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We've officially seen it all from this Baylor men's basketball team. The same group that stumbled in humbling road losses to Iowa State and Texas Tech has now pulled off back-to-back road wins in raucous gyms against Virginia Tech and Auburn.
5:45 P.M. WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25, 2009
Tuesday night the Bears notched win number 23 (third-most in school history) on the year and became the first team to punch their ticket to New York City for the NIT final four.
The hits just keep on coming and this team, considered an afterthought more than once, now gets to write the final chapter on a season that could be in the argument for the program's greatest ever.
And it will do so in the world's most famous arena.
We've heard so much about how head coach Scott Drew has repeatedly told his players about the four different seasons within this marathon campaign that is college basketball. The non-conference, conference, conference tourney and postseason have provided significant peaks and valleys for players, coaches and fans, no doubt. What can't be stressed nearly enough is how this team has raised its game time and time again since leaving the court on senior day three weeks ago.
BU controlled the glass again Tuesday night, Kevin Rogers was a beast down low again and CJ was the All-Conference stud we've come to expect. Clearly, the team that's stormed through Oklahoma City, Blacksburg and Auburn is the team we had been waiting to see emerge all along.
So, they were a little late in "blooming," so what? Look at what these guys still have to play for, look how far they have brought this program, look at the massive exposure they have brought our school!
Saturday's broadcast on ESPN again mentioned how our basketball program doesn't exactly have the most heralded of postseason successes. We've made the NCAA tournament twice since losing in the national championship sixty years ago, in contrast, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has taken 31 teams to the tourney, Sean McDonough mentioned.
Point being, this team can still make great strides and give future classes and recruits plenty to build off of without another bid in the NCAA tourney. Make no mistake; this team was good enough to make the big dance. Were they good enough to win a few games? We'll never know.
What we do know after five-plus months of basketball, is where this season will finally conclude and though we don't yet know when the last game will be played, one thing remains obvious: it's time to win the whole darn thing.
Does BU have two wins left in `em? It's up to you, New York!
That's Why You Accept This Bid
12:15 A.M. THURSDAY, MARCH 19, 2009
Wow, what a game.
By defeating Georgetown in thrilling fashion in the first round of the NIT Wednesday night, Baylor notched the program's first postseason win since 1950 (in case you didn't see the statistic ESPN flashed up 11 times during the broadcast.) The victory is arguably our most impressive achieved on our home court in the Drew era and couldn't have come at a better time.
And, as Drew reminded the media in the postgame news conference, the Bears have now knocked off Kansas, Texas and Georgetown in the span of one week.
Not bad for a team that only managed to win five games in conference.
Of course, the real story is, yet again, these seniors.
The group that took a program in ruins to a program that now EXPECTS postseason play likely took the Ferrell Center floor for the last time and came up clutch on national TV.
NIT or not, I'm willing to bet this win is the highlight of their career.
ESPN's NIT doubleheader Wednesday night began at Virginia Tech with the Hokies hosting Duquesne in front of a half-filled gym of Tech fans still feeling the sting from their NCAA tourney bubble being burst on Sunday. The scene then shifted to Waco where it was obvious the ambiance on the BU campus was a bit different. A packed house was exactly what the doctor ordered and what our seniors deserved, especially after a lackluster effort at home two weeks ago against Nebraska.
The Ferrell Center crowd undoubtedly made a difference tonight and especially energized the Bears through a first half when the Hoyas seemingly made every shot they threw up. However, it was this group's second-half run, poise and defense down the stretch that proved to be the difference.
Perseverance, poise and composure were the difference tonight. Another ridiculous performance from Lace, great play from CJ and a slue of post-time out plays drawn up to involve Kevin Rogers spelled doom for a young Georgetown team we likely haven't heard the last from.
That's the beauty of this tournament, as ESPN's Jimmy Dykes mentioned, it is still March, and for this team to win a game like that is something this program can hang its hat on. THIS is the fitting ending for the group's career on their home floor.
Whether they can continue the momentum in the next round remains to be seen. If the last week of BU basketball has taught us anything, we can expect a similar effort in Blacksburg.
Heck, if our offense can keep giving Lace open shots from behind the arc, there's no reason to think this historic postseason won't continue.
What Else Can Be Said?
