Thursday, October 20, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 12 Baylor Bears

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 18-13, 7-9 (t-7th Big 12), lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament

Head Coach: Scott Drew

Key Losses: LaceDarius Dunn, Nolan Dennis, Stargell Love

Newcomers: Quincy Miller, Deuce Bello, Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip, Gary Franklin

Projected Lineup:

- G: Pierre Jackson, Jr.
- G: Brady Heslip, So.
- F: Anthony Jones, Sr.
- F: Perry Jones, So.
- C: J'Mison Morgan, Sr.
- Bench: Quincy Miller, Fr.; Quincy Acy Sr.; Gary Franklin, So.; AJ Walton, Jr.; Deuce Bello, Fr.; Fred Ellis, Sr.

Outlook: Baylor's 2010-2011 season started out rocky and ended even worse. LaceDarius Dunn, a preseason all-american, was suspended for three games stemming from an assault that left his girlfriend with a broken jaw. After a season in which the Bears were never able to live up to the talent on their roster, the year ended with Perry Jones getting suspended for receiving improper benefits from his AAU coach, part of which was used -- and paid back -- by his mom in an effort to pay rent. Despite the suspension, however, Jones opted to return to school, giving Baylor one of the biggest, most versatile front line in the country in a long, long time.

The main issue for the Bears this season is precisely the problem that plagued them all of last season -- who will run the point for this team? There are three legitimate options. The first is the most obvious -- AJ Walton. Walton was the starter as a sophomore last season, and he was up and down. His numbers looked good -- 7.9 ppg, 4.2 apg -- but Walton turned the ball over far too often -- 3.4 per game -- and left much to be desired with his shot selection. Sophomore Gary Franklin is another option, but he has major red flags as well. He transferred out of Cal after just one semester that included 11 starts because he wasn't happy with how he was being used (or yelled at) under Mike Montgomery. Franklin is a shoot-first point guard with an attitude problem. I don't think he's the answer, either.

The consensus seems to be that Pierre Jackson is the guy that is going to earn the starting job. Standing just 5'10", Jackson is a superb athlete that spent the past two years racking up all-american honors while playing at the College of Southern Idaho, who he led to the JuCo national title last season. That run is what vaulted him up recruiting rankings. Jackson can shoot the ball, but he is at his best when he is penetrating to pass. He's not going to be able to score in the lane all that often in the Big 12 given his size, but if he can draw help defenders, there are enough big bodies for the Bears that Jackson should be able to rack up the assists.

That brings us to our second issue for Baylor -- perimeter shooting. If Baylor is unable to shoot the ball from the perimeter, part of their size advantage (which we will get to in a minute) will be mitigated by defenses collapsing on the paint. With LaceDarius Dunn gone, the Bears now lack a serious three-point shooting threat. Walton shot near 40% from beyond the arc last season, and if he is teamed with Jackson in the back court it will allow Walton to be more of a spot-up shooter. Brady Heslip, a transfer from Boston College, will be able to fill this role as well as Anthony Jones, a 6'10" small forward that knocked down 39.4% of his threes last season. Deuce Bello, a highly-regarded back court recruit, is an electric athlete that will make a couple of Sportscenter top tens this season, is not yet a three-point threat. Bello will force Baylor to give him minutes, however, as he will be able to make players defensively on the top of their zone.

For all the question marks in Baylor's back court, the reason they are ranked so high is the absurd amount of talent they have in their front court. I'd expect Anthony Jones to start, at least at the beginning of the year, at the small forward, but its impossible to ignore the talent level of the freshman that Scott Drew brought in behind him. Quincy Miller is a 6'9" combo-forward that has drawn comparisons to Kevin Durant and Danny Manning. He's probably not as much of a pure-wing as Durant is just yet, but the resemblance is there.

Amazingly enough, Miller isn't even the most versatile forward on Baylor's roster with Perry Jones back in the mix. Jones is a seven-foot small forward. He can block shots and clean the defensive glass, but he's also capable of taking a defensive rebound and dribbling the length of the floor to lead the break. He can create a shot from inside or out. He can finish off a pass with a dunk or a jumper. If both Miller and Jones are hitting from the perimeter, they give Baylor a terrifying 1-2 punch offensively that happen to both be a perfect fit for Drew's defensive system.

In the middle, its still unclear exactly who is going to start between J'Mison Morgan and Quincy Acy. Morgan is bigger and worked his way into the starting lineup at the end of last season. Acy is a much better player, however. He's big, he's strong, he's athletic and he's aggressive. Acy doesn't have much in the way of a post move, but he goes to the glass as hard as anyone in the country and he knows how to block shots.

Baylor has a ton of questions that need to be answered this season. Who runs the point? Where do they make up that perimeter shooting? How are the minutes going to be divided in the front court? Scott Drew is going to earn his salary coaching this team. But if he can find a way to get all the pieces to fit together, the Bears are talented enough to make a run at the Final Four.

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