After claiming the top spot in the AP poll for the first time in school history, the Baylor Bears traveled to Morgantown last Tuesday, turned the ball over 29 times, and got run out of the building. It is the lone blemish in what has been an outstanding season for Scott Drew’s 16-1 squad.
If you are just now starting to tune into college basketball, let me catch you up on what Baylor has done so far this year. The Bears put together what is arguably the most impressive non-conference resume in college basketball, with wins coming against Oregon, Michigan State, VCU, Louisville, and Xavier. And the fun has continued through the start of conference play, as Coach Drew’s team is 4-1 in Big 12 contests so far this year.
Baylor’s success this season perhaps has come as something of a surprise to the college basketball world. But to be honest, it really shouldn’t have. Because despite losing Taurean Prince to the NBA as well as senior starters Lester Medford and Rico Gathers off of last season’s squad, the Bears came into the year with a deep and impressive roster.
The most impressive player on that roster is 6’10 junior Johnathan Motley, who is making a case to be the Big 12 Player of the Year (the smart money would be on Kansas’ Frank Mason at this point, but Motley isn’t too far behind). A season ago Motley forced his way into the starting lineup. He is tall and athletic, and is terrific scoring around the basket, is aggressive on the glass, and adds size and length to a Baylor front line on defense that hardly needs it.
Motley’s length is almost redundant alongside 7’0 junior college transfer Jo Lual-Acuil, who sat out all of last season with concerns about his health, but this year is cleared to play. Lual-Acuil is a decent enough offensive player, but where he really shines is on defense.
Over the years, Scott Drew’s offenses have consistently ranked among the best in the nation, while the Bear defense has held Baylor back. That is not the case this season, as the Bears currently have a top five defense nationally per the kenpom.com adjusted defense ranking, and are currently leading the Big 12 in points allowed per possession in league games. Lual-Acuil is an exceptional rim protector who cleans up just about everything on the back end of the Bear defense. Terry Maston will also rotate into the front court, and he is a solid player as well.
With the departure of Medford, Miami transfer Manu Lecomte has taken over as the Bears point guard. He is having an outstanding season, distributing the ball in the Baylor offense, while also shooting 40 percent from three point range, 51 percent from two point range, and 82 percent from the line. He is the kind of undersized precision shooting point guard who has historically thrived for Baylor, and he is following along well with that history. Lecomte is backed up by 6-5 Jake Lindsey, who is a pretty solid player as well. Additionally, Drew rolls with lineups that play both Lecomte and Lindsey together.
The Bears also have some good players on the wings. 6’5 senior Ish Wainright has an almost superhero physique and does a little bit of everything for Drew’s team. He doesn’t score a lot, but he can score. He is probably more dangerous as a passer, and is just a really smart basketball player.
The other wing that the Longhorns have to keep track of is Al Freeman, who is yet another strong perimeter shooter for the Bears. And while he has seen his minutes go down lately, King McClure gives Baylor a more dynamic athlete off the bench.
The Texas Longhorns will have their hands full on the road against Baylor. The game tips off at 6 p.m. CT and airs on ESPN2.