Big 12 Team Previews: Baylor

During the preseason, I have been taking an in-depth look at every school in the Big 12.  In these previews, I focus on the past (i.e. last season's strengths and weaknesses), the changes (i.e. incoming freshmen, departing seniors, new coaches), and the future.

See past previews: Iowa StateNebraskaOklahomaTexas TechTexas A&M, Oklahoma StateTexasColoradoKansas

I'm worried about Baylor.  Relatively speaking.  I'm worried that I picked them sixth nationally (currently I'm putting them around 13).  I'm worried that while Perry Jones might be better than Ekpe Udoh offensively, Udoh's most important talents were shot blocking and rebounding.  And I'm worried they don't have a point guard.  And on an unrelated note: I'm concerned about the effects of negative situations off the court.

I'm not worried about Baylor on other fronts.  They'll be super athletic, again.  The Bears will have likely All-American LaceDarius Dunn, arguably the best purer scorer in college basketball.  Last year he averaged nearly 20 points a game.  This year if he can average 17 points a game, he will take the Big 12 scoring record (he only needs 518 points), which would be an incredible accomplishment.  Dunn will be joined by the highest touted recruit in Baylor history: Perry Jones.  I'll let the guys at Draft Express (read: experts) give you the scoop on Jones:

Simply put, no prospect in the 2010 high school class displays more NBA potential than Baylor commit Perry Jones. Right off the bat, Jones wows you with his terrific physical attributes-standing 6-10 or 6-11, with a great frame, long arms and incredible athleticism. Jones runs the floor like a deer, explodes off the ground as if he has a personal trampoline at his disposal, and is extremely fluid and reactive to everything that goes on around him.

And how could we forget Scott Drew.  He's totally revived the Baylor program, since it was left in total disgrace after an abominable offseason catastrophe.  That's about the only way you can describe a coach (who's coaching again?!?!) covering up paying a player's tuition by falsely accusing the player of being a drug dealer after said player was murdered by another player.  Drew has brought the Bears back to the national spotlight (well, at least the good national spotlight) with their Elite Eight run last season.  Based on his recent recruiting (he just got commitments from 2011's 5-star Quincy Miller and 4-star Deuce Bellow to go with 2012's 5-star Isaiah Austin).  

More after the jump.

Back to my worries.  Last year the Bears were national darlings, coming out of irrelevance--strike that, out of infamy--into the Elite Eight spotlight before running into eventual national champion Duke.  They never lost by more than seven points.  No team in the country can say that.  The difference this year is that everyone is expecting Scott Drew's squad to be a force in the Big 12 and even nationally.  This will be the first time most of these players have dealt with real expectations, and I'm not sure how they'll respond to the added pressures.

Speaking of lofty expectations, Perry Jones has tons coming with him to Waco.  I'm not worried about him producing offensively.  He has the athleticism to be an instant force on the offensive end (and by instant force I mean instant highlight reel).  But Ekpe Udoh's shot blocking and rebounding were just as important to Baylor's success as his offensive production.  Having someone to pick up the trash, cleaning up behind you on defense makes everyone's jobs easier.  I'm not sure Perry Jones is ready to do the dirty work.  Frankly, I'm not sure many freshmen are ready to do the dirty work because the college game is so much more physical, especially in the paint.

Truthfully, the Bears can get over expectations or get used to them.  Drew is a good enough coach to minimize losing Udoh's post presence.  I'm not sure he can make up for Tweety Carter.  College basketball is won with good point guards.  Look at the national champions from the last five years (2006-07 Florida, Taurean Green; 2008 Kansas, Mario Chalmers; 2009 UNC, Ty Lawson; 2010 Duke, Jon Scheyer).  That's a pretty elite group (especially when you add in the likes of Derrick Rose and Kalin Lucas for runner-ups).  This year, Baylor will rely on LaceDarius Dunn to take over primary ball handling responsibilities, and that could really affect their offensive efficiency.

So that's why I'm waffling on the Bears.  I still think they should be a top-15 team, and I still think they'll have the talent to make a deep run in the Big Dance next april--especially if Dunn runs the offense well.  As for conference play, I think they lucked into a pretty cushy schedule.  They play Texas twice (which could be harder than expected, but after they dominated the series last year and Texas lost talent, I think they should win both), Texas Tech twice (another that could be more interesting than expected), Texas A&M twice (Mark Turgeon won't roll over, but the Bears should have the advantage), Oklahoma twice, Oklahoma State twice, and Kansas at home.  I'm not sure they'd beat the Jayhawks in Lawrence (truthfully, I think they'll be very similar teams), but they don't have to.  Assuming they drop two of their tougher games (and the ones in Columbia and Manhattan), the Bears are still looking at a superb conference record.

Predicted conference record: 12-4

Follow me on Twitter: @rise_and_fire

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