Austin Johnson (left) and Blake Griffin (right) will try to lead Oklahoma to a Big 12 championship. (daylife.com)
By Matthew Dagen
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Last Season: 21-11 (9-7)
Key Losses: Aaron Bruce
Head Coach: Scott Drew
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Curtis Jerrells 6-1 Sr.
SG: Henry Dugat 6-0 Sr.
SF: LaceDarius Dunn 6-4 So.
PF: Kevin Rogers 6-9 Sr.
C: Josh Lomers 7-0 Jr.
Key Reserves: Tweety Carter 5-10 Jr. PG, Mamadou Diene 7-1 Sr. C, Delbert Simpson 6-8 Sr. PF, Quincy Acy 6-7 Fr. PF
The Baylor Bears will look to build on their remarkable success last season and earn a second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, something they haven't done in school history. It took them 20 years to get back to the NCAA tournament and now they are poised and ready to prove they should be talked about again when March rolls around.
The Bears recorded only their fourth 20-win season in team history and finished tied with Oklahoma for fourth place in the Big 12 conference with a 9-7 record, 21-11 overall. Baylor also broke another school record last season by averaging 81.3 point per game and earned an 11-seed in the NCAA tournament, but fell to Purdue in the first round. The Bears had one of the most prolific offenses in the Big 12 and will look to continue that success this season.
Losing just three players from last year's roster, Baylor still has the tools it will need to make some noise in the Big 12. Aaron Bruce, Mark Shepherd and Richard Hurd are the trio of players gone from the 2007-08 squad. Bruce was a solid role player, starting 24 games, playing over 21 minutes per game, and averaging more than eight points per game. Hurd rarely played, while Shepherd was a bench player who played in every game, averaging about 12 minutes per game and even starting seven games, but the loss of these players won't hurt much considering the Bears still have their top five scorers.
By only losing those three players, more than 80 percent of the team's scoring from last season is returning. They also added 6-foot-9 freshman small forward Anthony Jones, a Houston native who should provide help inside and open things up for the perimeter players. Another incoming freshman who should contribute right away is power forward Quincy Acy, a 6-foot-7 physical player who can cause problems for opposing big men with his quickness around the basket or out-muscle opposing small forwards.
Among the returning Bears this season are five seniors and three juniors. In fact, eight of the nine top scorers from last season are back to establish themselves as contenders in the Big 12. Senior guard Curtis Jerrells, who led the team in scoring last season averaging 15.3 points, will lead the Bears along with fellow seniors Kevin Rogers and Henry Dugat. Jerrells, a speedy scoring guard who is very dangerous on fast breaks, should be a strong contender for Big 12 player of the year (along with Oklahoma's Blake Griffin and Texas' A.J. Abrams and Damion James). Jerrells will try to become the first player in Baylor history to lead the team in scoring for four seasons. He was also selected to the first team All-Big 12 last year. His quickness and agility enabled him to average 3.8 assists per game and shoot a 42.6 field goal percentage.
Rogers, a senior who averaged 12.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, became one of the most consistent players on the team, recording 12 double-doubles during his junior campaign. He has started in 62 consecutive games for the Bears and was selected to the All-Big 12 Third Team last season.
Dugat is tied for fifth in Baylor history in 3-point shooting percentage at 39 percent. He was third on the team in scoring last year, averaging 12.2 points per game.
Jerrells, Dugat, sophomore LaceDarius Dunn and junior Tweety Carter formed one of the most productive slews of guards in the nation. The four were responsible for almost 65 percent of the team's offensive production. Their skill beyond the 3-point line is something they definitely will look to build upon after making 275 3-pointers last year.
The team's success will start with Jerrells, Rogers and Dugat, who each started all 32 games last season. Head coach Scott Drew will have many options when he decides who the team's other two starters will be. Dunn had an outstanding freshman season, finishing second on the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game despite playing just 22 minutes a game and never even starting a game. Dunn might be ready for an even more impressive breakout season as a sophomore. Carter started just eight games last season but was a solid contributor, averaging just under 10 points and three assists per game. Unless Drew elects to start four guards with Rogers as the lone big man, he will have to start either junior Josh Lomers, who started 24 games last season and is a strong 7-footer who takes up space in the lane with his massive 276-pound frame, or Mamadou Diene, a 7-foot-1 senior who can run the floor and block shots.
Drew, in his sixth year as Baylor head coach, has improved the team each year. When he first came to Baylor in 2003, it was considered a rebuilding project. But now Drew has turned this team into a legitimate contender in the Big 12 and teams in the conference and even in the nation will have to pay attention this year. Drew was presented the Don Nelson Award by the Dallas All Sports Association on September 2. It's an award named after NBA coach Don Nelson and is presented to a college or professional basketball coach for achievement on and off the court. Drew, the son of Valparaiso head coach Homer Drew and brother of Valpo legend Bryce Drew, has also added former NBA veteran and Baylor standout David Wesley to the staff.
Last year's achievements and the amount of returning players have boosted Baylor's expectations for the 2008-09 season. The Bears' fourth place finish in the Big 12 last year was the best in school history. Baylor broke a ton of school records last season, but now they have a new goal they want to accomplish; not just make the NCAA tournament, but win their first NCAA tournament game since 1950.