Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor Opens their 2015-16 Season against SFA

The Baylor Bears tip-off their 2015-16 season Friday evening against the SFA Lumberjacks. SFA finished the season 29-5 last year, their best season in school history, while the Bears look to advance to three NCAA tournaments in a row for the first time.

The 2015-16 season tips off for the Baylor Bears Friday evening as they welcome the defending Southland Conference champions, the SFA Lumberjacks.  The 20th ranked Bears are looking to advance to the NCAA tournamnet for the third year in a row, a first for the program.  Led by forwards Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince, Scott Drew will look to ride an experienced frontcourt to another stellar season.  Kenny Chery and Royce O'Neale are both gone.  Two starters, who both excelled at ball handling, running the offense and hitting perimeter shots.  In their place will be Lester Medford, who will slide over from his shooting guard position to point guard, and Taurean Prince, who will rise from 6th man to starter at the small forward position.  Al Freeman will start at the shooting guard position, with a trio of talented freshmen behind him.  

Media Information

No. 20 Baylor (0-0, 0-0) vs. Stephen F. Austin (0-0, 0-0)

Date

Nov. 13 | 8:30 p.m. CT

Location

Waco, Texas | Ferrell Center (10,284)

TV

FSSW-Plus

Radio

ESPN Central Texas

Online Audio

Listen Online

Live Stats

Gametracker

Twitter @BaylorMBB

The first team on the calendar is SFA, the three-time champion of the Southland Conference. The Lumberjacks are heavily favored to win their 4th straight conference championship, and earn another invitation to the NCAA tournament. They had an incredible 2014-15 season, going 29-5 after a tremendous 19-1 run in Southland Conference play.  

The star of the Lumberjacks is senior Thomas Walkup, a 6-4 wing who averaged 15.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. The honorable mention All-American is a star caliber player, who can play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward for SFA.  Alongside him will be rising sophomore wing Ty Charles, who averaged 8.6 points per game and started at theother forward position opposite Walkup. 

Keys to the Game

1. Play to the Bears Height Advantage - No returning player for the Lumberjacks is over 6-foot-5.  Their best interior threat last year was Jacob Parker, who graduated.  SFA played last year with really no true post player outside of the 6-foot-6 Parker. They had senior Tanner Clayton playing roughly 16 minutes per game, but really focused on having four players all around 6-foot-5.  This allowed them to switch on defense, and take advantage of their quickness on offense.  

In their 2014 game, Baylor dominated the glass, blocked shots, and made life difficult inside the paint for SFA.  They need to do the same Friday night.  SFA recruited quite a bit of size to this new team, with four newcomers over 6-foot-7, but it is hard to tell who will emerge from that group.  Junior College transfers JaQuan Smith (6-foot-9) and CJ Williams (6-foot-7) both could help out immediately.  

Wth 6-foot-7 Taurean Prince, 6-foot-8 Rico Gathers, and 6-foot-9 Jonathan Motley anchoring the middle for the Bears, they should have more than enough size to not only compete, but to dominate down low. 

2. Get the Guards Comfortable - SFA runs a pressing style attack, finishing 5th in the nation in Turnover Forced % according to KenPom.com.  They attack, are very aggressive on the perimeter, and try and force mistakes.  With two primary ball handlers for the Bears no longer eligible in Royce O'Neale and Kenny Chery, Baylor will have to depend on Lester Medford, Al Freeman and a trio of guards to protect the ball and setup the offense.  Medford had a low turnover rate last year, but that was in a complimentary role as a shooting guard. He will be the guy with the ball.  

The backup point guard right now is true freshman Jake Lindsey. The 6-foot-5 Baylor legacy has shown well in exhibition games and closed door scrimmages, and the coaching staff is confident that he can handle the role.  In the past, Baylor has struggled when it didn't have a defined backup point guard.  Last year, they had the Chery/Medford duo to carry the load.  Even with that, Baylor was still 242nd in turnover %.  That needs to improve this year, and it starts Saturday. 

3. 3-Point Shooting - Not only did Baylor lose two key ball handlers and play makers, but they also lost their two of their best 3-point shooters. Chery hit 52 three-pointers last year (37.7%), while O'Neale hit a staggering 43.8% of his outside shots, making 49.  That is a lot of firepower gone from the Bears attack.  Taurean Prince led the Bears with 60 made three-pointers, and Lester Medford hit a solid 38.5% of his attempts. Look for improvement from new starting shooting guard Al Freeman, who only hit 32.3% of his shots. If he can improve that to the high 30s, then the Bears should be more than capable outside.  

What Happened Last Time?

In the fourth game of the 2014 season, Baylor led throughout in a 67-51 win.  Royce O'Neale led the way with 19 pointsand 14 rebounds.  Taurean Prince kicked off his 6th man on the year campaign with 14 points, 4 blocks, and 3 steals. Guard Jared Johnson led the way for SFA with 16 points, while star Thomas Walkup scored just 11 points in 35 minutes.  Baylor dominated the glass, finishing the game +11 with Rico Gathers gathering 11 rebounds.  

Predictions

KenPom.com – Baylor Wins 75-64 (85% chance for win)

Massey.com – Baylor Wins 72-63 (80% chance for win)

Tim Watkins BearsIllustrated.com Writer– Baylor Wins 68-55

Baylor's size in the paint, their experience all over the court and their ability to dominate the glass will just be too much for SFA to compete with. The Bears should be able to handle Walkup defensively, and if they can control the ball and not turn it over, I just don't see how SFA can score enough.  Baylor controls the game from start to finish and gets their first win of the season.  


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