Veteran Bears are Big 12 contenders
Other than Kansas, no team in the Big 12 has been as consistent in recent years as Baylor. Scott Drew’s program has finished in the upper half of the league standings six of the past eight years and has averaged 10.1 conference wins during that span.
Still, despite all of their success, the Bears have never been able to win a Big 12 title. That could change in 2019-20.
Although Kansas is the obvious favorite, no team appears better equipped to challenge the Jayhawks than Baylor, which returns all but one (Makai Mason) of the key pieces from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad.
The addition of transfers Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague has bolstered an already strong backcourt, and the return of forward Tristan Clark from a knee injury will make the Bears dangerous down low.
“We’ve got a lot of nice pieces,” Drew says. “It’s just a matter of making them all fit together.”
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Scott Drew
2018-19 RECORD (BIG 12): 20-14 (10-8)
2018-19 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Gonzaga 83-71 in the second round
G/F Mario Kegler (10.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
G Makai Mason (14.9 ppg, 3.4 apg)
G King McClure (9.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
One of the biggest surprises last season — and, ultimately, a huge key to Baylor’s success — was how well Division III transfer Freddie Gillispie performed following Clark’s season-ending knee injury in early January. Gillispie averaged 5.3 points and 4.4 boards off the bench while shooting 65.2 percent from the field. He’ll be a key contributor once again and will benefit from the presence of Clark, who was contributing 14.6 points and 6.3 rebounds before his sophomore campaign was cut short. Clark’s blend of power and finesse in the paint gives opponents fits, but perhaps no Baylor player is a tougher matchup than junior Mark Vital. Despite standing just 6'5", Vital was one of the top offensive rebounders in the country last season, with half of his 7.2 boards coming on the offensive end. Vital’s energy and motor — he had 17 rebounds against Arizona — set the tone for the Bears in the huddle.
Swingman Mario Kegler was expected to be a key contributor but opted to leave school — after being suspended — and will pursue a professional career overseas.
Wing Matthew Mayer was erratic at times as a freshman, but he’s a volume scorer who could contribute significantly this season.
Few backcourts in the country will be able to match Baylor’s in terms of talent, depth and experience. Leading the way will be Jared Butler, who blossomed into one of the country’s top freshmen last season and had a 31-point performance against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Butler, who shot 35.1 percent from 3-point range, can play point guard or shooting guard. Baylor coaches are hoping he and Mitchell find chemistry on the perimeter. Mitchell averaged 17.1 minutes off the bench for Auburn two years ago and was a top-75 national recruit coming out of high school.
Teague and Devonte Bandoo are also expected to be backcourt regulars, if not starters. Teague averaged 16.7 points while shooting a Big South-best 42.5 percent from long range as a sophomore for UNC Asheville. Bandoo made 39.5 percent of his 3s last season and at times was one of Baylor’s best guards. He averaged 15.3 points during a six-game stretch that included wins over Texas and Iowa State.
Baylor is a veteran team with depth and proven players at every position. Scoring, especially from the perimeter, shouldn’t be a problem. And the addition of Mitchell should lead to a much-improved defense. If Clark returns to form, and Mitchell and Teague make an impact, the Bears will be good enough to contend for a Big 12 title and a Final Four berth for the first time since 1950.
Postseason Prediction: Round of 32
Big 12 Prediction: 2nd
(photo from Baylor athletics)