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Billy Reed: After the most unconventional of college basketball seasons, I’m backing the Bears. Maybe…


This has been the most confounding college basketball season ever, a Las Vegas casino sort of thing in which Duke was stunned by Stephen F. Austin in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Kentucky found a way to lose to lowly Evansville in Rupp Arena, and Indiana stumbled on the historic day when Bob Knight put aside his animosity toward Indiana and appeared in Assembly Hall for the first time since the university fired him in 2000.

Some say it’s because the sport finally has well achieved parity of a kind it never wanted – mediocrity across the board. Others claim its evidence of a talent drain created by the one-and-done fiasco and the NBA’s greed. Still, others say it’s too much emphasis on the three-point shot and the coaches’ inability to teach fundamentals and unselfishness.

I have looked in vain for another reason. I wanted to blame Russian interference, climate change, or the rise of Trumpism. I wanted to point the finger at ESPN, the NCAA, or NATO. But the evidence just wasn’t there. The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, like it or not.

Understandably, the conventional wisdom is that it’s impossible to predict the four teams who will meet in Atlanta to decide the national championship. Pick one and you’re the second coming of Joe Lunardi. Pick two and you’re a stable genius. Three correct picks should get you a place In the Basketball Hall of Fame, and four-four! – should earn you the deed to a nation in South America.

That’s how tough it looks going in. Every one of the usual suspects, the members of the Power Five Conferences, has a reason to pick against it – weak schedule, not enough depth, no inside game, inconsistent shooting, bad coaching, too young, indifferent cheerleading, and so on.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

I am tempted to throw up my hands and surrender even before the conference tournaments have been played. But I can’t do that. It’s not the way I roll, even if the outcome makes me look as smart as, oh, the Houston Astros. So I’m going to give you four teams that I think have separated themselves from the circus – Kansas, Gonzaga, Dayton, and Baylor.

As of the moment, nobody even knows if they will be in different regions. But if they are, they will be the ones that the likes of Duke, Louisville, Kentucky, Florida State, and San Diego State have to beat.

I expect to be ridiculed the most for selecting Dayton, which has a relatively small fan base and the least amount of national attention. But the Flyers also are 28-2 and will have maybe the tournament’s best all-around player in Obi Toppin. It will be a big mistake to not give them the respect they’ve earned.

Even though it’s 29-2, Gonzaga is easy to write off because of its relatively unimpressive schedule. But Mark Few is one of the four or five best coaches in the nation, and Filip Petrusev has emerged as a star.

Kansas and Baylor have split their meetings, each winning on the other’s home court. The Jayhawks and Bears each have 26-3 records, and a rubber match for the national title should make CBS happy. In Udoka Azubuike and Dean Dotson, Kansas has two likely All-Americans. Meanwhile, Baylor has a No-Name cast that includes inside force Freddie Gillespie and guards Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, and MaCio Teague.

Writers and announcers are thankful that Jonathan Tchamwa Tcbatchous is not one of the Bears’ most important players.

Interestingly, Baylor’s three losses have each come by three points – 67-64 to Washington on a neutral floor, 64-61 to Kansas in Waco, and 75-72 to Texas Christian in Fort Worth. Since Washington has only a 14-16 record and TCU is 16-14, those losses are difficult to explain, except Washington came at the start of the season and TCU may have been due to a letdown after the win over Kansas in Lawrence.

So Baylor is my pick to win the title, despite having a very modest pedigree. In fact, Baylor may best be known as the place where Carlton Dotson shot to death former teammate Patrick Dennehy in a 2003 drug scandal, which is rather unseemly for a university that once advertised itself as the world’s large Baptist institution.

Otherwise, Baylor has played in only 12 NCAA tournaments, their best showings being a loss to Kentucky’s “Fabulous Five” in the 1948 title game and a second Final Four appearance in 1950. The Bears reached the Elite Eight in 2010 and ’12, their best finishes under Coach Scott Drew.

Baylor hasn’t produced any stars for the NBA, the best probably being shooting guard Terry Teagle in the first years of this century. Most of Baylor’s best players usually end up overseas.

Undeniably, Baylor would be the perfect champ for this most unconventional of seasons. So that’s my story and I’m sticking… well, let’s wait and see what pratfalls may be awaiting us in the conference tournaments. Who knows who will get consistently hot at just the right time? Did I mention that I sort of like Michigan? Never mind. Let the crapshoot begin.


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