Big 12 Burning Questions: Baylor Bears

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 7th, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s Big 12 2017-18 preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will the Bears’ starting backcourt be good enough to mask its lack of depth?

Baylor is coming off one of its best seasons ever. The Bears started the 2016-17 campaign unranked, but a torrid run through the Battle 4 Atlantis elevated Scott Drew‘s group into the Top 10 by late November. After an unbeaten run through non-conference play followed by a 3-0 Big 12 start, Baylor notched its first-ever #1 ranking by mid-January. The Bears eventually slowed down, but still tied West Virginia and Iowa State for second place in the final Big 12 standings and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament before getting bounced by the South Carolina buzzsaw. It was a tremendously effective mixture of players and style — All-America forward Johnathan Motley provided terrific production inside; Drew’s zone defense excelled at forcing bad shots (24th nationally in effective field goal percentage defense); and a steady supply of backcourt depth featured versatile components like Manu Lecomte, Al Freeman, Jake Lindsey, King McClure and Ish Wainright. Motley is a very tough talent to replace, but even if his departure causes the Bears to take a step back, they should still be strong up front with the returning trio of Jo Lual-AcuilTerry Maston and Nuni Omot leading the way.

Led by Manu Lecomte, the Bears backcourt will be relied upon more than it was in 2017. (Tom Pennington/Getty)

The main question with this year’s group of Bears pertains to its backcourt. Freeman and Wainright are gone, as is former reserve guard Wendell Mitchell, meaning that McClure and Lindsey will be thrust into starting roles. Lindsey projects as someone who will split the ball-handling duties with Lecomte, but moving the latter off the ball for stretches could ultimately maximize his talents, not to mention his energy and health. What may be problematic, rather, is that there isn’t much depth behind the three probable starters.

On the Baylor bench will be redshirt freshmen Tyson Jolly and Mark Vital. Jolly is a classic Drew athletic guard — carrying a 6’10” wingspan despite a height of 6’4″ — but he has a nose for the ball that will keep a number of offensive possessions alive. On the flip side, health is a lingering concern for the newcomer as he has a history of battling blood clots and a pulmonary embolism and may not be available for the early part of this season. At 6’5″ and 230 pounds, Vital is more of a bruising wing whose ideal role is to play behind McClure, getting inserted into any lineup that includes both Lecomte and Lindsey. Still, a concern is that an injury or off night for either of the two starters could force Vital into a role for which he isn’t particularly well-suited.

It’s silly that it’s taken this long for so many people to realize that Baylor is going to be a very good team year in and year out. Now in his 15th season in Waco, don’t expect the oft-maligned Drew to change his stripes, but unless Jolly and Vital develop significantly faster than anyone expects this season, he may have to get creative to keep his three best backcourt players on the floor as much as possible. Expect him to find a way.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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