Once again, it's time to preview everyone's favorite spaz team.
Will the Baylor Bears flop again like two seasons ago or will they recapture the magic of last season and return to the NCAA Tournament?
As I said at this time last year, 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.
And there still isn't a Baylor blog on SBNation, so this is the best you're gonna get.
The Story So Far
Baylor has one of the most unimpressive non-conference resumes of any ranked team I've seen. (Note: As of this writing, the Bears still were ranked in one of the polls.)
The only quality win is a questionable one over Lipscomb, a team that isn't likely to have a double-digit RPI for much longer. There's also a victory over RPI No. 108 Arizona State. But Baylor doesn't have any other wins over a team with an RPI higher than 132. The 9-3 record is built almost entirely on a home schedule of fluff.
When the Bears have ventured out of Waco, the results have been disastrous. They're 1-3 in those games, with the sole win coming in Hawai'i against a 1-11 San Diego team that checks in at No. 311 in the RPI.
Of the three legitimate opponents Baylor has played, all three have come up victorious against the Bears on a neutral court.
Gonzaga won 68-64 to propel its current six-game winning streak forward, Washington State held a lead of as much as 20 before winning by eight and Florida State outmuscled the long Baylor forwards in the paint all night long.
The combination of no signature wins and losses in all of its competitive games knocked Baylor out of the polls entirely.
As a result, the Bears likely will have to go at least 9-7, if not 10-6, in the Big 12, with at least a few quality wins to their name, in order to stay on the right side of the bubble.
Current Baylor RPI: 153
Current Baylor SOS: 261
Note: All stats for current players are updated through the most recent game this season, unless otherwise noted.
118-106 (37-75) at Baylor
- Tweety Carter (36.3 minutes per game | 15.0 points per game | 2.8 rebounds per game)
- Josh Lomers (17.3 minutes per game | 6.6 points per game | 3.7 rebounds per game)
- Ekpe Udoh (35.1 minutes per game | 13.9 points per game | 9.8 rebounds per game)
- Givon Crump (2.9 minutes per game | 0.5 point per game | 1.1 rebounds per game)
- Oscar Griffin (1.7 minutes per game | 0.4 point per game | 0.3 rebound per game)
#4 Quincy Acy
32.0 minutes per game | 14.7 points per game | 8.1 rebounds per game
FANTASY OWNER: K. Scott Bailey
#12 Nolan Dennis
9.5 minutes per game | 3.0 points per game | 0.8 rebound per game
#24 LaceDarius Dunn
32.6 minutes per game | 21.2 points per game | 4.6 rebounds per game
FANTASY OWNER: K. Scott Bailey
#3 Fred Ellis
20.3 minutes per game | 6.2 points per game | 3.4 rebounds per game
#34 Cory Jefferson
4.6* minutes per game | 1.3* points per game | 1.2* rebounds per game
#41 Anthony Jones
27.9 minutes per game | 8.0 points per game | 6.1 rebounds per game
#14 Dragan Sekelja
5.8 minutes per game | 1.4 points per game | 1.4 rebounds per game
#22 A.J. Walton
33.3 minutes per game | 9.7 points per game | 3.5 rebounds per game
#13 Brady Heslip
15.0* points per game | 7.0* rebounds per game
*at New Hampton (N.H.) Prep in fall 2009 (Heslip did not play at Boston College)
#5 Perry Jones III
29.8 minutes per game | 11.4 points per game | 7.6 rebounds per game
FANTASY OWNER: TB
#20 Stargell Love
16.0 minutes per game | 2.0 points per game | 2.3 rebounds per game
#11 J'mison Morgan
14.3 minutes per game | 3.7 points per game | 3.1 rebounds per game
#23 Jacob Neubert
2.2 minutes per game | 0.8 point per game | 0.6 rebound per game
#15 Levi Norwood
9.0* points per game | 3.8* assists per game | 2.6* steals per game
*at Midway High School in 2009-10
My thanks to the Baylor sports information department for the photos.
Personally, I think Baylor's problems are directly attributable to the loss of Tweety Carter and Ekpe Udoh.
Carter turned the corner last year to become one of the Big 12's most well-rounded point guards. He took enough pressure off shooting guard LaceDarius Dunn to allow the latter to do what he does best — shoot the hell out of the ball.
And Udoh was a perfect fit for Baylor's 2-3 zone. His length in the middle bothered both driving guards and attacking bigs, he could swing over on help-side defense en route to a Big 12 single-season record for blocks, and he always seemed to be in perfect position to grab a rebound.
Udoh was drafted sixth by the NBA, and although Baylor's remaining bigs are very skilled and have a lot of length, I'm not sure any of them (other than a certain freshman I'll discuss in a minute) have a ceiling quite that high.
