Road to the Final Four at Ford Field: No. 23 Baylor
The last time Baylor opened a season coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, Ronald Reagan was on his way out of the Oval Office.
The Bears' coach Scott Drew walked the halls of his high school when Baylor last made the NCAA Tournament in 1988. BU quickly fell to the bottom of the conference receiving Big 12 trouncing after Big 12 trouncing.
Drew took over for scandal-plagued Dave Bliss in 2003 just two months before Drew's 33rd birthday. With the combination of Drew's father being legendary Valparasio coach Homer Drew and Scott's young age, Baylor knew the hiring of the 33-year-old could lead to the formation of a potential perennial powerhouse.
Five seasons into Drew's tenure, that potential is finally paying off.
He fought through strict sanctions from the mess former Coach Dave Bliss left Drew to win 15 games in 2007 and 21 games last year.
Coach Drew has put together an impressive string of recruiting classes that has culminated with a mix of seasoned veterans and standout freshmen. Four seniors, two juniors, a sophomore, and two freshmen will shoulder the bulk of the minutes in 2009.
Senior forward Kevin Rogers anchors the frontcourt; the big man is the Big 12's third leading returning rebounder from 2008. He's also got a nice scoring touch usually using his left hand to put points on the board.
Rogers' classmates guards Curtis Jerrells and Henry Dugat will also pack a punch. The three seniors each averaged double-digit points during their junior campaigns.
Jerrells led the high scoring Bears who, according to Ken Pomeroy statistics, finished 15th in the country in offensive efficiency. Jerrells reach the 20 point plateau eight times in 2008 including a season high 36 in a quintuple overtime classic against Texas A&M.
Dugat is best known for his athleticism which leads to frequent dunks and drives that end up on highlight reels across the country. Of course his ability to dunk shouldn't come at a surprise considering the 6'0'' Dugat boasts a 40 inch vertical jump.
Dugat and Jerrells make up two thirds Baylor's three guard offense. Junior Tweety Carter rounds out the trio.
The sharp-shooter is the best three pointer shooter of the starters, but it's the Bears' sixth man that leads the team in long range shooting.
Sophomore LaceDarius Dunn knocked down a team leading 74 three-pointers coming off the bench. His 41.8 percent from three ranked seventh in the conference. Dunn also collected a pretty nice stash of accolades following his rookie season.
College HoopsNet named him to its Freshman All-America honorable mention team and the media selected Dunn to the Big 12 All-Freshman and Big 12 All-Reserve teams. Entering his freshman season as a top 50 recruit and the most hyped Baylor recruit in years, the now sophomore lived up to his billing in his freshman year.
Despite leading the team in threes as a reserve, Dunn's teammates were no slouches from long range either.
Tweety Carter finished just above Dunn in shooting percentage at 41.9 percent and knocked down 54 trifectas. Curtis Jerrells and Henry Dugat also chipped in 99 three-pointers combined.
Baylor's entire offense revolves around its ability to drill three-pointers. The Bears simply shoot over teams when up against a zone defense. Man-to-man isn't much more effective; BU focuses on driving and scoring or kicking to an open shooter on the perimeter.
Baylor returns four players who hit at least 40 threes in 2008 which means the BU offense should be able to repeat its success. Scott Drew's squad relished in the fast pace to a tune of a Big 12 best 81.3 points per game. Baylor's 72 possessions a game ranked 23rd in the country.
BU compliments its experience with two new impact players. Incoming freshmen Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones will provide much needed depth in the frontcourt. Both Acy and Jones are considered Top-100 prospects, and Acy will likely start on opening night.
Although Acy isn't as highly touted as Jones, Acy will provide a strong presence in the paint cleaning up misses on the offensive glass and clearing out the area under the basket on defense.
Anthony Jones will provide Scott Drew with another option from distance as his range extends beyond the new three point line. The 6'9'' Jones will also prove to be a nightmare to try to match up against. He'll be able to defend a variety of players while few will be able to guard him since he plays more like a guard or swingman, but has the size of a forward.
Jones will help Baylor improve its Big 12 worse scoring defense. The 74 point per game average is bloated a bit because of the up-tempo game the Bears play, but Baylor frequently struggled with coming up with stops. BU ranked only 105th in the country in defensive efficiency.
Even though Baylor probably won't start a true center, it will still have two seven-footers that will provide depth and defense. Mamadou Diene is a highly regarded shot blocker who rejected almost one out of every ten two-pointers taken while he was on the court.
The other big man is Josh Lomers who entered Baylor as a top 100 prospect. Although he hasn't lived up to the hype, Lomers still has two years left at BU to showcase his talents.
Baylor also welcomes in 6'9'' junior college transfer Artem Valov. He's a big body who won't see a lot of time, but adds depth inside if needed.
2008-2009 Season Forecast:
Nobody is going to stop Baylor from scoring. The outstanding guard play in a very open offense means BU will score against pretty much everybody, but suspect defense will keep this team from being among the nation's elite. If Scott Drew can get his players to buckle down and play some defense, Baylor will immediately morph into a top 10 or 15 team.
The Bears should get off to a quick start in non-conference play. They have only a few tough games including a trip to Anaheim to play in a tournament that includes Providence and Arizona State. The Bears will also play Washington St. in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.
Baylor should enter the conference slate with a 13-2 record and finish with an 11-5 record in conference for an overall record of 24-7 in the regular season.
BU has the talent to make a strong NCAA Tournament. A Sweet Sixteen appearance is likely, but a trip to the elite eight isn't too far-fetched.
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