When the fifth-ranked Missouri Tigers roll into the Ferrell Center this afternoon, it will be the first time the third-ranked Baylor Bears will have faced off against a fellow top-five opponent, and the second time they have faced a top-10 opponent while ranked that high. The first came on Jan. 16, when the Bears lost to Kansas 92-74. This will also mark the first time a top-five matchup in the Big 12 will not feature either Kansas or Texas. For such a hyped and historical matchup, it only makes sense to give a little history of one of the schools participating in the matchup.
Baylor University was founded in 1845 in Independence, TX. It was created when the Texas Baptist Education Society got the Republic of Texas to charter a Baptist University in Texas. Reverend William Milton Tryon and Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, for whom the school is named, were the driving forces behind the establishment of the school. The school was split into a men’s and women’s college in 1851, and prospered as the only school west of the Mississippi to offer law, mathematics, and medicine programs. Baylor struggled to maintain this prosperity during the Civil War, as many students from the men’s college went off to fight in the war.
After the war, the city of Independence began to decline due to the growth of neighboring cities connected to the Santa Fe Railroad, which Independence was not part of. In 1885, Baylor moved to Waco, TX, where it remains today. The Baylor Female College also moved to Belton, TX, where it later became known as the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Baylor began admitting women again in 1887. Baylor added a medical school in 1903, though it was based in Dallas rather than Waco. The city of Dallas wanted to expand the school in 1943, but only if it surrendered its Baptist affiliation. Baylor refused, and moved the medical school to Houston.
Baylor continued its growth as a private Baptist school, and has always been very open to change. The founder’s original mission states that Baylor should be “fully susceptible of enlargement and development to meet the needs of all ages to come.” Today Baylor’s 14,900 students can choose from 151 different degrees divided amongst 11 different schools, including the College of Arts and Sciences and the Hankamer School of Business. Baylor was ranked 75th in 2011’s U.S. News and World Report rankings, and claims to be “big enough to meet many needs”, but also “small enough to minister to and offer educational opportunities to the individual,” according to baylor.edu.
The Baylor Bears compete in the Big 12 Conference, and are the only private school to do so (TCU will add a second private school when they join the conference in 2012). Baylor’s athletic program doesn’t have the most storied history out of the Big 12 schools, but it does lay claim to two national titles (men’s tennis 2004, women’s basketball 2005), and 69 conference titles in the 16 varsity sports offered by the University. Although the past hasn’t been great, the present sure is treating the Bears nicely. Their football team enjoyed one of the best seasons in Baylor history, finishing 10-3, the men’s basketball team is currently ranked third and was undefeated before Jan. 16, and the women’s basketball team is currently ranked first and is undefeated. Led by 6’8” Britney Griner, the Lady Bears have been ranked first all season, and are the early favorites for a deep run into the NCAA Tournament.
The football team was led by another remarkable star, junior quarterback Robert Griffin III. Griffin amassed almost 4,000 yards passing, 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions, along with 644 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. That effort rewarded Griffin with the Heisman Trophy, the first in Baylor history. Baylor was involved in a handful of classic games this season, including a wild 50-48 victory over TCU in the season opener, and dramatic 45-38 victory over Oklahoma, the first win over OU in Baylor history. They also won the Valero Alamo Bowl in a way Baylor fans had grown accustomed to seeing: through a high-powered offense. The Bears beat the Washington Huskies 67-56 in a game that set several bowl records, including most combined points (123), combined yards (1,397) and total touchdowns (17).
Baylor’s mens basketball team has had to endure some hardships to get to its peak today. This dates all the way back to 1927, when ten Baylor students and basketball players were killed when a train collided with the bus they were traveling on. The victims of the accident have become to be known as the Immortal Ten, and have been commemorated each year since the tragedy in Chapel services during Homecoming week.
Bad times for the basketball program continued in 2003, when junior forward Patrick Dennehy was murdered by his former Baylor teammate Carlton Dotson during an argument. If the tragedy wasn’t enough, several NCAA violations arose from investigations following the Dennehy situation, including recruiting violations, drug use, and improper benefits that involved head coach Dave Bliss paying a player’s tuition, while the player and his family thought he was on scholarship. The penalties from these violations included probation through 2010, scholarship reductions, and the cancellation of the 2005-06 season’s nonconference schedule. Coach Bliss was forced to resign and was given a 10 year show-cause penalty. The penalties crippled the Baylor program, who would not have another winning season until 2008.
The Bears have been revived by coach Scott Drew, who has led them back into the national picture. They reached the Elite Eight, and came within seven points of advancing to their first Final Four since 1950 in 2009-10. After a disappointing 18-13 season in 2010-11, highlighted by guard Lacedarius Dunn becoming the Big 12’s all time leading scorer, the Bears have gotten off to the best start in school history, winning their first 17 games in 2011-12. This year’s Bears are led by star sophomore forward Perry Jones III, who leads a talented backcourt with 14.2 PPG and 7.5 RPG. Baylor is one of the deepest teams in the country, with five players that have double figure scoring averages, and six players that average over 20 minutes of playing time per game. Jones’ partners on the interior, senior forward Quincy Acy (12.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG) and freshman forward Quincy Miller (12.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG), have the size and length to beat any team on the glass, with Jones standing at 6’11”, Miller at 6’9”, and Acy at 6’7”.
That kind of size is exactly what Missouri fans have feared all season. It has been well-documented that Missouri has only one starter over 6’6”, but they have not struggled on the boards as much as you would think. They have outrebounded 11 of their opponents, though none have been as large as Baylor.
There are a handful of key matchups in this game, the most obvious being in the paint. Mizzou’s senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe (13.9 PPG, 6.7 RPG) is shooting an absurd 77.1% from the floor, but will have to stay out of foul trouble in order to manage Baylor’s trio of talented forwards, as well as produce offensively. There is another exciting matchup at the point guard spot between Mizzou’s talented sophomore Phil Pressey (9.7 PPG, 5.9 APG) and Baylor’s junior guard Pierre Jackson (12.2 PPG, 5.4 APG). They are two of the fastest guards in the country, and while Jackson is better offensively than Pressey, Pressey controls the ball better and is more of a pass-first guard. Pressey leads Big 12 point guards in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.8. Jackson, meanwhile, averages 3.6 turnovers per game, and struggled against the pressure of Kansas’ defense in their matchup on Jan. 16. Finally, there are three sharpshooters on the wing that need to be accounted for at all time. Baylor’s sophomore guard Brady Heslip (10.1 PPG) has made 51 three pointers this season, and is shooting 47% from beyond the arc. Mizzou seniors Marcus Denmon (17.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and Kim English (14.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG) lead the nation’s most efficient offense, and English is hitting 51.8% of his threes.
With all that being said, this will be Missouri’s most difficult matchup of the season. They have had their struggles on the road, losing eight of its past 11, and Baylor’s home court won’t get any more forgiving. For the first time in Baylor history, they have sold out a basketball game in advance, and the crowd figures to be raucous throughout the game. Baylor is coming off a demoralizing defeat, their first of the season, so Missouri will have to do a lot of things right to make it two in a row for the bears. It will be crucial for Ratliffe to remain in the game and prevent the Baylor frontcourt from overwhelming the Tigers inside. Jackson can be shaken at point guard, so pressure from Phil Pressey and the rest of the Tigers can turn the Bears over and neutralize Baylor’s inside advantage with strong guard play. If Mizzou can limit damage inside, control the tempo of the game, and run their offense efficiently, they may be able to walk out of Waco victorious.