Baylor also lost Josh Lomers, the big space-eating senior who always was good for some rebounds, some fouls and some junk points. As K-State is learning from the loss of Luis Colon, sometimes you don't miss big dudes like that until they're gone.
None of this should be construed to mean that Baylor doesn't have talent remaining. The Bears are athletic across the board and have a lot of length. I'm just trying to explain why it is that they're struggling against teams like Texas Southern.
Obviously, everything flows from Dunn. When he's on, the Bears will be close to unstoppable by all but the best teams, at least on offense. When he's mired in a shooting slump, as he is right now, they will suffer immensely. At 21.2 points per game, he's averaging seven points more than the second-leading scorer, Quincy Acy.
I tend to think Dunn is a bit of a selfish player who has the potential to shoot Baylor out of games, but there's no denying his immense talent and pure shot-making ability.
Stepping into Carter's shoes is sophomore A.J. Walton. Walton has played admirably as both a distributor and a scorer, but he doesn't get much help at the position.
His primary backup, freshman Stargell Love (man, can Baylor fill an all-name team or what?), suffered a stress fracture in his foot early in the season and isn't expected back until around the end of this month.
Dunn is not a natural point guard and fellow sophomore guard Nolan Dennis has only played sparingly, so that puts a lot of pressure on Walton to avoid foul trouble and endure fatigue. He's averaging 33.3 minutes per game, the most of any Bear.
Additional guard depth will be provided by freshman walk-on Levi Norwood, who just completed his first season as a wide receiver for Art Briles' football team.
Guard issues aside, the power of the Bears lies in their frontcourt. In addition to Dunn, Baylor's other two double-digit scorers are Acy and freshman sensation Perry Jones III, a likely lottery pick in this summer's NBA draft.
Acy, who stands 6-foot-7, averages 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds (which leads the team) per game in his new role as a starter (he was Baylor's sixth man last year), while Jones, a 6-foot-11 athletic freak, is averaging 11.4 points and 7.6 rebounds.
In my opinion, Baylor needs to find a way to get Jones even more involved in the offense than he already is.
Rounding out the starting lineup is wing Anthony Jones, who is a true curiosity. A small forward trapped in a big man's body, Jones stands six inches taller than Dunn (who at 6-foot-4 is a pretty tall guard anyway), but weighs 10 pounds less.
I'd love to see what Jones would be like after a year with Scott Greenawalt, but even at his current weight, he's an effective player, averaging eight points and six rebounds a game.
To help replace the depth lost with Lomers and Udoh, you would think Scott Drew might like to have 6-foot-9, 200-pound sophomore Cory Jefferson available. Instead, he's being redshirted. That speaks to the confidence the coach has in his other reserve posts.
Those include Dragan Sekelja, a 7-foot, 265-pound sophomore center from Serbia; Fred Ellis, a 6-foot-6 junior forward who started three games when Dunn was held out for some jaw-jarring legal trouble; and J'mison Morgan, a 6-foot-11, 265-pound junior transfer from UCLA.
Morgan returned to Texas to be closer to his family and was granted an immediate-eligibility waiver from the NCAA, a move that likely impacted the decision to redshirt Jefferson.
Sophomore guard Brady Heslip will redshirt after transferring from Boston College. Sophomore forward Jacob Neubert is a walk-on who plays sparingly.
Projected Big 12 Starting Lineup
|Perry Jones III
Projected Top Big 12 Reserves
The Final Verdict
Acy and the Joneses (no relation) form one of the most formidable frontcourts in the conference. Dunn is an early favorite for Player of the Year honors. Walton is a budding young star. So why is Baylor struggling?
Part of it is chemistry. Losing three senior starters always leads to some shakiness the next season as players slide up the depth chart and learn their new roles. And I've always felt Drew lets his players play a bit of an AAU-type of game in a conference that usually forces you to be more disciplined than that.
Part of it is depth. In Love's absence, Baylor basically plays an eight-man rotation.
Part of it is defensive philosophy. As many of you already know, I'm no fan of Baylor's zone defense. Yes, it was fairly successful last season, but many forget that without Udoh keying the middle, it helped contribute to a disastrous 5-11 season in 2009.
Of course, with a thin lineup, playing a zone defense might almost be a necessity. Drew can't afford foul trouble with this team, especially for his starting guards.
But perhaps more disconcerting has been the lack of physicality and aggressiveness from the bigs. Players from Gonzaga and Washington State that K-State overpowered did the same to Baylor. Two of Florida State's big men went for double-doubles against them and, frankly, made it look easy.
That better get fixed in a hurry, or Baylor will find itself losing to a lot of teams in the upper half of the Big 12. As it stands right now, I think they're in some trouble. This is not the time of year to be both struggling and largely untested.
Big 12 preseason prediction: 4th
My predicted finish: 7th
Best-case scenario: 4th
Against K-State?: Loss in Manhattan