Tuesday, October 7, 2008

No. 17 Baylor: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 21-11, 9-7 Big XII (t-4th)

Key Losses: Aaron Bruce (8.4 ppg)

Key Returnees: Curtis Jerrells (15.3 ppg, 3.8 apg), LaceDarius Dunn (13.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg), Kevin Rogers (12.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg)

Newcomers: Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones, Fred Ellis, Kendall Wright, Artem Valov

Baylor was one of the biggest surprises in the country last season, winning 21 games and advancing to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years. The main reason for that was their back court, which is probably the best in the Big XII. Baylor loves to push the ball and play a wide open style, and Curtis Jerrells is the guy that makes this team go. He is a good scorer and creator, and although he generally looks for his own shot first, he averaged 3.8 apg last year while cutting his turnovers down from almost 3 to just over 2 per game. Jerrells biggest issue as a player is that he shoots a lot of 3's (5 per game), but makes a low percentage (33%).

LaceDarius Dunn was the Bears second leading scorer last year at 13.6 ppg, despite not starting a single game and playing just 22 mpg. Dunn is about 6'4" and strong, but he is not overly athletic. A phenomenal shooter (he shot 42% from three last year, taking more than 60% of his shots from behind the arc), Dunn is very crafty when he puts the ball on the floor and usually finishes his drives with short jumpers or floaters. Dunn was one of the most efficient players in the country last year (ask Luke Winn), and could be primed for a huge sophomore year. Henry Dugat and Tweety Carter are also both excellent players. Dugat is a bit bigger than Carter (6'0" to 5'10"), but both are similar players - they can knock down the three, they are good defenders, and they can create their own shot off the dribble. Dugat is a little better defensively (he is also a fantastic athlete with a 40" vert), while Carter, the first McDonald's all-american recruit to attend Baylor, is probably a more complete offensive player (a better shooter and distributor). Freshman Kendall Wright, an all-state player from Texas who is a "walk-on" (at Baylor on a football scholarship) should also compete for minutes.

The Baylor front line is where they have questions marks. Kevin Rogers is very good in the system that Baylor runs. He is athletic and mobile, and is most effective on the move (i.e. running the floor or rolling to the basket after a screen and roll, two things Baylor does a lot) because he has great body control and good hands. He is a good finisher around the rim, but he is still not very polished offensively (with his back to the basket or facing up) despite being a senior. The Bears also have two 7-footers returning. Senior Mamadou Diene is one of the best shot blockers in the Big XII, but not much more than that. Junior Josh Lomers is better offensively, but still isn't much more than a 7-foot stiff.

Baylor also adds three freshman to the front court rotation. Anthony Jones is a 6'10" combo forward who is very good at running the floor and has a solid perimeter game with three point range, although he tends to float around outside too much (think Donte Greene of Syracuse last year). Quincy Acy is similar to Kevin Rogers, in that he is an athletic, aggressive 6'8" forward that is a strong finisher around the rim, but lacking in ball skills. Redshirt freshman Fred Ellis also should compete for some minutes now that he will be eligible. JuCo transfer Artem Valov, a 6'9", 245 lb bruiser, also signed with Baylor, but is not currently listed on the roster on the Baylor website.

Outlook: Baylor plays a helter-skelter, fast paced style, and when their guards are hitting their shot, they are going to be a tough team to beat. The difference between this year's team and last year's team is that they will be a little bit more balanced. Both Jones and Acy should be able to provide some quality minutes and provide some depth at the forward spot, allowing Scott Drew a little more freedom to mix and match his line-ups. I don't think they are as good as Texas or Oklahoma, but a third place finish and a Sweet 16 run are definitely within reach for this team.

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