One Burning Question: Is Baylor Due For A Rebuilding Year?Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 31st, 2016
The fickle nature of the NCAA Tournament once again revealed itself to Baylor last season. After collapsing late in its 2015 Round of 64 game against Georgia State, the Bears dropped another early round game to a double-digit seed last season — Yale, this time around. On the heels of that disappointing upset and several important pieces departing, it brings up a worthwhile question: Is Baylor due for a rebuilding year? Most programs — even the high-major to elite ones — undergo a rebuilding process at some point. For many, a strong recruiting class gets things back on track; for others, the process can take a while longer. Between Elite Eight appearances in 2010-11, the Bears went 18-13 and finished seventh in the Big 12. With Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Lester Medford all now gone from Waco, this season appears to have more questions than answers.
The burning question for the Bears this time one year ago was whether they’d get consistent point guard play from Medford. Not only did he provide that support but he dropped more dimes (6.5 APG) than anyone in the Big 12 other than Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris (6.9 APG). As for this season, Baylor’s starting point guard situation is still in doubt. Scott Drew has not yet decided who his on-floor leader will be, but it’s not a stretch to assume sophomore guard Jake Lindsey is the front-runner. Lindsey averaged 6.3 assists per 40 minutes last year, which is a statistic Drew will surely contemplate. The other guard positions appear more certain: Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Manu Lecomte is expected to fill in the Brady Heslip-like role after nailing 43.4 percent of his three-pointers in two years at Miami (FL); Al Freeman on the wing is the team’s best returning scorer (11.3 PPG) and three-point shooter (38.2%).
The blueprint for Baylor’s emergence as a nationally prominent program began with Drew’s ability to recruit big men who defend, run the floor and turn into aggressive offensive rebounders. This partially explains Baylor’s ranking among the top 20 in offensive efficiency in each of the last five seasons. Johnathan Motley (11.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG) also returns as a member of the presesason First Team All-Big 12 squad. Forward Terry Maston is expected to pick up much of the slack. Like Lindsey, Maston showed great promise in limited action (20.2 PPG and 8.2 RPG per 40 minutes in 2015-16). If Drew’s accomplished history in developing big men is any indication, Maston could be in for a breakout campaign. And after losing the Rico Gathers double-double machine, Drew added freshman Mark Vital, a 6’5″, 230-pound manboulder who teammates have already begun calling “Baby Rico.”
This Baylor team is poised to introduce a number of new faces and veteran players who will be asked to play more minutes than ever before. Some appear ready to contribute right off the bat, but, given the strength of the league and the preseason uncertainty of so many of their roles, expect the Bears to take a moderate dip in the standings. It won’t be that bad of a year, though. All of the players mentioned should still have eligibility in the 2017-18 season, and if they all return, look out for next year’s club to make some serious noise in the conference race.