In 2012-2013 the Bears were an average team. They were on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble, but proved to be a much better team during their NIT championship run. What they did well (29th fewest turnovers, great 2-pt shooting team, defend the paint) could not outweigh their deficiencies (defensive rebounding, no defensive turnovers, stagnant offense at times). However, you can tell that Head Coach Scott Drew has changed some his thoughts on personnel, or at least changed the type of player he is going after.
To join the new team is players that really fit well to the holes that the Bears had last year. Royce O'Neale and Allerik Freeman are two-way guards that can come in and help in several positions. Ish Wainright has the size to play the small forward or power forward position, but has the skill and quickness to play either guard spot as well. Baylor last year was stuck with players that were too similar and had to play too many small guards. In their place this year is much more size and defensive ability.
The Bears were picked to finish 3rd in the conference by the coaches and the writers, both times behind Top 10 teams Kansas and Oklahoma State. They are right around 25th in the nation, either just inside the poll or right outside of it. Most questions still are about point guard play, and how the Bears will replace star Pierre Jackson, but as Kenny Chery is leading the charge for that position and as many as 4 other guys have gotten practice time at point guard as well. Gary Franklin, Allerik Freeman, Ish Wainright and Brady Heslip have all gotten some practice time as at point guard, though Franklin looks to be the primary backup with Freeman out for another month.
There are definitely no questions about the Baylor post game, with Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers anchoring the paint and giving the Bears scoring, size, defense and rebounding. That trio is as good as any in the Big 12. Scott Drew has shown that he can take teams far, and develop ones that have the right mix of players and good chemistry. This looks to be one of his best mixes of talent and skill yet, but Bear fans will have to wait on the chemistry results a few more days.
Steve Brischke, BearsIllustrated.com Administrator
The 2013/2014 Baylor Bears could look unlike other Baylor teams you have seen in the past. With the strength of the team resting on the shoulders of Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, and Rico Gathers, you might see a more methodical approach to Baylor's style this year. I like the way this team has been put together. Coach Drew is hoping impact transfer Kenny Cherry can lead the squad at point, and then you have to watch for scoring threats like Brady Heslip, Gary Franklin and Royce O'Neal to get going. The glue that holds it all together might just come in the form of a true freshman - Ish Wainwright - who Coach Drew felt so comfortable with, he sent him to Big 12 media days before he had ever stepped on the court at Baylor.
I certainly feel Baylor will be a top 20 team during the season and make their way back into the NCAA tournament. If the pieces fit together just right, then the team can make a legitimate run at stopping Kansas for the Big 12 championship.
Kevin Barrera, BearsIllustrated.com Contributor
The 2013/2014 version of the Baylor Bears could certainly be a team that has the ability to be very strong. With the return of Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, and the recent addition of Royce O'Neal, who had his waiver request approved by the NCAA, this could be one of the deepest teams that Scott Drew has ever put out on the court. Junior College transfer, Kenny Cherry, will attempt to step in and fill a big loss at the PG position, left when Pierre Jackson finished out his eligibility at Baylor and moved on to professional ball. While there are a lot of new faces on the team, it definitely isn't short of talent. The frontcourt will be the strength of this team, but veteran Brady Heslip will be called upon to provide a scoring punch at the 2.
It will be interesting to see this team gel early, as they face a stiff non-conference schedule. But this team can certainly be a Top 20 team, maybe even a Top 15 team, and will definitely be in the mix for a Big 12 Championship and a return to the NCAA Tournament.
Tim Watkins, BearsIllustrated.com Writer
I have written about this in other places, but I love the fit of this team. A glaring hole due to the complete lack of size at the small forward position killed the Bears defensively and on the glass. Also, the lack of a second guard to be anything close to a 2-way player hurt the Bears depending on which lineup they had out there. Really, the only guard the Bears had that could play at least average on both sides of the court was Pierre Jackson. Outside of that, they had defensive liabilities (Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin), offensive liabilities (A.J. Walton and Deuce Bello) or youngsters still earning (L.J. Rose).
This year though, they bring in Royce O'Neale, a proven two way player, albeit at a lower conference level and a couple of very interesting freshman that will help them in their biggest areas of weakness last year; rebounding and defense. The key to it all will be point guard play. If the Bears get good to great point guard play, this team has a chance to be a Sweet 16 or greater team. If they struggle from that position though, you could be looking at another year watching the bubble, hoping that Baylor lands on the good side.
Luckily, I am extremely confident in Kenny Chery. I think he has the right type of game for this team, and should be able to initiate the offense well. Behind him though, at least while Allerik Freeman gets healthy, will be a bit interesting to watch. Baylor has a tough test to start the year. If they come out and dominate Colorado, who's strength is their backcourt, it could be great things for the Bears in 2013-2014. Besides, the Bears always make a great run every other year, so just sit back and relax!