Almost every day this season has been like Christmas for Scott Drew.
Drew took over a Baylor program that was truly at the bottom following a series of events that included one player murdering another and former coach Dave Bliss breaking a multitude of NCAA rules while trying to cover things up in the aftermath. The sequence landed the Bears on probation.
An eternal optimist who is in his fifth year as head coach, Drew has put the program back together to the point where Baylor was ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 during the final two weeks of January and were recently featured in Sports Illustrated and USA Today. The ranking was the Bears’ first since 1969 and they have a shot at their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1988 with a 17-4 record, including 5-2 in the Big 12. The Bears are No. 44 in the Pomeroy Ratings.
“I’m so happy for so many people,” Drew said. “First of all, I’m happy for the players. They have been through so much here. I don’t think there are too many teams in America that have had to fight through the obstacles these kids have had to fight through.
“Then, I’m happy for our fans. They didn’t have a lot to cheer about for a few years but they stuck behind us. And I’m extremely happy for the school, the administration and the student body. They have always believed in our program during times when it would have been easy to give up on basketball at Baylor.
“When I see all the joy and the happiness that our success this season has brought to these people, it makes me feel really good. It’s the same kind of feeling you get on Christmas morning when you watch your children unwrap their presents. It’s very rewarding to see that kind of joy on people’s faces.”
There was not much joy in Waco in 2002 when the body of Patrick Dennehy was found six weeks after he was reported missing. Carlton Dotson pleaded guilty to the murder, for which he is serving a 35-year prison sentence.
Bliss then tried to portray Dennehy as a drug dealer in tapes secretly recorded by an assistant coach. That came after school officials had already found that Bliss had paid $40,000 in tuition for Dennehy and another player while also soliciting $87,000 improperly from boosters.
Into the mess stepped Drew, a 32-year-old with one year of head coaching experience at Valparaiso, his alma mater, where he had succeeded his father Homer following nine seasons as an assistant.
While many people thought Drew was committing career suicide by taking the Baylor job, he felt pulled to Waco and the largest Baptist university in the world by a higher power.
“I just felt it was the right place for me and it was where God wanted me,” Drew said. “My father had coached at a Christian college in Valparaiso and had the first 20-win season at the Division I level in school history. I felt it was my calling to follow his path and go to a Christian college where perhaps I could make some history.
“I knew the challenges in coming to Baylor but I was never deterred by them. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I also knew how rewarding having success here could be.”
Baylor had just five scholarship players in Drew’s first season because of transfers and went 8-21. A year later, the Bears went 9-19 with only one scholarship player.
The worst came in 2005-06 when the NCAA limited Baylor to only Big 12 games as punishment for Bliss’ violations. The Bears went 4-13 that season, then improved to 15-16 last winter.
“The toughest times were when we lost the (2005-06) season, then we started playing and things didn't go well,” Drew said. "You see your players down, see them frustrated. Like a parent, you hate seeing that.”
Now, the Bears are thriving with a lineup that includes five players scoring in double figures: junior guard Curtis Jerrells (14.4 points a game), junior forward Kevin Rogers (12.6), freshman guard LaceDarius Dunn (11.8), junior guard Henry Dugat (11.4) and senior guard Aaron Bruce (10.7). Rogers is also averaging 7.8 rebounds while Jerrells is averaging 3.6 assists and Dugat is averaging 1.5 steals.
Baylor doesn’t particularly stand out in many statistical categories, though it does take care of the ball as it ranks 17th in the nation in offensive turnover percentage (17.6).
“What you’re seeing this year is a resilient bunch of young men who have really come of age as a basketball team,” Drew said. “They’ve been through so many tough times that it has made them better players and, more importantly, better people. The payoff has finally come for them and I couldn’t be happier. They deserve it.”
Despite the surprise resignation Monday of Bob Knight, the winningest coach in college basketball history, Texas Tech insists it will be business as usual for the rest of the season. After all, Pat Knight was promoted from top assistant to replace his father.
