(I'm embedded with the Baylor men this week during the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. My all-access tour of all things Baylor continues ...)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Things are getting a bit cozy with Baylor and I. Maybe too cozy.
As part of this arrangement we've worked out this week, I get into the lockerroom before any media after games. I'm just trying to be a fly on the wall, chronicle an up-and-coming program. Last night I became part of the "team". Being a Christian (Baptist) school, Baylor players and coaches hug up in a circle after each game, bow their heads and recite an "Our Father."
"You too, Dennis," coach Scott Drew said after Thursday night's victory over Texas.
How do you say no to God? It wasn't so much reciting the prayer. I'm Catholic and know my way around a rosary. Rather, it was the Baylor players parting and letting me into their circle. Hey, I wasn't praying for Baylor victory. Not even Baylor does that. I was ... praying. Nothing wrong with that. Ever. Especially with me.
Now on to basketball ...
This is the first time I've seen Baylor's vaunted 1-1-3 zone defense for an extended period up close. Drew began using it late last season. It was one of the big reasons the Bears were so hard to crack in making runs to the Big 12 Tournament and NIT championship games.
Don't know if I'm going overboard but Baylor's zone looks as effective as Jim Boeheim's vaunted 2-3 zone at Syracuse. It's hard to enter it. Once teams do, Baylor's long, tall, aggressive defenders close in. There are only two teams in the Big 12 holding teams to less than 40 percent shooting. The other is No. 1 Kansas.
That's saying a mouthful.
"Man, Syracuse is great," guard LaceDarius Dunn said. "I watch their zone all the time. Man, it's crazy how they play their zone ... Ours is basically the same [as Syracuse's]."
In looks, not always effectiveness. Boeheim has been playing his for years and won a national championship with it. Along the back line, Baylor uses 7-foot senior Josh Lomers in the middle with a pair of long 6-10 guys on the wings -- junior Ekpe Udoh and sophomore Anthony Jones. Dunn and point guard Tweety Carter play staggered at the top in a more match-up technique.
Assistant coach Mark Morefield said Baylor's zone came from two disparate sources -- Southern Utah and UNLV. Drew took pieces from Southern Utah when he coached with his father Homer at Valparaiso in the old Mid-Continent Conference.
"You know what the best comparison is?," Morefield said as he took a marker to diagram the defense on a dry erase board. "UNLV back in the day with Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon. It's a form of what they called the 'amoeba' defense. It had a lot of man-to-man principles."
Bet you never thought you'd read "Baylor", "UNLV" and "amoeba defense" in the same sentence. Hey, whatever it takes to win. Like Syracuse, UNLV won a title with its version of the zone in 1990. Baylor is just trying to get a sniff. Should be an interesting championship if both Kansas and the Bears win on Friday. The teams are 1-2 in field-goal percentage defense in the Big 12.
In their only meeting on Jan. 20, Kansas won by six in Lawrence.
It's safe to say, then, Baylor has a prayer when it plays Kansas State in one semifinal Friday night.
"We've maybe opened some eyes nationwide," Drew said.
And closed down the lane.