10:00 P.M. SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 2009
Growing up in Chicago where winter doesn't seem to end until the Cubs are twenty games out of first, we're all too familiar with the old proverb that the start of March could not be more different than the end of it (in like a lion, out like a lamb). Snow showers, tornado warnings and general chaos eventually give way to sunshine, green grass and de-numbing of the phalanges as April nears.
Similarly, the clock struck twelve Saturday night, for the so-called 'Cinderella of Cinderellas' as the BU men simply ran out of gas in bowing out to Mizzou in the big 12 tourney final.
For a team with nothing to lose, Mizzou looked nothing like the team that stumbled in the first half against Texas Tech on Thursday and looked equally as sloppy as Oklahoma State on Friday. Give them credit, the Tigers were clearly motivated enough to take away our would-be tourney bid and by doing so won their school's first big 12 championship in any men's sport.
The boys' performance is this tournament, despite ending on a sour note, is without question the high-point of the season. It's how these seniors would want to be remembered and it's something that we, as loyal fans, can hang our hats on. I mean, we did just beat Texas and Kansas on back to back nights, that was KIND OF awesome.
The last four nights restored hope that this program is not only headed in the right direction, but that Drew is capable of keeping them in the upper echelon of one of the premiere conferences in the country.
Unfortunately, that's how this story will end. Who knows what would have happened Saturday had Rodgers completed that three point play after the timeout, cutting the Missouri lead to four. Maybe we'd be the big 12 champs right now had we stuck with the zone defense that we employed the previous three nights. Maybe we'd be entering the NCAA tournament as the hottest team in the country and kept it going for another week and made the program's first appearance in the sweet 16 since before anyone ever coined the term 'sweet sixteen.'
The NIT is most likely the next step for this team. Perhaps the Ferrell Center will play host to one more game in which the revived Bears will make one more curtain call before the student body. Perhaps I'll get one more chance to scream 'Raindance' in a crowded room as the ball leaves LaceDarius' hands from behind the arc.
Whatever happens, the team that took the floor today is the team I wanna remember. They're the team that warranted a near-capacity crowd in Oklahoma City to sound more like a gym in Waco, they're the team that beat Texas for the first time in a money-making sport since 1998, they're the team that made March their own personal 'payback tour' for a week.
What a long, strange trip it proved to be once again.
Are You Serious!?
12:25 P.M. SATURDAY, MARCH 14, 2009
There's a reason they call this March Madness, boys and girls.
The term resonates with every sports fan in every pocket of the country. It's the greatest spectacle in sport, its without doubt, the greatest conclusion to any sport's season and it's an event so intertwined in tradition, folklore and memorable moments that fans of any sport have to recognize it's unparalleled greatness.
It's March and this, indeed, is Madness.
Make no mistake, Baylor has the attention of the country now. The Bears removed a 300 pound gorilla from their back Friday night in disposing of the Longhorns in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion.
So, what's next for a team that has now beaten three teams in three days on a neutral court just weeks after losing to that same team in Waco?
The biggest games of their lives, that's all.
The Bears are going to take the floor tomorrow with a chance at winning the program's first conference championship. A feat we could have considered possible, if not likely, five (yes, five) months ago, then deemed completely absurd just 72 hours ago.
I don't think any of our guys will sleep tonight.
I mean, how could they? Our boys are on the verge of doing something this conference has never seen, let alone our school. No team has ever won four games in route to winning this tournament, no nine seed has ever advanced this far and I'm relatively certain no team has been left for dead (even by some of the most faithful) only to be THIS close to completely redeeming themselves and making the dance.
The dance. Wow, we're actually talking about the dance again? BU can officially win back the hearts of America and become THE story of the tournament...AGAIN! Last year, we were the media darlings having made the field of 64 just five years after the tragic events of 2003. This year, we may just follow that up with the most improbable run to the conference crown in Big 12 history.
Our guys deserve nothing less.
It's funny how college hoops has these peaks and valleys, isn't it? This team heard nothing but how good they were going to be all summer. As of Friday night, I count eight teams that we have beaten that will likely make the tournament this year. Unfortunately, there was a six week period this season where things just didn't click and this team, most certainly, underachieved.
Fortunately, that can all be erased with one more gutsy performance Saturday and the Bears, like we all had thought, just may make it back to the dance after all.
And with one more win, we'll have a banner to hang to remember just how mad this season has really been.
Can I get an `Amen?!'
5:15 P.M. THURSDAY, MARCH 12, 2009
Every so often, `blog' writing can be glorious.
