to marinate on most as I made the long drive home from Atlanta to St. Louis on Sunday night after exiting out of the Georgia Dome and seeing the Bears season end so decidedly.
After all, a nine hour car ride home can obviously lead to a lot of idle thoughts.
In devoutly following this school's football and men's basketball teams as a student, young alumnus and now writer of this award-winning column, I have truly learned to appreciate what we have now and to never forget how far Baylor athletics has come.
The Bears polished off Xavier Friday night in the round of 16. For moments, Baylor looked dominant. At others time they looked only partially interested and susceptible to long stretches of offensive ineptitude. In the end, they had just enough in the tank to hang on for a 75-70 win. Afterwards, we rejoiced in the elation of seeing our team win in such a huge venue, such a big stage.
After waking up several hours before sunrise, we had made the voyage to Atlanta and were rewarded with a Baylor victory.
It was one heck of a sweet moment.
I was not ready to think about Kentucky, was not capable of imagining how we would beat the nation's number one team and was not concerned with the possibility of witnessing our season end just two days later.
Instead, I wanted to relish in the moment, cherish the win and revel in the fun of my team still being alive in the NCAA tournament. That's also how I chose to feel on the way home Sunday, in reflection.
Baylor played on national TV about 20 times this season. In winning their first 17 games, the team climbed all the way to number three in the AP poll.
After a few bumps and bruises, they team played twice for postseason net-tear down games.
So many priceless moments will be remembered. The inbound deflection that cemented a one point win in Manhattan, the Acy Dunk in the waning seconds that finished off Mississippi State, Pierre Jackson's three pointer against A&M that provided BU a win in their likely last game in College Station.
This team did not defy the odds, instead this Baylor team managed to stay ranked the entire season. By doing so, they stayed in the nation's spotlight, often mentioned as a Final Four threat. The team's torrid run through the Big 12 Championship through the first two rounds in Albuquerque and to Atlanta where the run ended was monitored by everyone.
The cynics will argue that this team had the raw talent to go further. They will claim that a team with potentially three NBA draftees should be making their way to New Orleans.
In 2010, I said Baylor will be back. Two years later the Bears returned to the Elite Eight.
Today, nobody will discredit the program's relevance or its momentum. Baylor will be ranked again next season, the expectations will likely be higher than ever before and the anticipation will begin before next year's freshman even set foot on campus.
It will continue to be a fun being a fan of this team.
And fresh off a season that delivered a school-record in wins, knowing that being a fan of Baylor was also rewarding is their legacy.
That's what 100 wins from this year's senior class delivered.
Job well done, Bears.
Living on a Prayer
10:15 P.M., WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21, 2012
The team Baylor took into the opening weekend of the 2012 NCAA tournament is as talented and long as just about any in the country. The team's triumvirate of big men, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Perry Jones III can control the glass and put up big numbers. The front court has stabilized mostly with the addition of Pierre Jackson who has single handedly won games late. For the Bears to win twice in the tournament and survive the first weekend, it would have been a safe bet to think one of these guys (if not more) had stepped up.
As it turned out, Sophomore Brady Heslip is the reason why the Bears advanced, and are in the sweet 16 for the second time in three years.
We're halfway there.
Heslip connected on five treys in the opening round nail biter against South Dakota State and then put on a legendary show in Albuquerque two days later, connecting nine times behind the arc as the Bears eventually pulled away from Colorado.
America certainly recognized the efforts of the Downtown Canadian as his namesake became a top-trending subject on Twitter and fans everywhere began mimicking his trademark three point goggle pose.
It's amazing what kinds of sensations are quickly built and immediately embraced at this level of the tournament.
Baylor fans of course are just glad Heslip was there to pick up the slack for a team that looked sloppy on Thursday night and inconsistent two nights later. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe Heslip can carry this team to the final four by himself nor is there a vibe that we've seen the best basketball we're going to see from Acy and Jones.
For now, it doesn't really matter. Part of the tournament's heritage is memorable performances from players we wouldn't normally expect for offering heroics. Baylor would not have advanced to the second weekend two years ago had it not been for the performance of Josh Lomers, for example.
Two wins are under their belt. Baylor has proven that they can win in the tournament, they can win games late and they can win games in a hostile environment. They will need to do each of those things twice more if they are going to reach their ultimate goal of dancing all the way to New Orleans and the Final Four.
If this team gels this weekend and the Bears manage to balance their scoring, there isn't any reason to think this journey would end in Atlanta.
For now, we can only pray.
9:15 P.M., WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14, 2012
No more waiting, no more anticipating and no more bracketology. The Bears return to the `Big Dance' Thursday night at The Pit in Albuquerque, an arena intertwined with some of the most indelible moments in NCAA Tournament history.