The Red Raiders lost their first game without Knight, falling 80-74 to Baylor on Wednesday. They are now 12-9 overall, 3-4 in the Big 12 and No. 61 in the Pomeroy Ratings
“From an Xs and Os standpoint, I don’t think much changes,” Texas Tech assistant coach Chris Beard told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “Any major changes will be made next year. Right now, we’re just going to try and stay focused on the rest of the season.”
Said assistant coach Stew Robinson, who played for Bob Knight at Indiana, “we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers believes making the transition during the season could actually benefit the program. Myers replaced Bob Bass as the Red Raiders’ coach midway through the 1970-71 season, went 8-5 the rest of the way then stayed on the job for 20 years.
“I think it benefited me as a coach to coach those games and it helped that spring with recruiting,” Myers said. “It also helped my relationship with the players. I understand why Bob felt this was the best time.”
Bracket Buster Pairings Announced
Rarely do the Bracket Busters match two teams who already figure to be locks to play in the NCAA Tournament but that would seem to be the case this year. ESPN and O’Reilly Auto Parts announced this past week that Drake will visit Butler in a battle of Bulldogs and mid-major powers on Feb. 23.
Drake is 21-1 and ranked No. 15 in the AP poll while Butler is 20-2 and ranked No. 10. In the Pomeroy Ratings, Drake is No. 25 and Butler is No. 38.
The other televised bracket busters will include (with Pomeroy Ratings): No. 114 UC Santa Barbara at No. 122 Utah State and No. 63 Davidson at No. 107 Winthrop on Feb. 22.
Other games on Feb. 23 include No. 76 Virginia Commonwealth at No. 86 Akron, No. 113 Siena at No. 117 Boise State, No. 154 Wisconsin-Milwaukee at No. 104 Bradley, No. 108 Rider at No. 123 Cal State Northridge, No. 139 Marist at No. 131 Cleveland State, No. 60 George Mason at No. 98 Ohio, No. 50 Creighton at No. 85 Oral Roberts, No. 87 Kent State at No. 34 Saint Mary’s, No. 115 Nevada at No. 72 Southern Illinois and No. 90 Miami of Ohio at No. 109 Valparaiso.
No. 121 Wright State visits No. 57 Illinois State on Feb. 24.
Team to Watch
This week’s Team to Watch is Louisville, which is not ranked in The AP poll but is No. 11 in the Pomeroy Ratings after notching an impressive 71-57 road win over Marquette on Monday night. That improved the Cardinals’ record to 17-6 overall and 7-3 in the Big East heading into Saturday night’s big home game with Georgetown, which is No. 6.
Junior forward Terrence Williams has been the star on a team that has five players scoring in double figures. He is averaging 11.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.7 steals while ranking 25th in the nation in percentage of minutes played (90.2).
Sophomore guard Jerry Smith is the Cards' leading scorer with an 11.3 average. Sophomore forward Earl Clark is averaging 10.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while senior forward David Padgett is scoring 10.1 points a game and sophomore forward Derrick Caracter is averaging 10.0 points and is 19th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (17.6).
The Cardinals are also finally whole this season, as Padgett missed time early in the year with a knee injury and Caracter was suspended for disciplinary reasons.
Louisville has been outstanding on the defensive end as it ranks seventh in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency (85.3). The Cardinals are also sixth in two-point field goal percentage allowed (40.4), ninth in effective field goal percentage allowed (42.9) and 13th in block percentage (15.0).
Games of the Week
The top five games for the week of Feb. 8-14, according to the Pomeroy Ratings with all times Eastern.
No. 23 Southern California at No. 13 Washington State, Saturday, Feb. 9, 3:30 p.m., ABC
No. 6 Georgetown at No. 11 Louisville, Saturday, Feb. 9, 9 p.m., ESPN
No. 18 Clemson at No. 8 North Carolina, Sunday, Feb. 10, 6:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net
No. 1 Kansas at No. 19 Texas, Monday, Feb. 11, 9 p.m., ESPN
No. 5 Wisconsin at No. 17 Indiana, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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