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5-Things: The Best and Worst of March Madness

A flurry of tough shots in the first half doomed the Baylor Bears against Yale, one of many upsets over the first weekend of games.

1. Lets just get this out of the way. Thursday afternoon was awful.  Baylor lost as the favorite for the second tournament in a row. Against Georgia State, they couldn't protect the ball and break the press, something they had no problem doing all year.  21 turnovers will get you beat.  With Yale, it wasn't an issue with offense, as much as the lack of defense.  Baylor was a poor defensive teams this past year, masked by their ability to force turnovers at a very high rate.  Baylor would allow teams to hit shots, mostly open perimeter shots.  However, they would get 15+ turnovers and disrupt the other team enough to beat them.  

Yale was a team that turned the ball over quite a bit last year, to the tune of almost 21%.  That is really bad.  To expect 15+ turnovers was not a big jump for either team.  The Bears ended up with 12 turnovers forced (+5 on the game).  With their 4-point loss, this game came down to a few plays here and there.  Funny that a turnover by their point guard, Lester Medford, was the turning point of the game when Medford had built a strong defensive profile as a steals machine...something that he failed to do a single time against Yale. 

2. There would be more upsets.  Lots of them in fact.  Purdue choking away a 13-point lead with 3 minutes to go. Michigan State being STUNNED by Middle Tennessee.  Gonzaga doing Gonzaga things, as Northern Iowa hits a half court shot to defeat Texas.  SFA beating West Virginia at their own game, a Lumberjacks squad that lost to Baylor 97-55 to open their season.  Of the top-10 teams in KenPom, only 5 of them are still playing.  Four lost in the first two rounds, with Louisville being ineligible for the tournament.  Thirteen teams ranked ahead of the Bears (27th) are going to be doing the same thing this weekend as the Bears and everyone else are; sitting at home watching it on TV.  

Yet, some will use this as an indictment of Scott Drew and his program.  They will say he is a poor coach that was lucky to get to two Elite-8s. Even fans of Baylor, well "fans", will say that Drew has hit a glass ceiling and it is time to get a new coach.  It is a silly notion.  The Bears have been upset the past two years, and that is not a good thing. However, they have been IN the position to be upset, and that is anything but bad.  

Baylor has under-performed in the NCAA tournament, after three trips where they did anything but. These things happen, good or bad.  Sometimes you get beat early. Look at Tom Izzo, who has the same number of NCAA tournament wins as Scott Drew does this year; zero.  Izzo is a legend, and one of the best coaches in the game today.  After he won his only national title in 2000, his Spartans proceeded to lose in the first round 3 of the next 6 years.  His teams have lost in their first game in back-to-back years in 2005-06 and 2006-07.  

Duke, the ency of almost every program in the US, has lost in their first game in 2012 and 2014 to Lehigh and Mercer.  Arizona, under Lute Olsen in the 1990s lost in the first round a ridiculous three times in a four year stretch from 1992-1995.  Of course, in 1997, they win it all.  

3. Scott Drew is a better coach now than when he led the Bears to the Elite 8 two times in a 3-year stretch.  This is a fact.  He has grown as an Xs and Os coach, has a firmer grasp of rotations and his offense continues to be one of the most efficient year in and year out. No one should be happy with the results from the last two postseasons.  Those with the team are unhappy with it, but that should not be an indictment of the program as it stands.  You all know where this program was before Scott Drew came to Waco, so there is no need to rehash that, but this is program that had NEVER been to consecutive NCAA tournaments before last year, and just went for a 3rd year in a row. 

They will also be in the top-half of the Big 12 again next year, something that should put them in consideration for a 4th straight trip.  That should be the goal every year, just make it to the Big Dance.  In that view, this year was a success.  

4. Next year's team will look quite a bit different than what we have seen in the past. Gone are Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince, two 4-year players that have put their makes on Baylor up and down the record books.  Prince will be a first round NBA draft pick. He is a prototypical 3-and-d wing that the NBA loves.  He can defend multiple positions, play small ball power forward, handle the ball, and hit outside shots.  That is very valuable in the NBA.  Rico will look to transition to the football fields, which has already begun.  While probably not a draftee in a few months, Rico will make a training camp.  What he does from there is up to him though. Someone will give him a shot, and one that he deserves.  

With 2-year started Lester Medford also graduating, the Bears will be looking to replace three key players from the past two season.  Nine scholarship players return to the team in 2016-17, assuming that Jo Acuil returns after missing the year due to medical issues.  With two signees in Mark Vital and Nuni Omot already in the fold, Baylor has two scholarships left to give out. Both Vital and Omot will help the Bears on the wings and at the forward position with the loss of Prince and Gathers.  

5. What does the depth chart look like right now?

Point Guard Jake Lindsey Manu Lecomte
Shooting Guard Al Freeman King McClure Wendell Mitchell
Small Forward Ish Wainright Mark Vital
Power Forward TJ Maston Nuni Omot
Center Jonathan Motley Jo Acuil

The biggest starting position battle will be at point guard, where transfer Manu Lecomte is finally eligible after sitting out the 2015-16 season.  The Miami transfer started 23 games as a sophomore, putting up 8 points, 2 assists and 1 rebound per game.  He is a shooter, hitting over 43% of his 3-pointers at Miami.  Lindsey is more of a traditional point guard, and gained valuable experience in a backup role.  Lindsey could play multiple positions, including sliding down to small forward if he needs to.  

The shooting guard rotation is set, with Freeman and McClure ready to anchor the team.  Mitchell was a pure scorer in high school, and should give the Bears another weapon off the bench.  At small forward, Wainright will be returning to his starting position, with Vital or Omot backing him up.  Maston and Motley were heavy rotation players this year, and will be leaned on in the post.  Acuil was looking great in practice before his medical issues came up.  If he can come all the way back, he would give the Bears great size off the bench.  

With those two final spots, I expect the Bears to try and bring in a pure point guard, and another post.  They need more size, and will have to bring in another big man if Acuil cannot make it back (though it appears he is likely to come back).  

Freeman and Motley will be the stars of this team, with both needing to take a big step forward in terms of consistency for Baylor to not only get a 4th consecutive NCAA invitation, but to do something when they get there.  


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