When undefeated Baylor went on the road and defeated 18th-ranked Kansas State 75-73 on Tuesday night, it sparked an interesting debate.
Do the Bears deserve to be considered a Final Four favorite in the same class as Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse and Ohio State?
Pierre Jackson (AP)In an effort to measure how Baylor stacks up with those four teams, I put together the above chart that provides a side-by-side comparison. What the stats suggest is the Bears are a tick less effective offensively than their peers, but they're every bit as formidable on defense and they have the best set of marquee wins of the group.
Whereas the most noteworthy road win Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse or Ohio State have achieved is the Orange's victory at middling N.C. State, Baylor has now won at Kansas State and at BYU. In addition, the Bears have also defeated Mississippi State, West Virginia, San Diego State and Saint Mary's, four teams with a very good chance to make the NCAA tournament.
The hesitation to believe in Baylor is understandable considering how badly the Bears underachieved last season. They rose as high as No. 9 in the nation yet somehow missed the NCAA tournament, crumbling amid a hail of forced shots, turnovers and lackadaisical defensive possessions.
Questions about Baylor's point guard play and toughness were prevalent before the season, but the Bears are beginning to answer those. The addition of junior college star Pierre Jackson has solidified the point guard position. And while Perry Jones III and the rest of the talented Baylor front line could stand to be more aggressive and physical, no team can lack mental toughness and win back-and-forth games at two venues like Bramlage Coliseum and the Marriott Center.
It remains to be seen whether Baylor can continue its strong play and make a run at its first Final Four since 1950. Based on the Bears' accomplishments so far, however, they deserve to be in the conversation.
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