October 27, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 10 Baylor

STRENGTHS: Baylor is loaded with talented big men. Outside of North Carolina and Kentucky, there aren't many frontcourts in the country better than this one. Perry Jones is a future lottery pick whose upside is much greater than his 2010-11 season averages (13.9 points, 7.2 rebounds) suggest. The Big 12 coaches named Jones the preseason conference player of the year. The Bears also have Quincy Acy, an athletic 6-7 forward who averaged 12.4 points and 7.6 rebounds as the Big 12's sixth man of the year last season. Anthony Jones, a 6-10 senior forward, has made 67 consecutive starts. Baylor gained even more firepower in the frontcourt with the addition of 6-7 freshman Quincy Miller, the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class. Baylor's backcourt is much more of a question mark, but the Bears do return A.J. Walton, who led the Big 12 with 2.3 steals per game last season. Baylor returns six of its top seven scorers and each of its top three rebounders. This probably is the most talented team in the Big 12.

F Quincy Acy (6-7/225, Sr.)
F Perry Jones (6-11/235, Soph.)
F Quincy Miller (6-1/210, Fr.)
G Brady Heslip (6-2/170, Soph.)
G Pierre Jackson (5-10/175, Jr.)
F Anthony Jones (6-10/190, Sr.)
G Deuce Bello (6-4/180, Fr.)
G A.J. Walton (6-1/185, Jr.)

Coach: Scott Drew (9th season at Baylor)
Last season's record: 18-13 overall, 7-9 in Big 12 (T-7th in league)
Postseason: None
Final regular-season RPI: 94th
Last NCAA appearance: 2010
WEAKNESSES: Baylor ranked at the bottom of the Big 12 in turnover margin (minus-0.9 per game1) and 11th in the league in assist-turnover ratio (0.75-1) and assists (9.94 per game) last season. Now the Bears must try to upgrade those numbers with an inexperienced backcourt. Walton is the only guard back from last season's team. That means the Bears also must find a scorer to replace LaceDarius Dunn, who ranked third in the Big 12 in scoring (19.5 ppg). Baylor does have plenty of options in the backcourt. Pierre Jackson helped the College of Southern Idaho win a national junior college title. Brady Heslip arrives from Boston College for the start of the season, and California transfer Gary Franklin becomes eligible at the end of the fall semester. Coach Scott Drew has been raving about freshman Deuce Bello's athleticism. But all these guys are unproven. It may take some time to sort out which guards deserve the most playing time. Baylor also must establish some momentum to erase the memory's of last season's fade, when the Bears lost five of their last six games. Perry Jones will sit out the first five games of the year as part of the NCAA suspension that also caused an early end to his freshman season.

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OUTLOOK: This is a tough team to figure. On paper, Baylor should be the pick to win the Big 12 title. But if you believe in the notion that a quality backcourt is the biggest key to success, Baylor's lack of experienced guards offer cause for concern. This also is a team that underachieved last season, missing the postseason entirely after advancing to an NCAA regional final a year earlier. And who's going to emerge as the team's big scorer now that Dunn has ended his career? Having said all that, it's still hard to imagine Baylor struggling as much as it did last season. There's too much talent on the roster. Baylor's frontcourt should cause matchup problems for just about anyone. Baylor had a disappointing season in 2009, only to bounce back the following season and reach a regional final. Baylor could rebound from its latest subpar season in similar fashion.

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.


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