It's time to preview everyone's favorite spaz team. Will the Baylor Bears flop again like last season, or will take this year's 10th-place prediction as a slap in the face and use it as motivation to return to the NCAA Tournament?
If I knew the answer to that question, I'd be making a lot more money than I currently do, but click the jump for my best effort, regardless.
The Story So Far
The Bad News Bears are 9-1 against a schedule only slightly more impressive than Oklahoma State's. It includes wins over 1-8 Norfolk State, 2-9 Hartford, 1-9 Southern, Division II Hardin-Simmons, 1-10 Jackson State and 2-4 Texas-Arlington. My, what a murderer's row.
What separates Baylor's schedule from OSU's is that the field at the Old Spice Classic was much better than the one in Las Vegas. Thus, Baylor has wins over a halfway decent Iona team and a solid Xavier squad, and their only loss is on a neutral floor to the athletic and scrappy Alabama Crimson Tide.
Also, the Bears collected a really good road win in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series against Arizona State.
So, they've done more there, in my opinion, than Oklahoma State or Texas Tech, but they've also done less in the rest of the non-con.
The sum total of all this is that we still don't know whether Baylor is the team that finished ninth in the regular season last year, or the one that stormed to the finals of both the Big 12 tournament and the NIT. And we probably won't know until at least the end of January. Gotta love Scott Drew -- you always can count on his teams to be unpredictable.
Current Baylor RPI: 89
90-96 (26-70) at Baylor
- Mamadou Diene (11.2 minutes per game | 1.8 points per game | 1.8 rebounds per game)
- Henry Dugat (28.5 minutes per game | 9.4 points per game | 3.1 rebounds per game)
- Curtis Jerrells (34.6 minutes per game | 16.3 points per game | 4.5 rebounds per game)
- Kevin Rogers (32.9 minutes per game | 12.6 points per game | 7.6 rebounds per game)
- Delbert Simpson (3.9 minutes per game | 1.5 points per game | 1.1 rebounds per game)
- (1.9 minutes per game | 0.8 point per game | 0.5 rebound per game)
#3 Fred Ellis
7.9 minutes per game | 1.3 points per game | 2.5 rebounds per game
#4 Quincy Acy
19.8 minutes per game | 8.3 points per game | 4.7 rebounds per game
#24 LaceDarius Dunn
29.6 minutes per game | 17.3 points per game | 3.4 rebounds per game
#41 Anthony Jones
26 minutes per game | 7.2 points per game | 5.6 rebounds per game
#45 Tweety Carter
35 minutes per game | 17.7 points per game | 3.2 rebounds per game
#50 Josh Lomers
18 minutes per game | 6.7 points per game | 3.7 rebounds per game
#13 Ekpe Udoh
33.4 minutes per game | 14.6 points per game | 9.8 rebounds per game
#12 Nolan Dennis
14.6 minutes per game | 4.1 points per game | 1.4 rebounds per game
#14 Dragan Sekelja
5.8 minutes per game | 3.4 points per game | 2 rebounds per game
#20 Givon Crump
6 minutes per game | 1.4 points per game | 2.2 rebounds per game
#21 Oscar Griffin
3 minutes per game | 0.7 point per game | 0.3 rebound per game
#22 A.J. Walton
20.8 minutes per game | 4.6 points per game | 3.2 rebounds per game
#34 Cory Jefferson
8.7 minutes per game | 3 points per game | 2.7 rebounds per game
My thanks to the Baylor sports information department for the photos.
Baylor is an interesting case study. Despite their 9-1 start, I didn't really have a good feel for what they would bring to the table this year until I began breaking down their roster.
Most teams cannot lose their best guard (Curtis Jerrells) or best post (Kevin Rogers) and improve, and Baylor not only lost both of those, but they also lost their second-best players at those positions -- Henry Dugat and Mamadou Diene.
Disaster seemed imminent.
But Baylor was 5-11 in the Big 12 last year, and a major disappointment until the Big 12 Tournament. Maybe a roster shakeup was needed. Some are attributing their end-of-year improvement to Scott Drew's decision to switch from a man defense from a 2-3 zone, because the Bears were getting burned so often on the defensive end that they couldn't outscore anyone, which basically is their game.
But the real source of Baylor's improvement is the arrival of a fairly unheralded transfer from Michigan, Ekpe Udoh (pronounced EPP-ay YOU-doe). All the preseason hype circled around Marquis Gilstrap, Jai Lucas and yes, Curtis Kelly, but at this point in the season, Udoh -- who nearly is averaging a double-double and has had at least one triple-double -- has to be the runaway favorite to win Newcomer of the Year honors.
And here's the crazy thing: At most schools, the the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Udoh would be a starting center. At Baylor, he plays the power forward position. The Bears have acquired a reputation in recent years of being a guard-oriented, jack-up-3s kind of team, but they seem to have handed that mantle off to Oklahoma State this year.
Witness their starting front line: Udoh, 7-footer Josh Lomers at center, and 6-10 Anthony Jones playing on the wing.
That's some serious size to throw at people, and it does make one think Baylor might be more than a flash in the pan this season.
Baylor also has had very little turbulence in its lineup, compared to most squads at this time of year. Had point guard Tweety Carter not been suspended for four games, the Bears likely would have had the same starting lineup in every game this season -- a relative rarity for a team with as many new parts as this one.
Freshman A.J. Walton, one of six freshmen and seven newcomers hoping to turn around Baylor's fortunes, performed admirably in Carter's stead. Indeed, three of the top five players off the bench are freshmen.
The unpredictable LaceDarius Dunn, who Wildcat fans will remember from his red-hot bombing of us in Bramlage last season, completes the starting five.
Quincy Acy started 10 games last year, and serves in a "sixth man" role now because of Udoh's emergence. The freshman newcomers gathering the most playing time so far are Walton, guard Nolan Dennis and center Cory Jefferson. Wing Fred Ellis played minimally last year, but is seeing increased time this season.
Providing further depth are Dragan Sekelja, a 7-foot freshman from Croatia; Givon Crump, a 6-foot-7 forward from Washington, D.C.; and Oscar Griffin, a walk-on guard from Philly.
When you add the expected addition of five-star, 6-foot-10 Perry Jones in next year's recruiting class, it's pretty clear that Drew is gravitating away from his guard-heavy lineup of years past and assembling one of the more potent frontcourts in the Big 12. It will be interesting to see how that works out for him.
Projected Big 12 Starting Lineup
|Tweety Carter||LaceDarius Dunn||Anthony Jones||Ekpe Udoh||Josh Lomers|
Projected Top Big 12 Reserves
|A.J. Walton||Nolan Dennis||Fred Ellis||Quincy Acy||Cory Jefferson|
The Final Verdict
Baylor has some nice wins, and a few more challenges remain before conference play. I think it's pretty clear that they're playing better ball than last year, and 10th place seems too low, given the underachievement we're seeing out of teams like Oklahoma.
While I don't think the Bears will be a serious challenger for the league crown, they have an outside chance to finish in the top half of the conference. Even at eighth place, they could jump a team or two above them in the quest for an NCAA bid, if they strengthen their resume a little more. At a minimum, an NIT return seems almost certain, despite the changeover in personnel.
The funny thing is that a team with Carter, Dunn and Udoh normally would be considered a contender, but everyone is reticent because the Bears historically don't play good defense, and because of their faceplant last season in conference play. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, but Baylor is bringing too many freshmen off the bench, to play serious minutes, to realistically expect a top-four seed in Kansas City.
Big 12 preseason prediction: 10th
My predicted finish: 8th
Best-case scenario: 6th
Against K-State?: Toss-up in Waco