Big 12 Team Previews: Baylor BearsPosted by dnspewak on November 11th, 2011
Predicted finish: 2nd
2010-11 Record: 18-13, 7-9 (7th, Big 12)
Head Coach: Scott Drew, 9th season
Key Losses: Lacedarius Dunn (19.5 PPG)
It’s been an up-and-down stretch lately for Scott Drew at Baylor. In 2007-08, Drew led the Bears to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in decades, capping a remarkable turnaround for the program just five years after the ugly Patrick Dennehy murder scandal. With high expectations the next season, though, the Bears flopped; they then recovered for an Elite Eight appearance in 2009-10 before tumbling to a 7-9 record in Big 12 play last season. If the trend continues, perhaps BU will make a Final Four this season. That’s not even a wild scenario, considering the Bears have one of the nation’s most ferocious frontcourts. Even with all of the talent in Waco, they’ll need better point guard play, and they must learn how to play as a cohesive unit. If that happens, there’s no stopping these guys.
The Stars: Perry Jones could have made millions as an NBA Draft lottery pick this spring, but he bypassed that option and returned for his sophomore season at Baylor. Although the 6’11” forward wasn’t perfect last season, he was still one of the nation’s top freshman. In 2011-12, he’s a Big 12 Player of the Year and All-America candidate who can score from anywhere on the floor. The other star opposite of Jones is Quincy Miller, the freshman stud who loves to attack the offensive glass and use his freakish athleticism in transition. Like Jones, Miller is a long, fast forward with great defensive potential and a future in the NBA.
The Veterans: Many of the following players could be considered “stars.” That’s how individually talented these Bears appear to be on paper. Seniors Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones are versatile scoring and rebounding machines in the frontcourt (noticing a trend?), though Jones is a bit more perimeter-oriented. And that’s not all: former blue-chip recruit J’Mison Morgan provides the bulk in the paint with his 6’11” frame and shotblocking ability. Redshirt sophomore Cory Jefferson will also return after sitting out last year, and glue-guy Fred Ellis gives Baylor a steady veteran presence from an intangibles standpoint. Notice we haven’t yet mentioned a single guard. Leading the way in the backcourt is junior A.J. Walton, one of the league’s better passers at point guard.
The Newbies: Miller is the star of the class, but Drew didn’t stop there. He also hauled in dunking sensation Deuce Bello, a 6’4” guard out of North Carolina, as well as one of the nation’s top junior college recruits in point guard Pierre Jackson. He also plucked combo-guard Brady Heslip from Boston College and Logan Lowery, a forward from Centenary. Jackson is probably the key for Baylor this season. When the Bears have struggled, it’s because they’ve lacked strong point guard play. Jackson sounds like an immediate difference-maker, but it often takes JuCo transfers a few months — or a full season — to adjust to D-I ball.
Breakout Candidate: J’Mison Morgan is the forgotten man in Baylor’s frontcourt. He’s lost a lot of weight since his days at UCLA, and he is one of the team’s top defensive players. It will be difficult for Morgan to make his mark with so much talent in front of him, but his shotblocking and wide frame will keep him in the rotation. Morgan may not lead the team in scoring, but he could be in store for a productive senior season.
Why They’re Better Than You Think: In short, this team fields an NBA starting lineup. The depth, athleticism and sheer talent is mind-blowing. On paper, Baylor’s roster has more individual accolades than any squad in the nation. If basketball were played on a computer simulation game, Baylor might finish undefeated.
Points of Concern: They don’t play basketball on paper or on the computer. They play it on the court, and this group has not proven it can play as one unit. Last season, Scott Drew fielded the same amount of talent; teams shuttered at the announcement of the starting lineup before games. But suddenly, once the team took the floor, there wasn’t any consistency or chemistry. Baylor didn’t pass very well, and it didn’t seem to ever be on the same page. That’s why a team with several NBA prospects finished 7-9 in the Big 12 and missed the NCAA Tournament. If Walton improves at point guard and Jackson plays like many expect him to, Baylor could win a National Championship. Otherwise, Baylor could find itself once again squandering a golden opportunity.