Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a continuing series of articles previewing the 2013-14 Big 12 men’s basketball season and examining each of the 10 conference teams.
No. 3 Baylor Bears
Baylor is one of only two postseason tournament teams from last season that can say it ended the year on a win. The Bears, 23-19 last season, would have preferred to have been an NCAA Tournament team, but made the most of its invite to the National Invitation Tournament, barreling through five opponents to capture the tournament championship.
The Bears have won 20 or more games in five of the past six seasons. They had only three such seasons before head coach Scott Drew arrived at Baylor 10 seasons ago.
With the return of 7-1 big man Isaiah Austin, along with bruising inside player Cory Jefferson, who goes 6-9, Drew believes this year’s squad has the opportunity to be “one of the more talented teams we have had here,” he told reporters last spring.
Combined, Austin, a sophomore, and Jefferson, a senior, contributed 26.3 points and 16.3 rebounds a game to the Baylor attack a year ago. The Bears are expected to challenge Oklahoma State and Kansas this season as one of the team in the upper echelon of the conference. If they can get senior backcourt player Brady Heslip some help on the perimeter, and if the streaky Heslip is able to find the long-range touch he displayed his sophomore year, the Bears should have another solid year
“We return a great frontcourt, and that makes it easier for all guard play to begin with,” Drew said during his press conference at Big 12 Media Days in October. ” But in practice we’ve had six different people run the point at different times. So I think we have multiple people that are capable of handling the ball, distributing the ball. I think instead of maybe being so dominant with the ball in one person’s hand, I think we’ll share it a little more this year.”
Kenny Chery, a 5-10 point guard, was a junior-college honorable mention All-American and will try to replace the Big 12 leading scorer last season, Pierre Jackson.
A possible good omen: Baylor has reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three even-number years.
The Bears are off to a 3-0 start to the 2013-14 season, including a two-point win over fomer Kansas State coach Fran Martin’s team at South Carolina.