History is, of course, what Baylor hopes to make in 2012. 63, uhhhh 67, other teams hope to do the same. The Bears, however, are no longer a fresh on the scene group; they are not classified as `upstart' or identified as a `Cinderella.' In making their third tourney appearance in five years, the Bears are described differently.
Battle-tested, proven, dangerous and experienced, BU carries as impressive a resume as virtually any team in America into this year's postseason.
Baylor won 10 games this season against teams that made the tournament and lost not once to teams that did not qualify. The Bears avenged exactly half of their regular season losses in the last week during the Big 12 tournament.
Most importantly, Baylor almost certainly looks to be playing their best basketball of the season right now.
It is March, however.
As much as Baylor fans would like to think that a run to the tournament's second weekend and perhaps beyond could be in the cards, we do remember how much trouble Sam Houston State gave us in the first round two years ago. We remember being unceremoniously bounced by Purdue in 2008 on the tournament's first day when we assured ourselves a run to the sweet 16 was that team's destiny.
There's a reason why virtually everybody in your office knows about March Madness. There's a reason why America's diminishing productivity these next few days rivals that of the day following the Super Bowl. There's a reason why right now a bracket is being filled out by somebody who couldn't tell you the difference between a full-court press and an iron press.
The NCAA tournament is as fun and enjoyable as it unpredictable and ridiculous.
Sometimes the best team in the nation does what everyone thinks they are capable of and wins six times in the tournament.
Sometimes, however, Northern Iowa crashes the party. Sometimes, George Mason makes the final four. Sometimes lightning strikes twice and Butler makes the championship game in consecutive seasons.
It will happen again this year. A double digit seed will advance, a team's terrific season will end suddenly with a shot that doesn't fall. America will swoon for the overachieving team that defied the odds. Buzzers will be beaten, glass slippers will be fit and everyone you and I know will lament about their bracket being ruined.
This odyssey will again prove to be unexplainable, unpredictable and unfathomable again in 2012. The number one overall seed might not take home the title. A certain fast-charging three seed might instead.
Why not? It happened last year.
My Ode March Madness
5:43 P.M., WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2012
The year was 1987. Our family gathered at a neighbor's house on a Monday night and for three hours the entire crowd was glued to the TV. As the national title game continued and the thought of getting to bed at a decent time faded, the outcome remained unknown and an already tense house party became ridden with anxiety.
It just so happened that I was in a home full of Indiana University fanatics and the Hoosiers were playing for the national championship that evening.
A bit after 10:00, IU's Keith Smart buried a 16 foot jump shot in the waning seconds and Indiana had defeated Syracuse by one point. Immediate mayhem erupted in the living room.
I was barely six years old. My love affair with March Madness had begun.
Between then and now, this festival has only become a larger part of my spring `enjoyment.' Like many of you, I fill the brackets out each year. I make room for plenty of upset specials, I gush over one region's difficulty, I swear that a double-digit seeded team will crash the party and become the newest Cinderella.
But, truthfully, the tourney means even more to me.
As a pre-teen it meant memorizing every first round game and then listing off the matchups to my Grandpa. He thought this would lead to a career as an accountant. As a middle schooler, it meant having to sit in the principal's office after getting caught running yet another gambling pool. He thought I was headed down the `wrong road.' As a college student, it meant finding ways out of class to get home to my dorm or apartment catch the early tip offs. I thought there was no better time of year.
That sentiment has changed very little.
Amazingly, this infatuation rarely stemmed from having a team in the tournament to even cheer for. When a flurry of 16 games greets you on the first day of the tournament and you find yourself glued to each and every outcome despite not having a dog in the fight, maybe that's when it hits you-this is the greatest event American sport can produce.
And then the 2008 season happened.
Seeing Baylor's name called as the final entrant into that year' tournament raised the stakes even higher. Two years later, the program was elevated by a three seed and an elite eight run. Bears fans everywhere are still convinced that had it not been for a late charge call on Quincy Acy, that BU team would have gone to the Final Four, if not further.
Again, two years later, Baylor will hear their name called this Sunday. It will be a glorious day and a time to again celebrate not just the arrival of the tournament, but the inclusion of our team in the madness.
Regardless of what happens in Kansas City this week, regardless of what momentum or lack thereof Baylor will take into the first round and regardless of what seed the committee deems the Bears worthy of, it will be a great Sunday.
Just like the 67 other teams, BU will first see their pathway to the Final Four, the tournament that captivates the entire country for three weeks will begin.
And the tradition of loving everything about this event will commence.