Top five Baylor basketball storylines

Baylor basketball begins its quest for a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance tonight. Here are a couple of the top storylines to watch heading into the season.

Last season, Baylor basketball made the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season. Since the inception of the tournament in 1939, Baylor had never accomplished that feat.

Now, Scott Drew’s roster will have an opportunity to accomplish something the program never has before: make the tourney in three consecutive seasons.

Here are the five biggest storylines facing Baylor basketball, and how they can be answered in the coming weeks.

Who Will Scott Drew start?

Drew declined to announce a starting lineup yesterday, but senior Rico Gathers ruined the surprise and said he expected sophomore Al Freeman and Taurean Prince to join himself, Johnathan Motley and Lester Medford in the starting lineup.

The lineup should not come as too much surprise. The three returning starters did not have much competition for their spots and Prince is a natural for the spot. The only question was Freeman joining after a pedestrian freshman season. Scott Drew expressed confidence in his abilities, saying he has worked on improving his ball-handling and passing abilities.

Freeman was considered a combo-guard when he came out of high school, but that did not really translate last season. This year, Baylor should be able to run him as one of several combo guards who feel comfortable scoring or passing.

Will any freshmen crack the rotation?

Baylor basketball has three freshmen coming in this season, all combo-guards. Without a truly experienced backup point guard on the roster, all three will get an opportunity to show what they’ve got.

The jewel of the class was Triple A Academy guard King McClure, a consensus top-100 national product. However, McClure is still working himself back into shape after dealing with heart issues this offseason.

Jake Lindsey is the son of Utah Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey, and has the fundamentals and skillset to prove it. Scott Drew called Lindsey one of the most fundamentally sound players for his age and praised his basketball IQ. Lindsey should get a decent amount of playing time right away at point guard.

Wendell Mitchell is a dynamic scorer, but is probably the least ready to play right away of the three players. He might get some minutes, but it would be surprising to see him play too much right away.

How good can Taurean Prince be?

Taurean Prince broke onto the national scene this summer after playing for Team USA at the Pan-American games and being named one of the five best players at the Nike Hoops Summit. Draft Express now has Prince as a projected first round pick.

Prince comes back to school as the unquestioned scoring leader for Baylor basketball. The San Antonio product averaged 13.3 points per game last season, but could see a big uptick with shots available. What sets him apart is his ability to shoot the ball at his size and strength. He could be a contender for All-American status this season, if things go the way people think it will.

What can we expect from Ish Wainright this season?

Ish Wainright joined reporters for the media session on Thursday afternoon, and his body was almost unrecognizable. Wainright has reportedly lost in the vicinity of 30 pounds, going from over 250 to under 230. He finally looks like a basketball player instead of a defensive tackle.

Wainright said the main thing that went into his decision to lose the weight was that he hoped to be able to play fast-paced and swing over to more of a true wing. Wainright also wants to compete for minutes at backup point guard, without a truly experienced guy on the roster.

Wainright also said that he has been practicing his jump shot almost constantly since the Georgia State game last season. Rico Gathers said that he has improved a lot. It will be interesting to see whether that translates to game action. If it does, Wainright is finally poised for a big, breakout season.

Will Jo Acuil come back healthy? Who will step up at forward if he does not?

Unfortunately, the short answer to this question is that no one knows at this point. Acuil is undergoing testing for a potential heart issue and will not be back until conference play at the earliest. The 7-foot big man is a standout shot blocker, which would have been welcome next to Rico Gathers.

In his place, Baylor should run a decent amount of small ball. The Bears could run a lineup with Lindsey, Medford, Freeman, Prince and Gathers, or insert any of the other freshmen or Wainright instead. Rotations like this provide a tremendous amount of versatility, putting four players who can handle, pass and shoot the ball on the court with the best rebounder in the nation.

Projected Starting Lineup

PG – Lester Medford (7.6 PPG, 3.1 APG, 39.3 FG%, 38.5 3P%)

SG – Al Freeman (4.8 PPG, 42.6 FG%)

SF – Taurean Prince (13.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 47.2 FG%, 39.5 3P%)

PF – Rico Gathers (11.6 PPG, 11.6 RPG)

F – Johnathan Motley (7.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG)

Key Bench Contributors

G/F Ish Wainright (1.4 PPG, 1.7 RPG)

G King McClure (32.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 4.7 SPG, 65.1 FG%, 48.8 3P% at Triple A Academy)

F Terry Maston (3.3 MPG, 1.7 PPG, 53.3 FG%)

G Jake Lindsey (24.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 5.5 APG at Olympus HS (UT))

G Austin Mills (5.8 MPG, 1.2 PPG, 0.8 APG)

G Wendell Mitchell (29.4 PPG, 5.0 APG, 6.1 RPG, 4.3 SPG)

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