Editor's Note: In the buildup to Midnight Madness, we are taking an in-depth look at Joe Lunardi's top-five seeds in a series called Countdown To Madness. In addition to the Insider pieces, Eamonn Brennan will offer Three Big Things about each team and we'll have Five Questions with a player or coach from each squad.
Less than 10 years after narrowly escaping the NCAA death penalty, the Baylor Bears won a school-record 30 games in 2011-12 and reached the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons. No one can question that the turnaround that has occurred in Waco is one of the greatest in college basketball history.
And most of it can be credited to coach Scott Drew, whose team probably will be picked to finish between second and fourth in this year’s Big 12 race. The Bears lost Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller to the NBA draft, but thanks to the addition of 7-foot center and future lottery pick Isaiah Austin and highly ranked forward Ricardo Gathers, Baylor may not miss a beat this season.
We recently caught up with Drew as he was walking through an airport following a long day of recruiting.
What’s the next step for this program?
Scott Drew: We’ve finished second in the Big 12 and we’ve finished second in the Big 12 tournament, and we’ve gone to two Elite Eights in the last three years. The next step would be to win a conference championship or a conference tournament championship or to go to a Final Four and win a national championship. That’s the great thing -- there are still some things we haven’t accomplished. That should excite any player.
Kansas has won eight straight Big 12 titles. What’s it going to take for someone to finally unseat the Jayhawks?
SD: Coach [Bill] Self does a great job every year of preparing his guys to the point where they don’t beat themselves. If someone is going to win the title, they just flat-out have to beat them, they have to be better on that night. Some teams have bouts of inconsistency, some teams give away games. Those things never happen with Kansas. They’re also outstanding on the defensive and offensive end and in rebounding.
What player is going to surprise fans the most this year?
SD: Definitely [forward] Cory Jefferson. He played behind three NBA players last season in Perry Jones, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller. But when he played, he played well. He put in his time learning from those guys and they did a good job of molding him. He has a knack for scoring and he rebounds well. He’s athletic. He’s a good player.
Point guard Pierre Jackson is receiving a lot of preseason hype. What is it about Jackson’s makeup that makes you think he can handle the pressure?
SD: He’s a senior so he has experience. He’s a winner. He won a championship in junior college. He took us to the Elite Eight last year, so he’s proven he can make plays under pressure. We’ve seen growth in his leadership and in his skill development. He’s become a lot more solid with the ball in his hands.
How do you replace a guy like forward and team leader Quincy Acy?
SD: Experience is something you can’t teach and leadership is something you can’t measure or predict until a season begins. Quincy Acy left Baylor as one of the school’s greatest leaders of all time and, being a four-year guy, his experience was invaluable. He knew what it took to win and he knew how hard he had to compete. Every day, he tried to help prepare the team as well as he could. Sometimes upperclassmen are able to will their team to victory, and he was able to do that a couple of times. He’s impossible to replace.