The rest of the college basketball world can mark their calendars and count the seconds until Saturday's clash between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor.
The Bears (2-0), on the other hand, can't focus on the Zags until they deal with No. 5 Illinois (3-0). The first top 5 clash of the week takes place Wednesday in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic at Indianapolis.
"These guys are going to be excited to play anybody because games are precious right now," said Baylor associate head coach Jerome Tang. "The fact that the teams are highly ranked and they've got some really good players on there, it's only going to heighten our guys' focus."
Baylor is expected to regain the services of head coach Scott Drew, who missed Baylor's impressive wins over Louisiana and Washington over the weekend in Las Vegas while completing his quarantine after contracting COVID-19. He used Zoom to participate in the Bears' scout sessions and pregame locker room discussions, but mostly volunteered to stand aside and let Tang run the show.
"This is the great thing about Scott," Tang said. "He actually just said, 'Hey, whenever y'all need me, let me know. If you don't need me -- or if I'm getting in the way -- tell me.'"
Neither Louisiana nor Washington got in Baylor's way as the Bears bashed both by 30-plus. Illinois, meanwhile, won three games in three days on its home court last week to move into the Associated Press' Top 5 for the first time since losing to North Carolina in the 2005 NCAA championship game.
The Illini thrashed North Carolina AT and Chicago State by a combined 121 points before edging Ohio by two on Friday. Junior guard Ayo Dosunmu sank the tying and go-ahead free throws with two seconds left to save an Illinois squad that committed 16 turnovers.
"Coach (Brad) Underwood, he's going to yell at us enough that we're going to get it figured out," Dosunmu said. "I'm not really worried about that. To beat a Top 10 team, you definitely have to take care of the ball better."
Illinois and Baylor both feature preseason All-American guards in their lineup in Dosunmu and Jared Butler.
Dosunmu dominated Illinois' multi-team event as he averaged 25.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists. Butler averaged a team-high 18.5 points along with 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals in the Bears' sweep. He canned 7 of 12 3-pointers, which fell in line with Baylor's 50 percent marksmanship on 3s (28 of 56) against the Ragin' Cajuns and Huskies.
If Dosunmu and Butler wind up canceling each other out, then it will come down to the others.
Illinois 7-footer Kofi Cockburn, named to the Big Ten's preseason all-league team, averaged 15.0 points and 11.7 rebounds in 22.3 minutes last week. He'll be a handful for Baylor forwards Flo Thamba (6-10, 245) and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (6-8, 245).
Meanwhile, Illinois sharpshooter Adam Miller (18.0 ppg) and guard Trent Frazier will get a taste of Baylor guards Mark Vital and Davion Mitchell's defensive zeal. Vital piled up eight points, 15 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots against Washington.
"Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital always set the tone for us," Tang said. "If those two guys are flying around and just intimidating the other team on the perimeter. Like, some guys that we play against don't want to catch the ball with either of those guys on them.
"They call (Vital) 'Mr. 95' for a reason. He's considered one of the best defensive players in America for a reason. He means a ton to our team."
--Field Level Media