Baylor began the season unranked -- so unranked, in fact, that the collective wisdom of the Associated Press preseason poll didn't spare Baylor a single solitary vote. Yet the Bears thrived, far beyond anyone else's expectations, and maybe even their own.
The Bears pummeled a then-top-five-ranked Oregon team in the first week of the season. They handled VCU and Michigan State. They trailed by 20 to a very good Louisville team, the type of team that doesn't surrender leads, but they made the Cardinals surrender theirs, and came back and won. They beat Xavier by 15 a week later.
By Monday, the Bears were 15-0, one of the last two unbeaten teams in the country, toting perhaps the nation's best collection of wins. A couple of months after a no-show, the AP poll voters were once again in agreement: The Bears were -- for the first time in program history -- the No. 1 team in college basketball.
And then they went to West Virginia.
So much for just desserts: Baylor's reward for the 2016-17 season's most surprising start, for the symbolic importance of the program's first-ever top AP ranking, was a trip to Morgantown, West Virginia, which is challenging enough, especially these past few years. Coach Bob Huggins has turned the Mountaineers into Press Virginia, one of the sport's most reliable defensive behemoths.
But Tuesday's trip -- and Baylor's 89-68 loss that resulted, the worst by a No. 1 debutant in the history of the AP poll -- was almost cosmically unfortunate. Because this Press Virginia? This is the best one yet.
True story: West Virginia arrived at WVU Coliseum having forced its first 15 opponents into turnovers on 32.8 percent of possible possessions. That number was on pace to be the highest in KenPom.com's database, which dates to the 2001-02 season. The previous record in that span? Alabama A&M's 2001-02 campaign, in fact, when the Bulldogs turned opponents over at a 30.7 percent clip. That was the last time a team broke the 30 percent turnover rate barrier.
Then Tuesday night happened. Forty minutes of basketball later, West Virginia's record-in-progress had climbed even further, into unthinkable territory: 33.1 percent.
How? Because Baylor committed (or, more accurately, was forced to commit) 29 turnovers in 79 trips down the floor. Yes, you read that right: 29. The Mountaineers were especially merciless early in the game, when Baylor coughed it up 15 times in the first 13 minutes. But even late in the second half, when the game had gotten out of reach, Jevon Carter and Tarik Phillip and the other Mountaineers were still diving into passing lanes and harassing ball handlers, as if there was no other way to exist on a basketball court. Baylor didn't shoot well, particularly from 3, but their 44.6 percent night overall was hardly blown away by WVU's 47.8 percent shooting. The difference is simple math. Both teams took 23 free throws. Baylor attempted 56 field goals. West Virginia took 69. Baylor scored six points off turnovers. West Virginia scored 29.
If this sounds similar to Huggins' recent teams, well, it is. After successive disappointing seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14, Huggins looked at his roster and consulted with his old-school basketball buddies and decided he was going to turn his team -- previously known for a bruising, methodical style -- into an all-press, all-the-time team. Ever since, the Mountaineers have ranked among the nation's best teams in forcing turnovers, and have contended for Big 12 titles every year since.
You know this story already. You are familiar with the broad strokes. Which is why it would be easy to look at the 2016-17 Mountaineers and say, hey, sure, they force turnovers. Big deal.
But as Baylor found out Tuesday night, when it became the 13th of WVU's 16 opponents to post its season high in turnovers, this Mountaineers team is ... different. Or, if not entirely different, then just plain better. No one has forced turnovers like this, at this level, for at least 15 years, and probably much longer. Perhaps that will change as Big 12 play progresses and offenses adapt and adjust.
For now, though? Huggins' team chews up opposing offenses.
Unfortunately for Baylor, a celebration of an amazing, unexpected start -- one that led to a program milestone Bears fans were right to enjoy -- came one day before their meeting with said chewing. The rest of the Big 12 has been warned.