The 2011-12 Baylor basketball season was the best in program history. With a final record of 30-8 (the first 30 win team in Baylor history), an Elite Eight appearance and having garnered multiple awards, the Bears proved that they are among the best in the nation.
However, what the record does not show is that this year was an up and down ride for the Bears, and those 30 wins did not come easy.
After picking up highly touted recruit Quincy Miller, Junior College Player of the Year Pierre Jackson and finally gaining eligibility for Boston College transfer Brady Heslip, Baylor was ready to forget the previous year's disappointments. In the 2010-11 season, Baylor finished with an 18-13 record after a second half skid and was invited to neither the NCAA nor the NIT tournaments.
This season, the Bears started on a 17-0 run—the best in program history—with two exciting finishes versus BYU and West Virginia. Against BYU, Jackson made his statement as one of the most athletic players in the nation when the 5’10’’ point guard swatted away 6’9’’ Brandon Davies last second shot.
Baylor's hot start came despite the absence of star forward Perry Jones III. Minutes before the start of the 2010-11 Big 12 tournament, Jones was informed that he would not be allowed to play and would be suspended five games if he returned to school due to his family receiving impermissible benefits. Jones shocked the college basketball world when he decided to come back to Baylor and sit out the beginning of the season.
Jones started the season strong, posting double-digit point totals in four of his first six games. However before long, Jones' game became the subject of national criticism. Standing at 6’11’’, Jones III has always been lauded for his length and athleticism. He is a fantastic shooter that can make any play at any time.
Even so, sports analysts began to criticize Jones III for what they called inconsistent play. His aggression and attitude were questioned, all the while with Jones III still managing to average around 14 points and 8 rebounds per game.
Still, head coach Scott Drew and company moved on. A couple games into the conference schedule, Pierre Jackson finally proved himself, beating out defensive-minded starting point guard A.J. Walton to secure the starting job. As a result, Baylor became not only a dangerously talented team in the frontcourt, but a pure shooting team as well.
The Bears were riding high until January 16 when they traveled to Allen Fieldhouse, perhaps the most difficult arena for visitors in college basketball, to face the Kansas Jayhawks. The eventual NCAA runner-ups tore Baylor apart, never allowing the Bears to get in the game.
Five days later, Missouri would do the same, dominating Baylor from the start.
These two games, which knocked Baylor from the ranks of the undefeated, brought about some questions about the Bears’ talent and toughness. Losing to two top 10 teams in a row caused some to question whether or not Baylor was truly elite.
By the end of the season, Missouri and Kansas would complete the season sweep of Baylor, with Kansas State and Iowa State splitting the two games.
Sitting at fourth place in the Big 12, Baylor entered the conference tournament with at least one bright spot: new uniforms.
Nicknamed “electricity” and “blackout,” Baylor was one of three schools that Adidas presented with tournament clothing.
Donning the new threads, the Bears shocked the Big 12 and cruised to the championship game where they would eventually lose to Missouri.
On Selection Sunday it was announced that Baylor earned a No. 3 seed in the South region in the NCAA tournament. In the first game against South Dakota State, the neon uniforms received more attention than the Bears’ performance.
Nonetheless, the electricity continued into the next two games, with Brady Heslip sinking nine three-pointers against Colorado and Quincy Acy pounding his way in the frontcourt.
All that stood in the way of the program’s best tournament performance ever were the Kentucky Wildcats. The No. 1 seed Wildcats were heavily favored to beat the Bears in the Elite Eight and they did not disappoint. The Bears only led the game once in the first two minutes before Kentucky regrouped and proved why it was the best team in the country.
The Bears may not have set any records in the NCAA tournament, but they did make the Elite Eight for the second time in three years. That fact combined with the first 30-win team in program history is something that coach Drew and the Bears should hang their hats on.
Perry Jones III recently announced his decision to forgo his last two years of eligibility and enter the NBA draft. Baylor is still awaiting word on freshman Quincy Miller’s decision. However, one thing is for certain: Baylor has established itself as one of the top programs in the nation this year.
Going into the offseason, Baylor boasts the fourth best recruiting class according to ESPN. These are exciting times for Baylor athletics, and the men’s basketball program is not going anywhere any time soon.