Big 12 Team Previews #2: Baylor BearsPosted by dnspewak on November 9th, 2012
Over the next two weeks, we’ll bring you the obligatory team preview here at the Big 12 microsite. Baylor at the #2 position is next on our list.
- 2011-12 record: 30-8, 12-6
- Key contributors lost: Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller
- Head coach: Scott Drew
- Projected finish: 2nd
Scott Drew doesn’t care what you think. He’s perfectly fine reloading with NBA prospects after his stars leave early for the pros, and he’s perfectly fine dealing with the stigma of underachievement and playing an “impure” style of basketball, whatever that really means. In the end, Scott Drew doesn’t care what you think. That’s because he wins. For all the criticism, Drew has reached the Elite Eight twice in three seasons and once again welcomes a collection of stud freshmen to replace the departed Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy. Call this team undisciplined all you want. Drew has the league’s best player in Pierre Jackson, another ferocious frontcourt and as much depth as anybody in the league. Drew just has one more step in quieting his doubters: He must find a way to finally win a Big 12 title.
Pierre Jackson is fun. He keeps you on edge. He turns the ball over a lot, sure, but he’s so lightning-quick and makes passes that sometimes don’t even seem humanly possible. Jackson, the Big 12 Pre-Season Player of the Year, is a unique point guard because he can really score, too. He’s a distributor and defender, sure, but he’s also the team’s leading scorer and a very reliable three-point shooter. Much like the Tyshawn Taylor Effect, Drew can surely live with a few too many turnovers, as long as Pierre continues to produce as he did a year ago. He’s an interesting one-two punch with shooting guard Brady Heslip, one of the nation’s top shooters who made treys at a 45.5 percent clip in 2011-12.
Beyond those upperclassmen, this team will rely once again on some very talented young parts. Isaiah Austin, one of the Big 12′s top prospects at center, fits the mold of the new-age big man. He can shoot, he’s disruptive with a 9’3” standing reach and he’s not afraid to put the ball on the floor. Austin needs to bulk up, but he’s ready to be a star right now. Fellow freshman Rico Gathers definitely does not need to bulk up. He has Big 12 strength already, even though he’s rather undersized at 6’7”. They’re joined by a few other freshmen in Chad Ryhoek and Taureen Waller-Prince, but neither of those guys has the prestige of Austin or Gathers. Ryhoek was a former teammate of Austin’s, whereas Drew signed Waller-Prince late in the signing period.
Cory Jefferson epitomizes the Scott Drew-era forward at Baylor. Big, long and tough to deal with at 6’9”, Jefferson is an obvious breakout candidate now that he’ll have an opportunity to play more. It’s easy to forget about former UCLA center J’Mison Morgan, too, who redshirted last year but will finally attempt to live up to his high school expectations as a senior. He’s had a difficult career, but Morgan is probably the truest center on this team in terms of size and playing style. That could earn him some minutes.
At the guard position, Drew will also have some backups vying for minutes. A.J. Walton began the 2011-12 season as the starting point guard, but he eventually yielded that spot to Jackson. Walton and Gary Franklin, who transferred from California specifically to play the point guard position, are about as solid of backups as you’ll find in the Big 12. Deuce Bello doesn’t play the point, but boy, can this guy jump. Bello isn’t the most polished defender yet, but he’s a highlight-reel dunker and fan favorite for that very reason. With more playing time, there’s no telling what this guy can do.
There’s also freshman L.J. Rose, too, who just might be too good to leave on the bench all season. Up front, Drew can also use walk-on Logan Lowery, who was once a decent contributor for Centenary before that program reclassified out of Division I.
Why They Might Be Better Than You Think
Essentially, we should call this section “Why Baylor Could Steal The Big 12 From Kansas.” In short, it’s because Baylor has the league’s best playmaker and a loaded roster from top to bottom. Much of this team’s success hinges on the progression of Austin and Gathers. If those two avoid the adjustment period most freshmen need to make in their first seasons, this team could potentially win every single game on its schedule. That’s how good the Bears are. They’ve got it all — an elite point guard, perimeter shooting, size, defensive ability and experience. The knock on Drew is that his teams play selfish and undisciplined, but that’s not how this team played a year ago. Sometimes during the Drew era, the lack of solid point guard play and ball movement has kept talented teams from reaching their potential. With Jackson, though, team basketball is just not a problem.
No matter how good those freshmen are, this is still a team dealing with the loss of its entire frontcourt. Quincy Acy’s attitude and toughness on the block is not easily replaceable, nor are Perry Jones III or Quincy Miller. Despite that undefeated start and eventual Elite Eight run a year ago, this team did not fare well against the Big 12′s top competition and dropped all four regular season contests against Kansas and Missouri (three by double digits). You know all about Drew’s reclamation project at Baylor, and he’s brought this program back from the dead. He needs to win a Big 12 title now, though, to really establish this program as a top dog in the conference.
The Sleeper Candidate
Jefferson is an obvious pick here. It’s been so difficult for Drew to find minutes for Jefferson, but the junior forward is one of the team’s best post defenders and can change the game on the defensive end with his length. Even if he doesn’t score a point all season, Jefferson should be a valuable contributor to this team in the paint.
Don’t expect this Baylor team to flop. Pierre Jackson is just too good to let that happen as this team’s point guard and unquestioned leader. At the very worst, Baylor doesn’t knock Kansas from its Big 12 reign of terror. If the Jayhawks stumble with all of their new parts, however, it’s not wild to assert that Baylor could win this league. Just take a look at this roster and ask yourself this very question: “What’s not to like?”