Baylor completed a historic and meteoric climb in men’s basketball Monday, ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time.
The euphoria may be short-lived. The Bears are 5½-point underdogs at 10th-ranked West Virginia Tuesday night.
“That’s the sobering part,” coach Scott Drew said with a chuckle. “Your reward for being No. 1 is a trip to West Virginia.”
Not that he’s complaining. The coach said there was tangible excitement on campus two days after the Bears drew a home record crowd of 10,627, about 400 above capacity, for a 61-57 win over Oklahoma State.
After that game, a long-time Baylor fan choked up when he spoke to Drew and siad, “I thought we could go to a Final Four, but I never thought I’d see the day when Baylor was ranked No. 1.”
The Bears rise in the polls is unprecedented. They became the first team ever to receive no points in the AP preseason poll and ascend to No. 1. Syracuse (2009-10) is the only other team to be unranked in preseason and reach the top.
The Big 12 is one-two in the polls as Kansas took the No. 2 spot, while defending national champ Villanova dropped from first to third after losing at Butler. Last year the Big 12 also held the top two places for several weeks with KU and Oklahoma.
Baylor is the first team from Texas to grab numero uno since the Longhorns reached No. 1 in January 2010. The Bears are the 58th program to ascend to the top of the AP poll and fourth from the Big 12 in the last decade.
Drew took over a ravaged Baylor program in 2003. Under the previous regime, a player was murdered by a teammate and a former coach tried to cover up NCAA violations. The Bears were slapped with major sanctions.
Gradually Drew built up the program into a steady NCAA Tournament participant, landing six bids in the past nine seasons, twice reaching the Elite Eight and winning the NIT in 2013.
Now, behind standout players like power forward Johnathan Motley and point guard Manu Lecomte, the Bears are at the top, at least temporarily.
“Everyone has goals and dreams, but few have the reality to see them achieved,” Drew said. “When we were scouring the campus to fill out half the team with walk-ons, we dreamed of one day having a chance to be ranked No. 1, to win a national championship, go to a Final Four. Every step that we’ve achieved has laid the foundation for the next step.”
Still, he realizes the season is only halfway done.
“It’s great to see the excitement around campus and within the program,” Drew said. “We’ve come so far, and it’s nice to take a moment to reflect on this honor. But no one remembers who’s ranked No. 1 in January. We have end-of-the-season goals.”