Now that Baylor has joined Kansas as Big 12 Conference men’s basketball national champions, a question: Who’s better? The current Bears or the 2008 Jayhawks?
It’s reeeally close.
The knee-jerk after watching Baylor dismantle both Gonzaga and Houston in the Final Four: Gotta be the Bears.
They are a supreme team, no question. They have unfairly good guard play. They shoot the 3 with absurd accuracy. They defend the perimeter and the paint ferociously. They have depth.
Baylor’s bench is why I picked the Bears in my original NCAA bracket.
I figured their 8-contributor rotation would help them overcome unforeseen single-game issues like foul trouble or abnormal shooting. Then when we reached the inevitable Baylor-Gonzaga title bout, the Bears would wear down the Gags with that rotation and gradually pull away after 35 even minutes.
I got that part disastrously wrong. It took the Bears more like 35 seconds to impose their superiority on the Undefeateds.
Kansas needed a late rally to take Memphis to overtime in the ’08 championship. So yes, Baylor was more dominant in winning but that was a fantastic Memphis team. Also, KU raced to a 40-12 lead on North Carolina in the semifinals.
The Bears and Jayhawks both peaked at the optimal time.
It really comes down to hair-splitting.
Kansas didn’t have the 2008 Big 12 Player of the Year like Baylor does now in Jared Butler. K-State freshman Michael Beasley won that award in ’08. Butler shares it with OSU’s Cade Cunningham today.
Kansas didn’t have the 2008 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year like Baylor does now in Davion Mitchell. OSU’s Marcus Dove won that award in ’08.
Kansas didn’t have the 2008 Big 12 Coach of the Year like Baylor does now in Scott Drew. Texas’ Rick Barnes topped Bill Self for that ’08 trophy.
Self can coach a little, though. Hall of Famers typically can. So can Drew. He is 17-8 in the NCAA Tournament. That’s nuts.
Self didn’t have a Player of the Year in ’08 but he had players. Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur were First Team All-Big 12. Sherron Collins was Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year.
Collins, Rush, Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson formed a backcourt that didn’t shoot it like Butler, Mitchell, MaCio Teague and Adam Flagler can. But they could score. And they could defend on Baylor’s level.
Arthur was an inside scoring presence that present-day Baylor lacks. But then KU didn’t have a 6-9 shooter like the Bears’ Matthew Mayer.
Both teams smothered you and your layups inside, KU with Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Cole Aldrich, Baylor with Mark Vital, Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchuoua.
The Jayhawks played above the rim (Google “Kansas dunks vs Villanova 2008”) more often, the Bears played behind the 3-point line more often. Both to devastating effect.
They were built differently. KU was a squad of four- and five-star high school signees, while half of Baylor’s 8-man rotation transferred from other Div. I programs. Different times is all.
Here’s my tiebreaker: COVID-19.
I’m not saying the ’08 Jayhawks couldn’t have persevered through a pandemic. It’s just the ’21 Bears did. That took extraordinary commitment and courage.
I know Self would swear by his 13-year-old team’s resilience. He would be right to do so.
But man... Baylor stopped playing for three weeks – in February! – and still regathered and eventually rediscovered its pre-pause form. Then the Bears surpassed that form in the tournament.
They emerged with their first national championship and a place above... just barely... 2008 Kansas on the Big 12 men’s basketball pantheon.