The Baylor Bears (28-8, 11-5 Big 12) made it to the Big Dance last year, a place they’d been only five times before and just once since the dawn of the new millennium. They had a good run in the tournament as the Bears, who had tied for second in the Big 12, beat Sam Houston State 68-59, Old Dominion 76-68 and St. Mary’s 72-49 before losing to Duke 78-71 in the Regional Finals. Baylor had never before been to the Elite Eight or the Sweet 16. It was the best season the Bears had seen under head coach Scott Drew who has been at the helm for seven years. It looks like despite some important loses that Baylor will have the manpower to compete for the Big 12 title and go deep into the NCAA Tournament again.
The frontcourt will be without center Josh Lomers and swingman Ekep Udoh. Lomers gave them 6.6 PPG and 3.7 RPG. Coming in off the bench, he provided excellent rebounding, especially on the offensive end, and he was a solid defensive player. Starting center Udoh was a massive rebounder on offense who blocked shots down the other end at will. Edoh, who set the Big 12 record for blocks, averaged 9.8 RPG and 3.7 BPG along with 13.9 PPG.
Freshman Perry Jones is expected to contribute at the forward spot immediately. The 6-10, 220-pound Jones was a top 10 recruit nationally and ranked number one in his home state of Texas. He is the highest rated recruit Baylor has ever signed and the kid has a huge amount of potential. Chosen as a McDonald’s and Parade All-American, Jones will be a major help in ensuring that the Bears continue to be one of the Big 12’s best rebounding teams.
Small forward Anthony Jones (6-10, 195 lbs., JR, #41, 6.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 26.6 mpg, .415 FG, .333 3PT, .638 FT) can bang inside or take it to the perimeter and hit. Jones doesn’t foul much. Last season, he was ninth in the nation in foul percentage per 40 minutes of play. In 2009-2010, the small forward showed signs of breaking out as he recorded 10 double-double games. If he can lift his game up a notch or two that will be a major help to the Baylor frontcourt.
The center spot is a question mark as the Bears may put Perry Jones there or they could start sophomore Dragan Sekelja (7-0, 275 lbs., SO, #14, 2.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0.8 apg, 2.8 mpg, .462 FG, .500 3PT, .667 FT). The first scenario is more likely than the second but if they do give Sekelja more playing time, he averaged 2.8 MPG last season, then he’ll definitely have to contribute a lot more.
If Perry Jones does take the center spot, then that means that Quincy Acy (6-7, 225 lbs., JR, #4, 9.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 0.3 apg, 23.3 mpg, .697 FG, .000 3PT, .716 FT) would be the power forward. Although Acy was not a starter last season, the sixth-man saw plenty of action as he averaged 23.3 MPG. He could very well become a starter as Acy brings a sound inside game to the court.
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The loss of point man Tweety Carter may be bigger than Udoh. The Baylor backcourt was especially explosive on offense and tough on defense and one major reason was Carter who averaged 15.0 PPG, 5.3 APG and 1.3 SPG. Carter led the Big 12 in assists and minutes played. As the team’s senior point guard, he was an able general, vocally leading the team and ably seeing the entire court, which allowed him to exploit opponent weaknesses.
The plan is to have sophomore A.J. Walton (6-1, 190 lbs., SO, #22, 3.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 17.6 mpg, .495 FG, .459 3PT, .558 FT) start. Over the summer, the point guard excelled on the Athletes in Action all-star team, leading them in scoring and proving to be a fine leader on the court. Along with being a good shooter and passer, the Walton has quick hands. He was 48th nationally in steal percentage with a .390 mark. His free throw shooting needs to improve.
The best news for this team is that shooting guard LaceDarius Dunn (6-4, 205 lbs., SR, #24, 19.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.9 apg, 32.6 mpg, .450 FG, .419 3PT, .857 FT) is back for his senior year. Dunn is simply a major scoring threat. He played a lot of minutes and got a lot of touches last season, which means he took a whole lot of shots. He was 64th in the nation in percentage of shots taken (31.1%) and he easily led the team in that category. His effective field goal percentage was at .563, ranking him 156th, and true shooting percentage stood at .604, which was 120th nationally.
Dunn is a sharpshooter from downtown, brings one of the best free throws to the game and is determined to make his senior season better than his outstanding junior one. Although he could have opted for the NBA Draft, Dunn is back to help take the Bears deeper into the tournament than they have ever been. Last season, he was second in scoring in the Big 12. This year, he could certainly lead in that category.
Those looking to work their way into the rotation will include sophomore guard Nolan Dennis, who found it difficult adjusting to college hoop last season, and freshman guard Stargell Love, who many feel has enough going for him to challenge Walton for the starting point man spot. Freshman guard Bakari Turner is said to have a deadly shot from far range and will most likely see minutes.
With Perry Jones onboard and Udop and Carter gone, it will be interesting to see how last year’s stats change. The team’s offensive efficiency rating was at 120.4, ranking them third and their defensive efficiency stood at 91.7 (34th). It’s the defensive side that is most likely to take a hit. Then again, freshman Jones may just make sure that does not happen.
Despite the fact that they had some top guns from beyond the arc, the Bears relied primarily on their two point shot, earning 53.1% of their points in that manner. They got 27.5% of their points from threes. Both are average. In foul shooting point distribution, they came in on the low end, being ranked 259th, although they were a solid foul shooting team, hitting 72.9%. It’s doubtful they’ll be 7thnationally in percentage of shots blocked (17.1%) with Udop gone.
Coach Drew (129-114 in eight years, 109-103 in seven years at Baylor) has this team on a roll and he’s done a good job recruiting. Perry Jones should be exemplary and Love has the talent to be a major force in the league. A true test of this team will be when they meet Kansas, a team they simply could not beat last season. Drew has a good mix of vets, developing players and rookies on-hand.
Last year prior to the start of the season little was expected of the Bears. Despite having reached the NIT championship game the year before, the coaches poll picked them to finish 10thin the Big 12. With Michigan transfer Udoh playing as expected on “D” and surprising everyone with his offensive skills, Baylor sneaked up on and surprised a lot of teams. This season, they won’t be sneaking up on anyone. No one will take the Bears lightly.
Despite the loss of three major contributors, coach Drew still has a potent group of players. The Bears are a top 10 team, perhaps even top five in the nation, and they have the potential to go deep into March Madness. Right now they’re ranked sixth, putting them ahead of Florida, North Carolina and Kansas, amongst others. This club may even get back into the Elite Eight. If that does occur, then who knows what can happen?
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