Category: Baylor - Basketball Junkie
Last season was a banner season for the Baylor basketball program. Under seventh-year head coach Scott Drew, the Bears made it to the first ever Elite Eight in the school’s history, a feat made even more astounding by the depths from which the program has risen. Drew took over a program that had been rocked by scandal: the murder of player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson the most salacious and tragic, but multiple NCAA violations by previous head coach Dave Bliss nearly as damning. But Drew has built the program slowly, surely and cleanly, combining recruiting coups with excellent coaching. And now, not only is Baylor coming off the best season in the school’s history, but there is still plenty of talent and plenty of hope that the team can build upon their accomplishments. While forward Ekpe Udoh has departed for the NBA with a year of eligibility remaining, and point guard Tweety Carter, the first major recruiting get for Drew, has used up his eligibility, plenty of talent remains, and the next big Baylor recruiting steal arrives in the form of 6’9 Perry Jones, a skilled big man who already has NBA scouts drooling.

But the focus of the Baylor offense will continue to be 6’4 guard LaceDarius Dunn, now back for his senior season. Dunn led the team in scoring last season with nearly 20 points a night, and along the way also established a school record for total points in a single season. He is one of the nation’s premiere perimeter players (and one of its most confident), a guy that is not only a great shooter (42% from three, 86% from the line), but a great scorer as well, capable of scoring not only as a bomber, but as a slashing threat as well. Likely ready to take over the starting point guard role is sophomore A.J. Walton, who showed himself to be a capable facilitator in relief of Carter last season. Walton also knocked down perimeter shots at a highly efficient rate (46% from three on limited attempts), was an effective and creative finisher in the lane, and excelled defensively. Walton will have to hold off exciting freshman guard Stargell Love, however. Love is a terrific athlete who excels in the open floor and will fit in nicely with the Baylor running game. While Walton has the edge due to his year of experience, Love may be the brighter prospect overall and he will certainly earn plenty of minutes from Drew.

Jones figures to be the big threat in the frontcourt, and given his NBA Lottery-level talent, he’ll be a force. He is long and skilled, with inside/outside game – a good face-up jumper, the ability to put the ball on the floor, plus plenty of post moves to go along with natural rebounding ability. The one knock on him has been inconsistency, so he’ll need to make sure to bring his hard hat every night in order to get the most out of his amazing talents. But while Jones will have the spotlight in the Baylor frontcourt, there are several other talented players ready to contribute. Quincy Acy returns for his junior season, and he’ll be asked to improve upon the nine points and five rebounds he contributed nightly last season. Acy is another spectacular athlete on a uber-talented Bear squad, capable of wow-inducing dunks and rebounds. Most of his scoring is done from point-blank range, but he converts those chances at a high rate – he made his first 20 field goal attempts in his college career on his way to shooting 66% from the field as a freshman, then improved upon that number by making 70% of his field goal attempts last season. Alongside Jones and Acy up front will likely be 6’9 junior small forward Anthony Jones (no relation to Perry), who started all 36 games for the Bears in his sophomore season. Jones is a long and skinny athlete with a smooth offensive game, ranging from glides along the baseline out to three-point ability. It would be nice to see Jones improve his percentages from downtown, but he contributes on the defensive side as well. Speaking of defense, the Bears relied heavily on the 2-3 zone during last season’s run to the Elite Eight, but with Udoh and departed seven-footer Josh Lomers missing from the inside, there is some doubt as to what type of defense Drew will go with. With a frontline of both Jones’ and Acy, each right around 6’9 with spectacular athleticism to boot, the coaching staff has some flexibility. This lineup would present a long and intimidating zone, but each individual is athletic enough to develop into a strong man-on-man defender. In the end, expect Drew to stick with the zone as the primary defense, but mix in more man defense than they did last year.

The Baylor bench will be made up of a handful of young prospects. Junior wing Fred Ellis is the most experienced (he got about six minutes a night in his 29 appearances last year) of a pretty inexperienced bunch. Ellis is a skinny and solid player off the bench who rebounds well for his size, but seems destined to be a limited role player. Sophomore guard Nolan Dennis got a few more minutes a night than Ellis did last season, but seems to have more upside. While he’ll remain behind Dunn in the rotation, he is a capable offensive player who should see his minutes increase in his second year. Cory Jefferson, a 6’9 sophomore center, also got a handful of minutes last season, but he also figures to have his best days ahead of him. Jefferson has arms that seem to go on forever, and uses them to be a strong shotblocker. He also has some good offensive skills, with a little bit of a midrange jumper, and the ability to put the ball on the floor and go by a defender. Fellow sophomore Givon Crump is a combo-forward with excellent scoring ability, range out to the arc and a rebounding mentality. Finally, there is incoming freshman Bakari Turner, a 6’3 off-guard who is a good athlete with in-the-gym range. Given that Turner sits behind Dunn and Dennis (not to mention the two point guards), he’ll likely play a limited role as a freshman, but could be an important cog down the line.

The Bears’ run to the Elite Eight last year should not be mistaken for a fluke; Drew is definitely building a program here. This Baylor roster is jam-packed with elite athletes who should thrive in the open offense, but replacing Carter, both as the floor general and a leader off the court, will be no easy task. While Walton and Love are both talented guards, they have big shoes to fill, although the presence of Dunn’s dead-eye and Perry Jones’ athletic skill ready to bail them out on bad possessions should ease the transition. There is as much talent on this year’s edition of the Bears as there was last season, but they’ll need one of those guards to help bring everything together for Baylor to match or exceed last season’s successes.