The Baylor Bears are starting the NCAA tournament the same way they did two years ago, as the No. 3 seed in the South Region."There are a lot of teams that would love to be in our position," coach Scott Drew said Sunday. "We are playing better on offense and defense and we are rebounding more consistently. Now we have to keep playing hard and hopefully we will keep peeking at the right time."
Baylor (27-7), whose only losses this season are to four Big 12 teams also in the NCAA field, play Thursday against Summit League champion South Dakota State (27-7) in Albuquerque, N.M.
It is the seventh NCAA appearance overall for the Bears, and their third in the past five seasons.
"I want to go out with a championship, that's my mindset," said senior forward Quincy Acy, one of four current Bears who also played on the 2010 team. "We have a lot of guys that have made the tournament before. I think we have a lot more experience than that year because the guys know what to expect."
The Bears set a school record with 28 wins and made it to the South Region final two years ago before losing to eventual national champion Duke. But they slipped to 18-13 last season and didn't make it to any postseason tournament.
Baylor began this season by winning all 13 of its non-conference games, and had a school-record 17-game winning streak before losing at Kansas on Jan. 16.
Sophomore Perry Jones III leads the team averaging 14.0 points and 7.7 rebounds a game. But he is among four players scoring in double figures, while another averages 9.6 points a game.
Over three nights in the Big 12 tournament last week, Jones averaged 21.7 points and 9.7 rebounds a game.
"He is playing outstanding," Acy said. "Now we need him to continue and get the other guys on board playing with same level of insanity and mindset."
Senior post player Anthony Jones (5.1, 3.0) was also part of the 2010 NCAA tournament team, along with junior guard A.J. Walton and backup senior post Fred Ellis.
Baylor lost three times this season to Big 12 tournament champion Missouri, including Friday in the conference semifinals. There were two losses to Big 12 regular-season champ Kansas, though the Bears beat the Jayhawks in the league tournament at Kansas City.
Missouri and Kansas are both No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament, the Tigers in the West and the Jayhawks in the Midwest.
The Bears also lost to Kansas State, which they beat in Kansas City last week, and Iowa State, the only other Big 12 team in the South Region.
South Dakota State is led by junior guard Nate Wolters, who is averaging 21.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.
The Jackrabbits, who have an eight-game winning streak, got the automatic NCAA bid with a 52-50 win over Western Illinois in the Summit League championship game last week. They are in their fourth year of eligibility since becoming a full Division I member.
"It will be nice to play somebody that we haven't played all season," Jones said.
Baylor could face Duke again in this year's NCAA tournament, if both teams win their first two games. But that would be in Atlanta and not in San Antonio like the game two years ago only three hours from the Waco campus.
The Baylor-South Dakota State winner plays the UNLV-Colorado winner on Sunday. Duke, the No. 2 seed, opens Friday against Lehigh. The Blue Devils were the No. 1 seed two years ago when they were in the same bracket with Baylor.
"After the bracket is finished you obviously look ahead to the big picture," Drew said. "But you have to take it one game at a time or you're done."