Baylor isn’t exactly a storied basketball program. Well, not for the reasons you want to be, anyway.
The Bears had a short spurt of success during World War II. They made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 1946, reached national title game in 1948, and the Final Four in 1950. But then the success stopped. The Bears didn’t make the NCAA Tournament again until 1988... And then failed to do so after that until 20 years later, in 2008.
Oh, and there’s that small detail of the controversies surrounding the program in the early 2000s. If you want to read more about that, I suggest this piece recapping some of the facts and the Showtime documentary on the Baylor scandal called “Disgraced.”
Long story short, it’s been a long road for Baylor basketball and its fans to earn their first National Championship.
Missouri football hasn’t struggled in its history the way Baylor did. The Tigers enjoyed some real success in the 1940s, ‘60s and ‘70s. The program went through a long dry spell until Gary Pinkel arrived in 2000.
But similarities do exist between the two programs, especially over the last 10-15 years.
Baylor basketball was a “new school program” in a blue blood game. There were legitimate questions as to whether or not Scott Drew would ever be able to break through his glass ceiling at Baylor. His teams were ranked in the top 25 in 13 of the last 14 seasons. His teams made the NCAA Tournament in nine of those 14 seasons.
But they could never seem to break through. The Elite 8 was as close as they came to their ultimate goal. Until this year, of course.
Mizzou football is trying to do the same under Eli Drinkwitz. The Tigers have found some level success, especially under Pinkel. But the Tigers always seemed to hit a glass ceiling of reaching the conference championship game, and falling a bit short against the elite of the elite.
How did Baylor get here? And how can other programs follow suit?
Recruiting, recruiting and more recruiting.
Over the last decade, Baylor convinced four 5-stars and 18 4-stars to come play in Waco. Drew has also embraced the transfer portal as a way to supplement his roster with talent from other programs. Have there been ups and downs as a result of that formula? Sure. There have been frustrating moments for Baylor fans over the years in which they question if Drew is a good coach or a pure salesman.
In the end, Drew got the last laugh.
The Tigers are on the upward trajectory. Drinkwitz is recruiting at a level we’ve never seen as Mizzou fans. College football isn’t a one-for-one comparison with college basketball because the tournament is such a different beast.
But in a sport dominated by the same 5-10 teams year after year after year, it’s refreshing to see someone new break through. Baylor did it in basketball. It’s going to be really difficult for Mizzou to follow that same path in football... But it’s been done before, and it can be done again.
At least fo the here and now, I’m going to choose to allow myself to dream. The 2021 Baylor Bears basketball team made that dream feel a little more possible.