Villanova is the healthiest college basketball program in America right now.
The Wildcats have won two of the last four national titles. They were on track to be a top three seed in the 2020 NCAA Tournament, putting them in a spot where a third trip to the Final Four in five years was a very real possibility. They are the No. 1 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 despite the fact that their best player, Saddiq Bey, has left the program two years earlier than anyone expected him to.
Villanova’s success in the last half-decade is the result of two things: For starters, Jay Wright and his coaching staff are arguably the most efficient recruiters in the sport. What I mean by that is that the Wildcats identify the players that fit within their culture and their style of play, recruit those players hard and bring them into the program. The other part of it is that they bring in players that have pro potential and spend more than one season on campus.
That’s the recipe for prolonged and sustained success.
And that is the track that Baylor’s basketball program has found themselves on.
The Bears got the news on Wednesday night that MaCio Teague will be withdrawing from the NBA draft and returning to school for his senior season. Teague averaged 13.9 points and shot 36 percent from three for the Bears last year, and he will likely find himself on more than a few all-Big 12 teams during the preseason. Teague will be rejoining Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark and Matthew Mayer to make up the core of what should be a very good team heading into the 2020-21 season.
The key, however, is going to be Jared Butler. A rising junior that is coming off of a terrific sophomore season that saw him average a team-high 16.0 points while shooting 38 percent from three. Like Teague, Butler has drawn out his decision-making process when it comes to turning pro, gathering as much information as possible before the NCAA’s August 3rd deadline to withdraw. Even then, Butler will technically have until the NBA’s August 17th deadline to decide on whether or not he will be turning pro. Unlike Teague, however, Butler actually has a chance to hear his name called in this year’s draft. He’s likely a mid-second round pick at best, but his combination of shot-making, handle and the ability to create space off the dribble makes him an intriguing player in a league that prioritizes those things.
Butler’s decision will have a major impact on Baylor this season. With him, Scott Drew will return essentially everyone of note not named Freddie Gillispie from a team that went 26-4 and spent time as the No. 1 in the country last year. With him, Baylor will be a consensus preseason top three team, if not the No. 1 team in the country. With him, they could win a national title.
If he’s gone, the Bears will still be very good, but they will be losing their most dangerous offensive weapon from a team that struggled to score at times a year ago. They’ll still be a top 10-15 team, but being really good and being a title favorite are two different things. Baylor’s been really good before. They’re not often a title favorite.
So Butler’s decision is, rightfully, one of the most anticipated as we head into the final days before the deadline to withdraw.
But at the same time, Butler’s decision will have relatively little impact on the direction that the Baylor basketball program is heading.
Drew’s staff has been as good as anyone in the country at identifying under-the-radar talent and figuring out how to use those pieces effectively. For a program that had a reputation for being great at recruiting, Baylor’s best team in program history did not have a single player on the roster that was a consensus top 75 recruit on the roster. This is notable because Drew has landed commitments from Kendall Brown and Langston Love, a pair of five-star prospects in the class of 2021 that double as the first five-star commits Baylor has landed since Isaiah Austin in 2012.
So while Jared Butler’s decision will tell us what the Bears are going to be this season, the future of Baylor basketball has already been solidified.
The Bears are here to stay for the long haul.