I’ll have my annual 3,500-6,000 word preview (I would guess it will be on the longer end) in the next two weeks. If things go well, I should also have a non-partisan article up at the University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball next week.
But until then, I’m thrilled Baylor basketball starts this months. I have five takes today. Some of these are semi-hot, while some might be mild.
1) Jared Butler will be universally recognized as the greatest player in Baylor history- With apologies to Terry Teagle, Vinnie Johnson and Johnathan Motley—and possibly some dudes from the 40’s—the debate will end this season.
Butler earned Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year honors. He’s primed for a giant season before earning a first round selection in the 2021 NBA Draft.
2) Matthew Mayer will be Baylor’s most improved player- Flo Thamba has earned some rave reviews, and MaCio Teague told me at last weeks’ press conference that Jordan Turner improved the most since March. But Mayer will make the biggest leap.
After shooting 38% from three—on only 45 attempts—Mayer should drill a host of triples this season. And with a defined role as a small ball power forward, I expect him to take plenty of bigs off the dribble.
3) The Bears have their best offense ever- The Bears open the season No. 3 on KenPom’s offensive ranking and No. 1 overall. Each mark is the best in program history.
For all the talk some blogs have about Baylor regressing, the Bears have a bevy of shooters that can hit more threes and free throws. Davion Mitchell is probably a better 3-point shooter than last year’s percentage, and the back of the rotation should be stronger, increasing scoring.
4) The “no middle” defense stays and remains spectacular- Drew told me at an earlier press conference that he expects to run the same defense as last season—a version of Texas Tech’s no middle defense—because it worked so well last season, and they like their personnel in that alignment.
With four returning starters, the only big question is how the Bears handle losing Freddie Gillespie. He let Baylor switch ball screens and could block guards near the rim.
Baylor has a host of options at center, but Jonathan Tchatchoua (it might take a minute to memorize that one) should slide in well. He may not replace everything Gillespie provided on offense as a mid-range shooter, but his better shot-blocking should make up for any issues with switching.
5) For the first time since 1950, Baylor plays in the Final Four. And it will be nearly full of fans!- With Pfizer’s announcement that their vaccine displayed 90% effectiveness, optimism abounds about the vaccine. Dr. Fauci told Jake Tapper that he believes that nearly anyone will be able to get it in the first four months of 2021.
Baylor has the country’s best team on paper. They have a spectacular coaching staff. Anything can happen in the high variability NCAA Tournament, but the easiest bet is to take the best team. The Bears can win in a bevy of ways, and they should earn a high seed.
With the vaccine widespread, and the world eager to return to normalcy, I’ll say the NCAA Final Four sites are filled with fans. They’ll get to see Baylor in the Final Four for the first time in 71 years.
I’ll have plenty more predictions, GIFs and analysis in the full preview.