Big 12 Preview: Baylor’s Burning QuestionPosted by Nate Kotisso on November 5th, 2015
This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.
Burning Question: Will Baylor find consistent point guard play without Kenny Chery?
Rico Gathers made two free throws to give the Bears a 12-point lead with under three minutes to go in regulation. Baylor had finally built some separation from a pesky Georgia State squad after trading punches for much of the second half. It looked like this #3 seed — the conference’s other #3 seed, Iowa State, was already heading home — was going to advance to the Round of 32. Everything from that point happened so fast. R.J. Hunter scored 12 of Georgia State’s last 13 points, capped off by an insane three from an insane distance that gave us all a reason to remember Ron Hunter’s name forever.
But that’s over and done with; this is a new season. Baylor returns a large portion of its rotation even though the loss of its veteran leadership — Royce O’Neale and Kenny Chery were first and second in minutes played on the team last season — looms large. O’Neale’s size and brilliance from the perimeter will be missed, but perhaps the biggest question mark on this year’s team will be in replacing Chery at the point guard position. While turnovers often plagued the two-year starter, Chery averaged 5.6 assists per game in 35 Big 12 contests. His replacement must be as steady at the controls as he was.
Without even looking at Scott Drew‘s roster, you could make a reasonable assumption that his frontcourt will be long, rebound, block shots and make basketball no fun for anyone who dares to enter the paint. Along with the senior Gathers, Johnathan Motley appears poised for a huge sophomore campaign. You knew him as a rebounder and last year’s leader in blocked shots, but the 6’9″ jumping jack is quickly becoming a reliable offensive player as well. In three international games over the summer in Canada, Motley averaged 20.6 points per game as his NBA Draft status continues to rise. Taurean Prince‘s star is also expected to shine brighter than ever during his senior season. In addition to leading Baylor in scoring, draft evaluators salivate over Prince’s wingspan (6’11.5″), his ability to shoot (39.5 percent three-point shooter in 2014-15), defend multiple positions, run the floor and crash the glass (8.5 rebounds per 40 minutes last season). DraftExpress lists Prince as a late first round pick in this June’s draft. He’s the NBA wing of the future, today.
The Bears also have a couple of intriguing freshmen guards coming to Waco. King McClure is a particularly intriguing case because, not only is he a physical guard who can score in a multitude of ways, but he was also recently diagnosed with mild hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This has been described as a relatively common heart ailment (about 1 in 500 people, per the American Heart Association) that thankfully Medford should be physically able to play with. The other freshman is Wendell Mitchell, another explosive guard who tallied 3,144 points — including three 50-point outings — at the high school level.
When it’s all said and done, Baylor’s success will largely hinge upon how Lester Medford can captain the ship on a full-time basis. Medford had a brief foray as the team’s starting point guard last season when Chery missed four consecutive non-conference games with a foot injury. He stepped in and dished 24 assists against only four turnovers versus Memphis, Illinois, Texas Southern and Vanderbilt. His potential is clearly there but the big concern is whether he can stretch that kind of performance out for more than 30 games.
The excruciating loss to Georgia State left a bad taste in Baylor’s mouth and the only way to get rid of it is by winning in March, a new program tradition that everyone is still getting used to. With the nature of March Madness so volatile, the Bears are one of those teams that could get hot during the NCAA Tournament’s first two weekends and end up as a #4 seed fighting for a National Championship. If that happens, the Bears wouldn’t have to travel very far as this year’s Final Four will be held in Houston, a mere three-hour drive from the Baylor campus in Waco. That is, if everything breaks just right, starting at the point guard position.