Baylor made the fastest climb from unranked to No. 1 in AP poll history. The Bears were unranked -- and didn't receive a single vote -- in the week 1 AP poll released on Nov. 14. Just eight weeks later, Baylor claimed the No. 1 spot after starting the season 15-0. BU is the fourth team to go from preseason unranked to No. 1, joining 1978-79 Indiana State, 1989-90 Kansas and 2009-10 Syracuse.
The Bears' resume includes wins over No. 4 Oregon, No. 7 Xavier, No. 10 Louisville and No. 24 Michigan State, along with Big 12 Conference wins at Oklahoma, vs. Iowa State and vs. Oklahoma State.
Baylor broke into the AP poll at No. 20 on Nov. 21. The Bears then climbed to No. 9 a week later after winning the 2016 Battle 4 Atlantis. BU moved up to No. 4 on Dec. 5 after knocking off Xavier for its third top-10 win of the season, and the Bears remained in the No. 4 spot in the Dec. 12, Dec. 19 and Dec. 26 polls. Baylor moved to No. 2 last week and claimed the nation's top ranking on Monday.
Head coach Scott Drew has had the Bears ranked at some point in each of the last 10 seasons, but BU's best ranking before this season was No. 3 on Jan. 16, 2012. That same poll was the only time Baylor received a single first-place vote in program history prior to this season, and this year's squad has earned a total of 86 first-place votes in the AP poll.
This week, Baylor received 55 of 65 first-place votes in the AP Top 25 and 22 of 32 first-place votes in the coaches' poll.
The 2016-17 Bears are the third different team from the state of Texas to earn the nation's No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25. Houston was voted No. 1 in 1967-68 and 1982-83, and Texas was No. 1 in 2009-10. Additionally, Baylor is the fourth Big 12 Conference team to earn the No. 1 spot since 2010, joining Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to give the league more No. 1 teams than any other conference over the last eight seasons.
Baylor has a pair of road games against ranked opponents this week. The Bears travel to face No. 10 West Virginia at 6 p.m. Tuesday night and play at No. 25 Kansas State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. BU's next home game is The Immortal Ten Game against Texas on Jan. 17.
The Feb. 18 game against Kansas is sold out, but tickets for the six other remaining home games can be purchased by at BaylorBears.com/tickets or by calling the Baylor Athletic Ticket Office at 254-710-1000. Follow @BaylorMBB on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat for updates throughout the season.
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Scott Drew was like a doting dad on Christmas morning, watching the excitement as his children unwrapped their gifts.
Only this time, he was watching the sheer joy and delight the fans and Baylor Nation took at Monday's news that Drew's Bears (15-0, 3-0) are the No. 1-ranked team in both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches' polls for the first time in school history.
"First of all, it means a lot to Baylor Nation," he said. "Seeing the excitement of our past players and everyone associated with Baylor, that gets us excited. It's kind of like parents at Christmas when the kids open up a present and they're excited, it makes you excited."
But, while admitting that it's certainly a bucket-list item for any coach, Drew also knows that being ranked No. 1 on Jan. 9 carries no weight when it comes to NCAA Tournament seeding or conference championships.
"It's a great recognition, it's a great honor, it's very humbling," he said. "But, as a coach, you also know that no one remembers who was ranked No. 1 in January, everyone remembers at the end of the season. We have bigger goals and a lot more that we want to accomplish, and being ranked No. 1 right now doesn't necessarily guarantee anything the rest of the year."
The door for the Bears to move up from No. 2 opened when previously top-ranked Villanova lost to Butler, 66-58, last Wednesday. But, they still had to pull out down-to-the-wire victories over Iowa State (65-63) and Oklahoma State (61-57) at the Ferrell Center to do it.
"We've been ranked 10 straight years now at some point in the top 25," Drew said. "Obviously, the higher you're ranked the bigger the target. But, the players that come to Baylor expect to win and expect to be in big games. It doesn't guarantee success, but I think they're used to that. And as long as we continue to do what we've done up to this point, we'll be successful. We'll keep that `control what we can control' mantra."
Women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey, whose team has won two national championships and been ranked No. 1 several times, said the real story with the men is that they didn't receive a single vote in either of the preseason polls. Not one.
"Where they were and where they've come from is the story," she said. "A lot of teams can get to No. 1, (but) they started the year ranked 10th or 15th or third. Where these guys were, and who they went on the road or neutral sites to beat, they've earned it. Now, Scott's smart enough to know that you enjoy the moment, enjoy the excitement, and it's great recognition for everybody at Baylor. But, what really matters are championships and the NCAA Tournament. But shoot yeah, enjoy the ride."
Baylor is one of just four teams that have gone from being preseason unranked to the No. 1 spot, joining Syracuse (2009-10), Kansas (1989-90) and Indiana State (1978-79). The earlier polls didn't list "others receiving votes," but I'm going to go out on the limb and say the Bears might be the only No. 1 team not to receive any votes in either the preseason or Week 1 poll balloting.
Figuring out how they got there, though, is as easy as reeling off the names of the teams they've beaten - Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville, Xavier, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Nine of Baylor's 15 wins to date are against top-100 RPI teams.
After the Bears rallied from a seven-point second-half deficit to beat OSU, 61-57, Saturday night, coach Brad Underwood said Drew's team is "very deserving" of a No. 1 ranking.
"Remember where they were when (Drew) got there," Underwood said. "They shouldn't take that lightly. Let's not forget the . . . remarkable job he's done. That team wins because they're close, they're very old and nothing rattles them."
Part of the reason for the lower preseason expectations was losing an NBA lottery draft pick (Taurean Prince), the program's all-time leading rebounder (Rico Gathers) and a senior point guard (Lester Medford).
And while every coach hopes his team is going to develop like this year's Baylor team has, even Drew said, "I knew with our schedule, the wins and losses might not necessarily be indicative of how good our team was."
Playing the likes of Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier - with three of them ranked in the top 10 at the time - "you could play good basketball, but have several losses," Drew said. "So, when we got done with the Battle4Atlantis, obviously we gained a lot of confidence being able to win that tournament, because it's such a prestigious tournament. And the way in which we were able to win that, I knew at that point that was big for the rest of the season, just the confidence we gained from that."
In its first tests playing as the No. 1-ranked team, Baylor draws the difficult task of going on the road to face No. 10 West Virginia (13-2, 2-1) at 6 p.m. CST Tuesday in Morgantown, and then No. 25 Kansas State (13-2, 2-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Manhattan.
"You don't have to worry about keeping our guys humbled," Drew said, "because they know how good West Virginia is. . . . This is just another week in the Big 12."
The Big 12 is the only conference to have four different teams ranked No. 1 since 2010 (Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor), with Kansas now at No. 2 and West Virginia 10th. Baylor is also just the third different Texas school to reach No. 1 in the AP poll, joining Texas (2009-10) and Houston (1967-67, 1982-83), and the first since 2010.