Looking at the last 7 years of historical data, this preview should be pretty short. The Bears, coming off of an NCAA tournament appearance, will not make the NCAA tournament, and despite a late season run and a good showing in the Big 12 tournament, will have to settle for another NIT bid. Luckily for the Bears, history does not dictate future events. The Bears are talented enough to be an NCAA tournament team, despite some new flaws that fans are not accustomed to.
Kenny Chery – Point Guard – Senior
Chery is the Bears returning starting point guard, and might be the Star of the 2014 Baylor Bears. They were 26-7 when he was healthy and not battling injuries during a 5-game losing streak in conference play that temporarily derailed the Bears season. He has one of the mid-range games in college basketball, and showed an improved defensive game at the end of the year. His ability to improve his shot making from deep, get better at running the offense, and become a better on the ball defender are some major keys for the Baylor Bears this year.
Ricardo Gathers– Forward – Junior
The new round-mound of rebound. Well, Rico isn’t really a mound of anything. He is more of a sculpted defensive end of rebound, but that doesn’t rhyme at all. The man who according to every college basketball announcer (and probably Art Briles) should have played football instead of basketball, Rico is one of the best rebounders in the college game. Rico finished with the 4th best offensive rebound rate in the nation and the 86th best defensive rate. Simply put, he was a beast on the board. The Bears will need that, and a lot more of an all-around game as he goes from 3rd wheel to the main attraction down low.
Royce O’Neale – Forward – Senior
An ultimate glue-guy, O’Neale struggled at times in the 2013 season, his first for the Bears after 2 years in Denver. He displayed a remarkably efficient offensive game, with a Top-100 effective shooting %, and a top-500 assist rate (not too bad for a small forward). The Bears best on the ball defender, O’Neale struggled at times in the zone defense, but with a smaller lineup seemingly better suited for man defense, could the Bears defensive adjustments favor the senior forward?
Taurean Prince – Forward – Junior
An offensive spark-plug off of the bench, Taurean Prince had the highest usage rate of any Baylor Bear when he was on the court at 25.6% of possessions ending with him shooting the ball, getting fouled, or turning the ball over. He wasn’t very efficient at it, but when he was on, he might have been the Bears best pure-scorer. Finding his place on this team, and learning when to shoot and when to work the offense, will be key for the Junior to be.
Ishmail Wainright – Forward – Sophomore
As a true freshman in 2013, Wainright came in with big hopes by many, including me. The point guard in a small forwards body was the primary backup to Kenny Chery when the year began, but that role never seemed to fit him. He struggled with his shot terribly, and made a lot of common freshman mistakes. His defense and rebounding were considered strengths coming into college, but neither truly materialized. A lack of confidence, shell shock at the college game, and not understanding his role fully got him off to an awful start, but was playing solid basketball in a much smaller role late in the year.
Deng Deng – Forward – Junior
A late signee for the 204 class, Deng was a highly recruited forward from Lee College. He was one of the best junior college players in the nation, averaging over 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. The former LSU signee, Deng should bring a good skill set to the Baylor Bears.
Damiyne Durham – Guard – Freshman
A pure scorer in the high school level, Durham dominated at a small high school in east Texas. With good size and a tremendous shooting stroke, Durham is a bit of a project at the defensive side of the ball. With the Bears depth at the guard spot, a redshirt season could be in store for Durham.
Allerik Freeman - Guard – Redshirt Freshman
A 4-star guard in the 2013 class, Freeman suffered an injury late in fall camp and had to sit out the 2014 season. The 15th ranked guard in the class, Freeman could play shooting guard or point guard. He has good size a guard, and might be the most well-rounded guard the Bears have on this team.
Terry Maston – Forward – Freshman
A 6-foot-7 post player from DeSoto, TX, the 3-star Maston chose the Bears over offers from Marquette, SMU and Miami among other. He is a big-bodied power forward with a strong game. Will probably play a depth role for the Bears in 2014-15.
Lester Medford – Guard – Junior
One of the top junior college guards in the nation, Medford is next in a long line of JUCO point guards to come to Baylor. He is a scoring point guard first and foremost with a very good offensive game from the perimeter.
Jonathan Motley – Forward – Redshirt Freshman
The 6-foot-9 Motley sat out the 2013 season due to the depth in the post the Bears had. He was a 3-star signee in 2013 out of the Houston area. Motley is a good athlete for the post, and the coaches are very high on his potential.
The Starting Lineup
The Bears will have several new starters, including a brand new post rotation centered around key 6th man Ricardo Gathers. One of the best rebounders in the nation, Gathers will be asked to carry a much larger role on the offensive and defensive side of the ball as the Bears only experienced post player coming into the 2014 season.
The starter opposite him is a bit of a guess, but really just two players will be looked at to fill that role. Jonathan Motley is a redshirt freshman who impressed quite a bit last year, as a Cory Jefferson starter-kit. Motley is an extraordinary athlete with a developing game. The Bears have also brought on a junior college transfer with one of the best names in college basketball; Deng Deng. Mr. Deng, or Deng is you are a little less formal, is a 6-foot-8 forward with a very versatile game. He is much more of a wing player than a pure post player, and chose the Bears over LSU and Nebraska among others.
The Bears do return their point guard and their entire small forward rotation, but do have an open spot vacated by the graduation of sharp-shooter Brady Heslip. Allerik Freeman is the choice here, as his all-around game and size might be a better compliment to Kenny Chery than another junior college transfer in Lester Medford.
The Bears have some major key pieces returning to the rotation in terms of Kenny Chery (29 minutes per game), Rico Gathers (18 mpg) and Royce O’Neale (27 mpg) being three of the Top-7 Bears in minutes per game in 2013. However, the Bears lost a ton of minutes with Cory Jefferson (29 mpg), Isaiah Austin (28mpg), Brady Heslip (27 mpg) and Gary Franklin (22 mpg) all leaving Waco. Those are 3 starters and the Bears sixth man.
The options to fill out the rotation are plenty though. Rico Gathers should leap up to the top of the minutes pile, especially with the lack of options in the post. One of the biggest keys to the year will be his ability to stay out of foul trouble, something he never had to worry about the last two years with more seasoned players in front of him in the rotation.
The guard position will be interesting to see if Coach Drew goes with Medford and Chery at the same time too much. They are the only point guards on the roster (though Freeman could possibly play there in a pinch), and would be an incredibly small back-court. The bears could get away with a smaller back-court at times the last few years, but that was with multiple players capable of protecting the rim. Rico Gathers is not a rim protector, and Degn and Motley are unknowns in that regard at this level.
The small forward position seems to be pretty straight forward. O’Neale should get the bulk of the time, with Taurean Prince playing the bulk of the backup and then possibly shifting down to power forward. There should be a few minutes per game for sophomore Ish Wainright as well.
Point Guard – Kenny Chery (30), Lester Medford (10)
Shooting Guard – Allerik Freeman (25), Lester Medford (10)
Small Forward – Royce O’Neale (25), Taurean Prince (12), Ish Wainright (3)
Power Forward – Rico Gathers (17), Deng Deng (17), Taurean Prince (6)
Center – Jonathan Motley (27), Rico Gathers (13)
Others – TJ Maston, Damiyne Durham (RS?)
Up Next, a look at the schedule, strengths and weaknesses, and predictions