The Baylor men's basketball team has never been ranked No. 1 in the nation, but that should change in the new polls if the Bears can get past unranked Oklahoma State in Big 12 action Saturday night in Waco.
When Coach Scott Drew took over at Baylor before the 2003-04 season, perhaps no Power 5 program was a bigger mess. After all, one Baylor player had murdered another and then-coach Dave Bliss covered it all up. That led to strong NCAA violations. Drew left Valparaiso to clean things up, and he surely has. It took a while, as Baylor won just 21 games combined his first three seasons. The turnaround really kicked in for the 2007-08 season when Baylor won 24 games and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1988.
Since then, Baylor has been a pretty strong program. Last year it won 22 games and reached the Big Dance for a third straight season. However, the Bears lost three starters off that team and they not only weren't ranked in either preseason Top 25 but didn't even get a single vote.
Yet here we are on Saturday with Baylor poised to move to No. 1 for the first time by beating the Cowboys -- and thanks to Butler upsetting current No. 1 Villanova on Wednesday. That said, the Bears are fortunate to still be one of two unbeatens in the nation (Gonzaga). They were nearly upset at home Wednesday by Iowa State. Manu Lecomte hit a short jumper with 8.6 seconds left to beat the Cyclones 65-63. ISU led 61-55 but didn't score for the final 2:20, also missing a last-second shot.
Baylor's 14-0 start is the second-best start in program history, trailing only the 17-0 start in 2011-12. It also has terrific non-conference wins over Louisville, Xavier, Oregon, Michigan State and VCU. Baylor's star is junior forward Johnathan Motley, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds against Iowa State for his third straight double-double. He is fourth in the Big 12 in scoring (16.0 ppg) and second in rebounding (9.3 rpg). Meanwhile, Aussie 7-footer Jo Luacl-Acuil Jr. has made a huge impact in his first season, averaging 11.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and a Big 12-best 3.6 blocks per game.
The Bears are double-digit favorites Saturday on NCAA basketball picks. Oklahoma State (10-4) has started Big 12 play 0-2, losing at home to West Virginia and then 82-79 at Texas on Wednesday. It's the first time OSU has started 0-2 in conference play since 1996-97. The Pokes are 0-2 vs. ranked teams as well this year, losing by a combined 49 points. Cowboys guard Lindy Waters III missed the Texas game with a neck injury and his status for this one is TBA. The freshman averages 21.2 minutes and 7.2 points per game.
Even if Baylor beats OSU as expected, the No. 1 ranking might not last long as the Bears go to No. 7 West Virginia on Tuesday. BU isn't getting a lot of love to win the national championship yet, currently priced at +2200 at BetOnline's NCAA basketball odds.
The Bears took both meetings against the Cowboys last season and have won nine of the last 10 meetings at home. OSU has nine wins all-time over teams ranked inside the top two of the Associated Press poll.