1. For the bulk of our readership, the football and men's basketball teams drive the focus. With the sudden end to the basketball team's season in the NCAA tournament, the offseason is fully here. Now, there are still Lady Bears basketball to enjoy and discuss, especially as tonight they look to advance to the Final Four. There is also a smidgen of spring football left, but that is barely enough to satiate the hunger for football.
The offseason is here, and that is a sad thing. It is now fully a time to discuss what COULD happen, rather than what did happen. How will the new offensive line come together? What will the Bears 3-man defensive front look like? How can Coach Drew replace Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince? Will Drew figure out his first round woes the past two years and advance to the second round?
So many questions, and unfortunately, too much time to answer then over the next 5-7 months.
2. The football questions will continue to be unclear. Yes, improvement from the offensive lines, with Dom Desouza making a move up the depth chart. Jeremy Faulk has started to get more publicity as well, and has proven to be a solid addition so far. Redshirt freshmen like Jameson Houston, JaMycal Hasty and Eric Ogor are getting rave reviews so far in limited roles.
Baylor will have question marks on both lines going into the fall, no matter what happens the next week or 2. Getting the best five linemen on the field in the right spots will be incredibly difficult. Luckily, the Bears will have an experienced quarterback behind them, and at least have their center, Kyle Fuller, back to run the line.
Defensively, it is interesting that Baylor is looking at more 3-man fronts. This was something we saw at times the past few years, but never consistently. It showed well against overmatched teams, but was gashed by some of the better offenses the Bears saw in 2016. It is a great way to get more speed out onto the field, with a linebacker replace a defensive tackle. With Byron Bonds, Jeremy Faulk, and Andrew Morris really carrying the experience at tackle, the Bears have questions about depth on the inside. Faulk has the speed to flip outside, so a line with him, Bonds in the middle and KJ Smith on one end has the size you want, but also has a little speed for pass rushing.
The bigger question will be who comes onto the field? At times, the Bears brought another nickle back on the field, with Pat Levels joining Travon Blanchard alongside Grant Campbell and Taylor Young. Aiaivion Edwards is the favorite to replace Campbell in the middle, but the Bears depth at linebacker has improved this year. Could the 4th linebacker actually be a linebacker this year? With the emergence of Raaquan Davis, who is pushing hard for starting over Edwards, we could see him instead of a smaller player. That could provide the size and speed the Bears need, much better than it did last year.
3. With the loss of 3-starters from the 2015-16 Baylor Bears, Coach Scott Drew's squad will have a different look in 2017. Starting at point guard, where transfer Manu Lecomte is expected to challenge for the starting position with Jake Lindsey, the Bears could be an even more athletic team next year. Junior Jonathan Motley will be back in the starting lineup after serving as a 6th man for most of this past season. His length and athleticism are a big key to the Bears zone defense, especially in the paint.
Junior Al Freeman and Senior Ish Wainright will also be returning to their starting positions, anchoring the wing spots down. Look for improved defense from both players, and hopefully a more consistent offensive result from Freeman, who at times disappeared into the background too often.
The power forward spot is probably TJ Maston's to lose, giving the Bears an interesting lineup from a scoring perspective. Motley will be the main low-post threat, while Maston works very well from the elbow and baseline. Lecomte is a knockdown 3-point shooter, while Freeman can hit from outside and penetrate the lane. Wainright improved drastically as a shooter this year, and will again be relied on to hit open spot-up shots from the perimeter.
Defensively is where I think this team can improve the most. This was a poor defensive team at times, one that did not have the traditional length associated with previous Baylor teams. That will not be a problem in 2016-17. Nuni Omot and Jo Acuil are both long armed defenders who will bring much needed height and length to the backend of the defense. Mark Vital is a strong defender and rebounder, and will give Ish Wainright breathers at the small forward position.
4. This is a changing team, one that will possibly rely on less top-end talent and more team play. There are no 5-star studs on the roster right now. Al Freeman and Jonathan Motley both have NBA type games, but neither is a lottery pick at this point of their careers. Wainright, Freeman, McClure, and redshirt guard Wendell Mitchell were 4-star players, but none are Top-25.
With two spots left, there could be some high end talent coming though. 5-star small forward Terrence Ferguson recently named Baylor as one of his top-3 schools, along with Arizona and Kansas. The Bears are looking for another wing and another point guard option, with Ferguson at the top of the list at small forward.
At point guard, if the Bears miss out on their top target, and members of BI.com would know who that is, then don't be surprised to see a graduate transfer pop up later in the summer. Baylor has Lecomte and Lindsey as the only possible point guards right now, unless they try and use Mitchell or McClure there. There is a need for a 3rd point guard, something that the Bears didn't really need this year. With a grad transfer, they would still be able to use Lindsey as a backup wing due to his great height (6-5). In fact, Lindsey played with Medford on the court more in the last month of the season, showing his versatility.
5. Tonight, the Lady Bears play their biggest game of the season. It is the game they have been looking forward to all year, really since another loss to Notre Dame ended their season at the Elite 8. Oregon State is the opponent tonight, this time in Dallas. The Bears are the home team, and judging from the VERY pro-Baylor crowd on Saturday afternoon in their win over Florida State, this is pretty much a home game for Baylor.
The Beavers are a big team, who shoot the ball very well. They were ranked in the Top-10 pretty much all year, and were a dominant team in the Pac-12. They start a frontline of 6-6 senior center Ruth Hamblin and 6-3 senior Deven Hunter, along with 6-players off the bench that are 6-2 or taller. The Lady Bears have great depth on the inside as well, so the battle will be in the paint. After the freshmen duo of Kalani Brown (6-7) and Beatrice Mompremier (6-4) struggled with foul trouble and turnovers against the big frontline of Florida State, Baylor will hope to get more out of them tonight.
Baylor with incredible speed and quickness at the guard and wing position, will need to get the ball in the open court and score in transition, something they have excelled at in 2016. Oregon State will try and make this a halfcourt game, which might favor their size a bit. However, the Lady Bears are playing their best basketball of the season. Outside of UConn, I just don't see another team still in the tournament that can hang with Baylor.
The game tips off at 8pm this evening and will be televised on ESPN.