#66 Baylor Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Preview

Baylor Bears
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #66
Conference Rank: #8 Big 12
The month of March is when great basketball programs are made, but last March did not go well for Baylor. The Bears were looking like a team that could do some serious damage in the NCAA Tournament heading into the month, but the team opened up the month of March with two losses to close out the regular season. In the Big 12 championship Baylor beat Texas before falling to Kansas. Then in the NCAA Tournament, it was a big upset by Yale that sent the Bears home in the first round. With three starters gone and in a conference that is extremely tough, Baylor could find it difficult to make it back to the NCAA Tournament in 2017.
2015-16 Record: 22-12, 10-8
2015-16 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Scott Drew
Coach Record: 252-172 at Baylor, 272-183 overall
Who’s Out:
The three lost starters are Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Lester Medford. Prince went from the conference’s best sixth man two years ago to one of the best players in the Big 12 last year. The 6-7 forward averaged 15.9 points and 6.1 rebounds and was always very efficient scoring the ball, whether it was inside or outside. Gathers joined Prince in the frontcourt and formed one of the best frontcourts in the country. Gathers averaged 11.2 points and 9.0 rebounds. That was a bit of a disappointing senior season considering what Gathers had done earlier in his career, but he was still a great interior scorer and one of the best rebounders in the country. Little used Austin Mills and John Heard are the other departures.
Who’s In:
Manu Lecomte, a 5-11 guard, is the biggest name among the newcomers. He spent two seasons at Miami (FL) and averaged 7.9 points and 1.8 assists during his sophomore season in 2014-2015. Lecomte is a proven three-point shooter, but he does need somebody to create space for him. Regardless, Lecomte should provide a nice offensive spark for this team. The backcourt also adds redshirt freshman Wendell Mitchell and incoming freshman Tyson Jolly. Jolly will compete with Lecomte for minutes running the point and Coach Scott Drew is never opposed to having more than one player on the floor who can handle the ball so Jolly could spend some time off of the ball too, although his offensive game still needs some work. The frontcourt adds junior college transfers Jo Lual-Acuil and Nuni Omot and freshman Mark Vital and all three of them will likely play some quality minutes right away. Lual-Acuil is a big seven-footer who should step into the backup center role. Omot, at 6-8 and 200 pounds, is a likely candidate to back up the power forward position. Vital is a versatile 6-5 small forward. He may be short, but he is tough and that does give Coach Drew the option to play with a smaller lineup if the rest of the frontcourt depth does not pan out.
Who to Watch:
Other than the point guard position, Baylor returns plenty of talent to fill the rest of the squad. Al Freeman and King McClure are the shooting guards. Freeman started all 34 games last season and was second on the team with 11.3 points per game. He connected on 38.2 percent of his 131 three-point attempts and should be in for an even bigger junior year. Freeman could emerge as the team leader for Baylor now that Prince and Gathers are gone and shift the focus from the frontcourt to the backcourt. McClure is a very promising sophomore who came to Waco, Texas with a lot of fanfare. He averaged just 4.4 points per game as a freshman, but he is a very talented player who can knock down shots and attack the basket effectively. At small forward, Ishmail Wainright will start again with Jake Lindsey providing some depth. Wainright averaged just 5.9 points per game, but he also tallied 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists. Wainright is basically a glue guy who helps out the team however needed, yet he is a good shooter and can do some more scoring. Terry Maston and Johnathan Motely are the returning frontcourt players. Maston averaged just 12.1 minutes per game as a sophomore last season, but he did a lot of scoring during those limited minutes. Even with Prince and Gathers on the team, Motley averaged 11.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and a team high 1.1 blocks.
Final Projection:
Baylor has talent and a lot of potential. However, the identity of this team is in question. Last season this was a tough team that could hit the glass very effectively and take care of the ball. Now the key players in those two areas are gone. The frontcourt has Motley, but they need to find other players who can hit the glass effectively and do some scoring as well. And Lecomte needs to be able to run the point effectively and create space for players like Freeman and Motley to operate. If both of those things happen, this is a team that should be back in the NCAA Tournament. However, that is asking quite a bit from unproven players. This year could end with a trip to the NIT then, but with Wainright the only senior on the roster, that is a good stepping stone to get back to the NCAA Tournament during the 2017-2018 campaign.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Manu Lecomte, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Al Freeman, Junior, Guard, 11.3 points per game
Ishmail Wainright, Senior, Guard, 5.9 points per game
Terry Maston, Junior, Forward, 6.1 points per game
Jonathan Motley, Junior, Forward, 11.1 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 77.1 (79th in nation, 5th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 69.5 (112, 6)
Field-Goal Percentage: 46.6 (49, 3)
Field-Goal Defense: 44.7 (245, 10)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 6.2 (257, 6)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 36.7 (72, 4)
Free-Throw Percentage: 72.5 (74, 3)
Rebound Margin: 7.6 (17, 2)
Assists Per Game: 17.7 (5, 1)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.7 (180, 6)

Madness 2016 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#72 Mark Vital
#96 Tyson Jolly