No. 9 Baylor can't look past Sam Houston State

WACO, Texas — The Baylor Bears grabbed the attention of the college basketball nation last week by winning the Battle 4 Atlantis and now the Sam Houston State Bearkats will be the first team to take a shot at the No. 9 Bears.

By defeating VCU, Michigan State and Louisville in succession in Nassau, Bahamas, Baylor ascended 11 spots in this week's Associated Press poll. The Bears also debuted at No. 11 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

Baylor (6-0) definitely felt slighted when they didn't receive votes in the AP rankings to start the season. Although the Bears have now defeated three ranked opponents — then-No. 4 Oregon, then-No. 24 Michigan State and then-No. 10 Louisville — they intend to keep playing with an edge.

“It's nice to be awarded with recognition and all that but we're still the same team that no one wanted to give votes to in the beginning of the year,” Baylor reserve guard Jake Lindsey said. “That's the mindset we keep.”

But for Sam Houston State, Baylor is still an in-state opponent from a power 5 conference no matter what the Bears' place in national polls. And the Bearkats have a promising history in Waco since they defeated Baylor on its home floor in 1995 and 1999.

Sam Houston State's last appearance in the NCAA Tournament ended in the first round with a 68-59 loss to third-seeded Baylor. The Bearkats have a chance to build a postseason resume when they face Baylor at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Ferrell Center.

Baylor coach Scott Drew doesn't have to wonder about Sam Houston State's motivation.

“Our guys should be able to know and realize just how tough a game it's going to be,” Drew said. “Even if we play outside the power 5 conferences, we play teams with great tradition that expect to win and are used to winning.”

The Bearkats (4-2) are led by guard John Dewey III with 13 points per game, but they spread the offense around as eight players average 5.7 points or more.

Defensively, Sam Houston State enters the game forcing opponents into 17.5 turnovers per game.

“It's a team that has a lot of depth,” Drew said. “They like playing a lot of guys. They like to pressure you. They like to get out and cause turnovers, basically make you rush into things you might not want to do.”

Baylor began to establish its offensive identity in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Forward Johnathan Motley averaged 20 points on his way to earning tournament MVP. In the Bears' 66-63 tournament-final victory over Louisville, Baylor reserve guard King McClure scored 15 points in a pivotal effort to help Baylor erase a 22-point Cardinal lead.

But whether it's McClure, Lindsey, Al Freeman or Manu Lecomte, the Bears' formula appears to be working inside out with Motley in the center and a barrage of guards firing from the outside.

Perhaps Baylor went unnoticed when the season started because of its lack of star power in the backcourt. And maybe that's the biggest change through six games for the Bears.

“Definitely we got out to a start that's better than expected by most people's standards,” Drew said. “That's a tribute to the guys being all about the team.”