Baylor just shocked the world moments ago in Oklahoma City by knocking off the Big 12 regular season champs, Kansas, in the conference tourney. For the second time in 24 hours, our boys knocked off a team that had beaten them in Waco earlier in the season...and did so now on a neutral court.
But, that's clearly not the main story here.
Lightning has struck twice in the last two years in the conference tournament for Baylor, the tourney's ultimate lightning rod team. By beating the one seed in the quarterfinals, BU now becomes the only team to have ever accomplished such a feat and has done so TWICE! Last year, we were on the complete opposite end of this feat by having become the only school to have ever dropped a game to a 12 seed.
Thankfully, our loss to Colorado last year wasn't enough to keep us from making the dance. Now the only question that remains, can the Bears keep it up and make a miracle return run to the tournament?
My answer to that: Don't worry about it. Enjoy this win.
After having convincingly knocked off Nebraska Wednesday afternoon, the Bears stormed out of the gate against Kansas and showed everyone the team we all knew was there (somewhere) in those bodies.
The post-game interview with Drew only solidified what we all knew going into this tournament: these seniors still have plenty to prove, plenty to play for and plenty of confidence to really make this tournament fun.
And as a Baylor fan, we could have seen this coming a mile away.
The simple truth is, this team IS good enough to beat anyone in the conference. A win over KU on a neutral court (the programs first such accomplishment) clearly illustrates this.
A lot can still happen tomorrow or (gasp) Saturday. Maybe we'll play K State and they'll play nothing like the team that got crushed on their home floor to us in January. Maybe we'll play Texas and the ultimate `big brother' rematch will again spell doom for us. Maybe we'll play Missouri in the final and I'll make the mistake of driving a long distance to see them play again.
It really doesn't matter. For these seniors, we should be happy, grateful and proud. After salting away a 17 point lead, Baylor matched the conference champs punch for punch and were simply the better team. For a group that has been told everything from how good they could be to how good they could HAVE been, I'm happy to see them smiling once again.
And playing for one more day!
Your Baylor Experience is About to Begin
10:55 P.M. THURSDAY, MARCH 5, 2009
A funny thing happens when you get to be my age, I've learned. You start to slowly "prune" your friendship tree, your bedtime gets earlier...you may even watch CNN.
I just got off the phone with my high school student activities office earlier today and learned that I will, essentially, be left in charge of our rapidly approaching 10-year reunion. The fact our student body president will likely be out of the country at the time of this event, somehow means a ton of the responsibility will fall in my lap.
I live nowhere near my hometown and up until a few hours ago, was content with keeping in touch with the class of '99 through Facebook. This is what we've all consciously decided, right?
Anyway, the fact that the 10-year anniversary of my graduation from high school is right around the corner got me thinking about Baylor.
I soon realized that the same anniversary of my decision to "commit" to Baylor is also about to occur. I still remember getting that letter from admissions, signing that agreement and deciding to move halfway across the country and begin a completely unforeseen next chapter of my life.
High school athletes being recruited to play for Baylor face the same, bold decision on where to spend the next four years of their lives.
OK, so the comparison between me, a budding journalism major more concerned with the aroma of what would be his freshman dorm, and Division I athletes might be a stretch. Just stick with me.
The point is, Baylor CAN make as good an impression on recruits as it did on me back in the spring of what was now a full decade ago. That day I remember touring the campus with my dad, buying my first BU tee shirt and eating at a nearby restaurant that overlooks the Brazos River. I was soon approached by an elderly gentleman who asked if I was in town visiting the school.
The guy looked me in the eye and in a James Earl Jones-like tone simply said "that right there (pointing towards Pat Neff Hall)...that's a special place."
I was sold.
Coming to Baylor proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made. The friendships I made with fraternity brothers, coworkers, teachers, athletes, coaches and staff are some of the friendships that I most proudly hold onto, even 10 years later.
Of course, I'm sure this comes far from surprising to any of you that have read this column since its inception in August. I love the school. I'll never apologize for that. It's a huge part of my life and who I am. Still.
In the past decade, no question has been asked of me (a product of the western suburbs of Chicago) more than "how did you end up at Baylor?"
While, the repetitive explanation does get old, sometimes I simply remind myself of the simplicity of the decision and say: "because it's a special place."
Hopefully our coaches can continue to convince visiting recruits of that.