Thursday, October 28, 2010

No. 8 Baylor Bears

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Last Season: 28-8, 11-5 (t-2nd Big XII), lost in the Elite 8 to Duke

Head Coach: Scott Drew

Key Losses: Tweety Carter, Ekpe Udoh, Josh Lomers

Newcomers: Perry Jones, Stargell Love, Levi Norwood, J'Mison Morgan

Projected Lineup:

  • G: AJ Walton, So.
  • G: LaceDarius Dunn, Sr.
  • F: Anthony Jones, Jr.
  • F: Quincy Acy, Jr.
  • F: Perry Jones, Fr.
  • Bench: Stargell Love, Fr.; J'Mison Morgan, Jr.; Nolan Dennis, So.

Outlook: Just seven short years ago, Baylor's basketball program was effectively dead thanks to Dave Bliss. Today, the Bears are coming off of a run to the Elite 8 and, thanks to Scott Drew, have become one of the best up and coming programs in the country. Right now, however, the issue surrounding the Baylor program is the cost at which that success is coming. There is the connection to the Cliftons, the potential texting violations by an assistant coach, and enough innuendo and rumor to momentarily make one forget about John Calipari.

None of that, however, has much of a bearing on this season. What does have a bearing on this year is the status of LaceDarius Dunn. Dunn is a 6'4" scoring guard that will make an appearance on quite a few first team preseason all-american lists. In a league full of talent, Dunn may just be the potent scorer in the Big XII. His offense centers around his jump shot, which he can hit with range and under pressure. In fact, his ability to hit contested threes may be his biggest fault; he tends to force jumpers early in the shot clock. He's not great when he puts the ball on the floor, but if he is able to beat his man, Dunn is very good at drawing contact and getting to the line. With Carter and Udoh both gone, he will be relied upon even more for scoring as a senior. So why the question about his status? Well, Dunn was accused of punching his girlfriend. He was suspended from school and from team activities, but has since been reinstated for both. There is no word yet on the length of a suspension he would face from the team (although I doubt it will be much more than a few games).

Beyond Dunn, the rest of the Baylor back court will be a bit of a question mark, especially at the point. Stargell Love is a top 100 freshman (and also part of that D-One Sports/Clifton Brothers pipeline that includes Quincy Miller, Deuce Bello, and would have included John Wall) and should see some minutes, but I personally expect AJ Walton to slide in and start at the point. Walton started the first four games of last season when Tweety Carter was out and did an solid job. But regardless of who is running the show, its tough not to envision a serious drop off in production from Carter. Nolan Dennis, a 6'6" two guard, will see minutes behind Dunn. He's a sophomore and a former top 50 recruit that originally committed to Memphis before John Calipari left for Kentucky.

Dunn may be this team's star, but the Bears' strength will be their front court. The guy you absolutely have to mention first is Perry Jones. Jones, a likely one-and-done kid, is 6'11" and a terrific athlete with the ability to score from just about anywhere on the court. He's more of a face-up player than a back to the basket threat at this point in his career, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing given the rest of the Baylor front line. What will be interesting to watch is whether or not Jones can develop on the defensive end. He has the tools to be as effective as Ekpe Udoh on that end of the floor, and if he does it will be a huge boost for this Baylor team defensively. From what I've seen written about Baylor, losing the defensive presence that Udoh provided seems to be a point that is being glossed over.

The other two guys that will see significant minutes in the paint are Quincy Acy and J'Mison Morgan. Acy is a 6'7" junior, an athletic freak, and quite possibly the hardest dunker in the country. His offensive game is not developed much beyond being a dunker, but he can block a few shots and grab a few boards. It will be interesting to see what Morgan provides. A big time recruit coming out of high school, Morgan never lived up to his top 25 billing while at UCLA. Part of it was effort, and part of it was simply being out of shape. He can be a force on the block, but it will be up to him to decide if he wants to be. He will be eligible to play immediately after getting a waiver from the NCAA.

Anthony Jones could be an x-factor on this team. He's a 6'10" lefty with three point range and one of the first blue-chip recruits that Scott Drew landed in his tenure. But Jones hasn't quite developed like people thought he would. He does, however, play the three and have a ton of length. The rest of the front court rotation for Baylor will be filled out by Cody Jefferson and Fred Ellis.

Baylor has a chance to be a very good team this season. They have a star in Dunn and they have quite a bit of size and athleticism up front. They have the kind of roster that, theoretically, will be effective in their 2-3 zone. But there are a number of question marks. How long will Dunn be out? Can Walton and Love replace Carter's production at the point? Will Jones or Morgan develop into a low-post scorer? Or defender? There's quite a bit of potential in Waco, but if Scott Drew can't put the pieces together, this is a ranking that has a chance to look silly come March.

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