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NCAAB Team Profiles: Baylor Bears
As part of the Big 12 Conference, the Baylor Bears represent Baylor University at Waco, Texas. As part of Division I of the NCAA, they field the youngest athletes in the local area and beyond, with many of them hoping to pursue a career in professional basketball.
Today we’re learning the history of the Bears, who are the current reigning champs of the NCAA Tournament. With March Madness here, that may change soon, so take a look at the March Madness odds while you still can.
The basketball program at Baylor started in the early 1900s thanks to Luther Burleson. Burleson coached in both football and basketball, where he quickly led them to success against their same-town rival, the TCU Horned Frogs.
In the early days, the Bears had their best coach. That’d be Ralph Glaze, who recorded a 78% winning percentage between 1911 and 1914.
The first long-term coach was another Ralph, however, Ralph Wolf. Starting in 1927, he helped Baylor secure the program’s first Southwest Conference championship appearance in the 1932 season.
The Immortal Ten Tragedy
Tragedy struck early for the Baylor Bears in 1927. With Wolf settling in as coach and preparing to face the Texas Longhorns, their bus crossed a railway track under foggy conditions. An oncoming train collided with the bus, killing ten promising Baylor athletes.
The lost students were Jack Castellaw, Merle Dudley, Sam Dillow, L.R. Foster Jr., Robert Hailey, Willis Murray, James Walker, William Winchester, Robert L. Hannah, and James Clyde Kelley.
The tragedy had a great impact on the nation at the time and caused widespread changes to how public transport interacted with railway lines. It is still memorialized nearly one hundred years later and a bronze statue stands at Baylor today.
The First NCAA Tournament
After winning the 1932 season of the now-defunct Southwest Conference, they made it to the NCAA Tournament in 1946. Then, in ’48, ’49, and 1950, they won the Southwest Conferences again, though those last two titles were shared. They also made the Final Four in ’48 and 1950.
This new Bears success was achieved thanks to the leadership of Bill Henderson. They played the Kentucky Wildcats in 1948 but, even back then, they were dominant.
Another Bill stepped up to the box in the ‘60s – Bill Menefee. He helped the Bears rank at a national level in 1969 but missed out on the postseason. Unfortunately, decades passed with no notable achievements by the team.
The next highlight would be 1988, where new coach Gene Iba led the Bears to the NCAA Tournament. This was their first appearance in nearly 40 years, where they were stopped by the Memphis Tigers in the first round.
Return Of The Bears
The story of the Baylor Bears is a tale of two halves – a meandering history and an exciting present. Over the past decade, it’s apparent that the Bears are resurging and becoming more of a competitor in the NCAA’s Division I.
After the Baylor Bears scandal in 2003, where a basketball student was killed and the investigation unearthed drug use by athletes at the campus, it was time for the Bears to return to form. From 2003 to 2007, they won less than 40 games.
Then came the new coach, Scott Drew. He was the weapon that the Bears needed to become respectable again, worthy of their storied and sometimes tragic history. The Bears reached the NCAA Tournament in 2008, their first appearance in 20 years.
In the 2008-09 season, they hit the NIT Final but were stopped by the Penn State Nittany Lions. They became the Big 12 best with an 11-5 record and a #3 seed in their tournament. They had meandered in 2008-09, so they were underestimated when 2010 rolled around. Going for 23-6, secured their place at the NCAA tournament. Under Drew’s tutelage, the Bears made their highest rank in program history.
In 2011 and ’12, the Bears made historic runs on the Big 12 Conference, winning 30 games in that last year. Likewise, their 2013 season saw them crush the TCU Horned Frogs and the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Things took a turn for the better in 2016-17, which is where the new Baylor team made 15 wins and just zero losses. In AP polling, the Bears became #1 for the first time.
Lastly, the 2019-20 season was the best that the Bears have ever played. They finished the season with 26 wins to 4 deaths in the regular season and 15 to 3 for conference games. Unfortunately, just as they were hitting their stride, the pandemic started.
That brings us to now, where Baylor is the reigning champion after beating the Gonzaga Bulldogs to win their first title in the school’s history. What’s even more impressive is that the Bulldogs were on a perfect season before the Bears came to play.
That’s the story of the Baylor Bears… or at least the parts that are worth remembering. Now that they have their claws on an NCAA title, only time will tell if they’ll be able to keep it as March Madness kicks off.