Rarely does a team lose its top scorer, rebounder and assists leader and expect to get better. But Scott Drew is confident it can happen this season at Baylor.
“We’ve got some experienced guys returning and some guys ready to step into a bigger role,” Drew says. “More than anything, though, I love our chemistry.”
Drew certainly isn’t downplaying the departures of NBA Lottery pick Taurean Prince (15.9 ppg), NFL Draft pick Rico Gathers (9.0 rpg) and starting point guard Lester Medford (6.5 apg). Their numbers will be tough to replace. Still — largely because of the addition of point guard Manu Lecomte, a transfer from Miami (Fla.) — Drew’s confidence is high that Baylor’s talent and depth are good enough to finish in the upper half of the Big 12 for the third straight season.
All Big 12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Scott Drew
2015-16 RECORD (BIG 12): 22–12 (10–8)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Yale 79–75 in the first round
2016-17 PREDICTION: Fourth in Big 12
F Rico Gathers (11.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg)
G Lester Medford (8.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 6.5 apg)
F Taurean Prince (15.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
One of the biggest keys to Baylor’s success is 6'9" junior Johnathan Motley — one of the most gifted players in the Big 12, but also one of the more enigmatic. Motley eclipsed the 20-point barrier seven times last season, but he also had eight games in which he tallied four points or fewer. Motley’s length, athleticism and soft shooting touch have caught the attention of NBA scouts, but he needs to play with more of a killer instinct and become more dependable.
Joining Motley in the paint — especially when the Bears play “small ball” — will be Ish Wainright. No player on Baylor’s roster has improved as much over the last few years as the broad-shouldered Wainright, who has developed a reputation as a do-everything guy who pounds the offensive glass, handles the ball in transition and even hits an occasional 3-pointer.
Look for T.J. Maston to log significant minutes alongside Motley when Baylor employs its bigger lineup. The nephew of former NBA forward Tony Battie excited coaches with five double-digit outings during Big 12 play, but he fizzled down the stretch.
Jo Acuil, who redshirted last season, could play a significant role off the bench. The 7'0" shot swatter from Australia averaged 20.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 4.7 blocks for Neosho County (Kan.) Community College in 2014-15. Also fighting for minutes in the rotation will be Nuni Omot, who averaged 12.2 points and 5.4 rebounds last season in junior college.
The strength of Baylor’s team will be its guards. It all starts with Lecomte, a junior who will be a significant upgrade at the point over Medford, who was serviceable but often erratic. Lecomte averaged 7.9 points for Miami during a 2014-15 season that was highlighted by a 23-point effort in a road win at Duke. Lecomte, who made 45.6 percent of his 3-pointers, will be Baylor’s best long-range shooter since Brady Heslip. Lecomte may not match Medford’s assist numbers, but he’ll make up for it with his scoring and leadership.
Joining Lecomte in the backcourt will be junior combo guard Al Freeman, Baylor’s leading returning scorer (11.3 ppg). Freeman made 50 3-pointers a year ago, which ranked second on the team. He’s also an aggressive penetrator who takes good care of the ball, averaging just 1.3 turnovers as a sophomore.
At the other guard position, Bears coaches are hopeful that King McClure emerges as a breakout player. McClure has the shooting skills to be one of the top long-range threats in the Big 12, but it was difficult for him to get into a rhythm coming off the bench.
If he’s not starting, look for sophomore Jake Lindsey to be the first guard off of Baylor’s bench. Lindsey isn’t a big-time scorer, but he’s a dependable ball-handler who can calm things down when the Bears get sped up. Coaches are also excited about the potential of shooting guard Wendell “Chuck” Mitchell, a high-level scorer who redshirted last season.
Three players (Manu Lecomte, Jo Acuil and Wendell Mitchell) who sat out last season should make an impact. Lecomte, a point guard, may be the best player on the team. Don’t be surprised if he leads the Bears in scoring. Acuil is a junior college transfer who will likely be a part of Baylor’s frontcourt rotation. Mitchell is a scoring guard who will fight for minutes in a crowded backcourt. Tyson Jolly (defensive specialist) and Mark Vital (high-level rebounder) could contribute in spurts.
The Bears have averaged 23 wins over the past two seasons but have been upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament both times, falling to No. 14 seed Georgia State in 2015 and No. 12 seed Yale last spring. Drew is confident that the addition of Lecomte, improved consistency from Motley and potential breakouts by players such as McClure and Maston will be enough to alter that trend. Baylor has the pieces to place as high as second in a Big 12 conference that will feature only one elite team (Kansas). But if things don’t come together, the Bears could finish as low as seventh.