Let’s not try too hard or go too far on this. Baylor ruined everyone’s narrative Monday night, stopping Gonzaga’s run into history with a first-round knockout, a first-punch knockout. We waited an entire season for this game, and it was over before the first commercial.
Turns out, Gonzaga is not the first undefeated national champion in 45 years, not the greatest of all time, not proof that a Cinderella program can win it all.
So what does it all mean when Baylor won the national championship so easily, beating Gonzaga 86-70 Monday night?
Well, from what I’ve already read and heard, it means that God personally sent Scott Drew down to win this national championship. It means that Drew is the greatest guy ever, that the NCAA barely found a way to survive, that this was the greatest turnaround in sports history, that Baylor has gone from a dirty program to a god-fearing one in a town of white picket fences.
And, also, it means that maybe Baylor is actually the GOAT. I admit: I pushed that one myself on Twitter, before being reminded of the great UNLV teams of 22-year-old men instead of 18-year-old kids, the dominant UCLA teams, Bill Walton and also some guy named Michael Jordan.
Let’s not jump too fast. This wasn’t the game of the century that the sport was expecting and the media were hoping for. And now writers have to hurry up and find something else to say.
The truth is that it was just Baylor playing in fast motion. Four guards just ran too fast, moved too quickly, got their hands everywhere.
Maybe we can just enjoy what we saw, which was a terrible, terrible basketball game because one team was amazing and the other one couldn’t do anything about it. Baylor was just too fast for Gonzaga. It’s not that Gonzaga started missing shots but that Baylor wouldn’t let the Zags shoot them.
Gonzaga would kick the ball out to an open three-point shooter and by the time that shooter caught the ball, someone from Baylor was already on top of him.
Gonzaga kept fighting and making shots. But when someone is always running at you and getting in your face at the same time you catch a ball, there’s nothing you can do. This was just too much. Forty minutes of hell. It was 9-0, then 11-1, and it was over.
I’m suspicious of how neatly and quickly the new narrative — about Baylor’s wholesome greatest-turnaround-of-all-time — came together. CBS, not wanting to soil its new narrative with reality, quickly crafted Baylor’s and Drew’s story without once using a particular word:
Years ago, one Baylor basketball player murdered another and Drew’s predecessor, David Bliss, tried to cover it up, make the victim look like a drug dealer and get the players to go in on it so the coach’s illegal player payments wouldn’t come out. That was the bottoming-out of college sports.
Drew came in 18 years ago. That’s enough time to turn things, and if you’re into college sports, you know that real and permanent change usually comes from big money, not magic dust. Drew started out with eight players, holding tryouts and approaching tall people on campus to see if they knew how to dribble a basketball.
It is amazing how far Baylor came. Drew took over the bottom of the bottom of the barrel. But when he started landing players, the NCAA looked into stories about just how he was doing it. He was never busted for anything. But Baylor’s football program in the meantime had a massive sexual assault scandal, allegedly involving dozens of rapes.
So it is a little uncomfortable seeing Baylor’s name heralded now as the epitome of virtue. But who knows? Maybe Drew did build this thing out of fairy dust and wholesomeness. I’m not accusing him of anything, but just saying to hold off on sainthood for a minute, just because Gonzaga’s narrative was spoiled. And maybe CBS could have included the cold reality.
I do wonder if Baylor should have been the one with Gonzaga‘s GOAT narrative in the first place. Baylor’s season was stopped for three weeks because of COVID, and when the Bears came back, they lost to Kansas and Oklahoma State while trying to rediscover rhythm. If it hadn’t been for COVID, then Baylor probably would have been undefeated coming into this championship game. Baylor would’ve been the one people would’ve talked about as possibly the college basketball single-season GOAT.
College basketball did survive, and the NCAA will survive after all. That was up in the air with players on the verge of protesting and the Supreme Court about to rule whether players should be paid. And through all of that, the NCAA absolutely could not afford to be weakened by losing its money-maker, the NCAA Tournament, for a second year in a row.
The story is that Baylor was too fast and too strong. We like to hype up everything as the greatest, the biggest, the best. Let’s just go with this: Baylor was just too good for Gonzaga. There’s not a lot you can say after a first-punch knockout.