Baylor has been practicing for 89 days but its fans have no idea how good the team is. That’s because the Bears have yet to play a game after the NCAA banned them from nonconference competition in the wake of the 2003 murder of player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson and the problems within the program that surfaced.
The Bears will finally take the floor for their season opener tonight against Texas Tech.
"I can honestly say I’ve never looked more forward to playing a Big 12 game," sophomore Aaron Bruce told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "We’ll finally have a reason for three months of preparation when we set foot on the court in Lubbock."
Baylor will be at a disadvantage against the Red Raiders, who have already played 15 games, but the team has grown accustomed to overcoming obstacles.
After head coach Dave Bliss and athletic director Tom Stanton resigned, the school punished the program by reducing scholarships and contact between coaches and recruits, banning it from the 2004 postseason and offering players their releases. The team hasn’t suited up more than seven scholarship players since 2003.
Fans are hopeful, though as third-year head coach Scott Drew, the son of former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew, has signed a pair of top classes. Bruce was the nation’s top-scoring freshman last year and he is joined by four true freshmen who comprised one of the top 20 recruiting classes in the country.
"It’s going to be obvious to our fans that we’ve got more speed, athleticism and depth," Drew told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "But we’re still very young, and the teams that win are usually the most experienced. We’re going into league play with a disadvantage since we haven’t played. But I’m very pleased with the way we’ve progressed in practice."
Indiana looked to be on the verge of a return to national prominence until forward D.J. White, last year’s Big Ten freshman of the year, reinjured his foot. He’s expected to be out at least a month and could miss the rest of the season.
That’s not a good sign for the Hoosiers, who entered the top 10 this week for the first time since December 2002. The Big Ten is loaded this year with five teams, including Indiana, ranked in the Top 25 and two other squads lurking just outside the rankings.
The Hoosiers will get tested in their first week without White as they play at No. 15 Michigan State tonight and host No. 6 Illinois on Tuesday.
HELP FOR CATS
Sophomore swingman Jawann McClellan is expected to make his season debut for Arizona Thursday against Oregon State. He was being counted on to help fill the shooting void left by Salim Stoudamire before missing the first half of the season while academically ineligible.
Though he averaged only 5.8 points per game as a freshman, he played better as the season went on. He hit 24-of-61 3-point shots (39.4 percent) and should help the Wildcats on the perimeter.
"If you look at what he did a year ago in the second half of league play and in the NCAA playoffs, he was a key player for us," Lute Olson said. "I don’t think there’s any questions he’ll have a big second half for us."
OUR TOP SEEDS
•Duke (14-0), Florida (14-0), Villanova (10-1), Illinois (15-1). Our top seeds remain unchanged despite losses by Villanova to West Virginia and Illinois to Iowa. Any more slip-ups are unlikely to go unpunished, though, as Memphis and Connecticut are spoiling for a top spot.
•Rudy Gay, Connecticut. The 6-foot-9 junior is physical enough to score in the low post in college but will likely be one of the top three picks in this year’s NBA Draft as a small forward. Long and athletic, Gay is a consistent shooter and solid defender. He leads the Huskies in scoring with 15.5 points per game and also collects 6.3 rebounds per contest.
•"It was the worst feeling of my life and the best feeling all in one. I just tried to get that last shot up. When it left my hand, I didn’t hear the buzzer, so I knew I got it off. But I didn’t know it was good until it dropped through the net." — Seton Hall freshman Paul Gause, who sent his team’s 69-61 win over St. John’s into overtime with a 12-foot jumper just 10 minutes after scoring on his own basket to put the Pirates in a 20-point hole.
•Iowa put an end to then-No. 6 Illinois’ undefeated start with a 63-48 victory. The Hawkeyes limited Dee Brown to six points just two days after he lit up Michigan State with a career-high 34. Iowa should be a sure bet at this point, but the Hawkeyes suffered through a week in which they lost nonconference road games to Northern Iowa and Iowa State after floor leader Jeff Horner went down with a knee injury. With the Big Ten as loaded as ever, the Hawkeyes, who got Horner back in the lineup recently, should have plenty of chances to erase memories of that week with more upsets of teams like Illinois.
•Villanova at Texas, Saturday on Ch. 5. The third-ranked Wildcats suffered their first loss of the season last week to West Virginia but didn’t fall far in the rankings thanks to earlier wins over Oklahoma and Louisville. The eighth-ranked Longhorns couldn’t handle Duke’s speed in a hyped 1 vs. 2 matchup in December. Can the bigger Longhorns maintain pace with the guard-heavy Wildcats on Saturday?