Undefeated No.2-ranked Baylor men’s basketball team return to action after Covid-related 3-week hiatus
On February 2, the Baylor University men’s basketball team traveled to Austin to play at the University of Texas in the first meeting of the top 10 teams in the state since the launch of the Associated poll Press during the 1948-1949 season. The No.2 Bears showed themselves to be the best team in Texas and the Big 12 conference, claiming an 83-69 victory over No.6 Longhorns. Baylor improved to 17-0, tying the 2011-12 team for the best start in program history.
Three weeks later, Baylor is still grappling with the same record, with the Bears having their last six games postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. But Tuesday night, Baylor will finally return to the court when it hosts Iowa State (2-16, 0-13 in the Big 12) at the Ferrell Center.
“Seeing everyone playing, I kind of feel like I’ve missed something,” Baylor junior goaltender Jared Butler, who averages a team-high 17 points per game with 5.2 assists and 3.3 rebounds, Told journalists Monday. “What do you call it when your parents punish you and you can’t go out and play with your friends?” This is what it does. “
Still, Baylor’s long absence linked to Covid is not an anomaly when it comes to this season’s top teams.
No.1 Gonzaga (22-0) had five games canceled in December and three this month; The Michigan No.3 (16-1) postponed seven games, including five consecutive from Jan. 27 to Feb. 11; Illinois No. 5 (16-5) postponed three Big Ten games; No.8 Villanova (14-3) postponed nine Big East games; and the Florida State No.11 (13-3) postponed five ACC games.
Many games between the major programs have been canceled or postponed, including a scheduled game between No.1 Gonzaga and No.2 Baylor on December 5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. This match was postponed just before the report when two members of Gonzaga’s travel party tested positive for the coronavirus. The teams tried to reschedule the game, but they were unable to make it work.
Despite all the adjustments and starts this season, Gonzaga and Baylor have clearly been the best teams in the country by far. They were first and second in the AP poll since preseason.
Gonzaga sits first in analyst Ken Pomeroy’s standings with an adjusted efficiency margin of 38.38, while Baylor is second at 34.86, well ahead of No.3 Michigan (30.58). If the season ended today, Gonzaga would have the highest odds and Baylor would have the third highest odds since Pomeroy began ranking in 2002. The 2015 Kentucky squad, who have won their first 38 games before losing to Wisconsin in the Final Four, has the highest end-of-season adjusted efficiency margin (36.91).
Gonzaga and Baylor are also well balanced. The Bulldogs are second in Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency measure and fourth in their adjusted defensive efficiency measure, while the Bears are fourth and fifth, respectively.
How rare is this? Only 11 teams finished the season in the top five for Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and efficiency: 2002 Duke (lost in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament); 2003 Kentucky (lost in Elite 8); 2004 Duke (lost in the Final Four); 2005 Illinois (lost in the national title game); 2005 North Carolina (won the national championship); 2007 North Carolina (lost in Elite 8); 2008 Kansas (national title won); 2010 Duke (national title won); 2015 Kentucky (lost in the Final Four); 2016 Villanova (won the national title); and 2019 Virginia (national title).
Based on those performances, there’s a good chance Gonzaga and Baylor will each race deep into the NCAA tournament, which this year will have all 67 games in Indiana to cut down on travel. They are currently first and second in the NET rankings that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses to determine the rankings, so they could be nominated to meet in the national title game on April 5.
This game would take place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the same city the Bulldogs and Bears were supposed to meet in December. Still, that’s not sure, as there are always upheavals in the single elimination event. And this year, the pandemic makes it even more difficult to predict which teams will play in the Final Four, as some teams could be ruled ineligible based on positive tests.
Regardless, Gonzaga and Baylor have each had notable seasons so far and will be big favorites to win the title. They all hope to become the first team since the 1976 Indiana team to end the season unbeaten, a feat that would cement them as an all-time greats.