Thank you to guest writer Justin Carter! Excited to have him on board regularly this season!
Justin Carter covers women’s basketball for Dave Campbell’s Texas Basketball, Her Hoop Stats and D Magazine. He currently lives in Iowa.
Why Baylor WBB Can Contend For A National Title
Who’s ready for a hot take? Because I’m ready for a hot take. Here we go…
This Baylor team can win a national title.
If you were just looking at the preseason AP poll, you might think this is just me being a homer. I didn’t attend Baylor—in fact, the closest I’ve been to the university is in the logjam of I-35 traffic, stuck in the endless Waco construction. But I am overly optimistic about every team in Texas every year, so maybe you think this is my Lone Star State optimism talking.
It’s not. This Baylor team has a chance to be significantly better than people think.
Let’s outline the main reasons why.
Sarah Andrews is back for her fourth season in Waco. Last year, she had her best season so far, averaging 14.7 points and 4.3 assists per game. She ranked in the 94th percentile in assist rate and 93rd in assist-to-turnover ratio, highlighting how she brings a steady hand to Baylor on the offensive side. She’s also a really good defender, someone who is able to guard all over the floor despite being 5-foot-6. In fact, The Next Hoops called Andrews “a mind-boggling good rim protector for a 5 ‘6 player” in a recent look at WNBA prospects.
See, the best teacher in life is your own experience pic.twitter.com/HFtmPEXC0G— Sarah Andrews (@sarah_T2D) March 26, 2023
Darianna Littlepage-Buggs is poised for a breakout campaign. The unanimous selection for Big 12 Freshman of the Year last season, Littlepage-Buggs averaged 10.6 points per game on 51.9% shooting while also pulling down 9.2 rebounds per game. More of a natural wing, Littlepage-Buggs played a lot as a big last season. She should be able to play a more versatile role this year. I’m really excited about what this campaign will bring. She did a great job getting to the rim and scoring last year, so if she can also add a bit of an outside game, she’ll be very difficult to stop.
The 2022 Transfer Duo
Last year was supposed to be a great year for the Bears as they added Aijha Blackwell and Dre’Una Edwards through the transfer portal. But Edwards didn’t play because of issues getting her transfer waiver from Kentucky approved, and Blackwell was limited to eight games (and just 11.9 minutes per game) due to injury. The two most important additions essentially just weren’t added.
But both are back for this season, and both remain very important. Blackwell was the best rebounding wing in the country in her most recent season at Missouri. She averaged 15.4 points and 13.0 rebounds per game that year while also adding 1.7 assists and 1.0 steals. She’s been a solid outsider shooter in her career, so it’ll be fun to see if Nicki Collen’s system can unlock something there, as Blackwell should see her highest volume from three.
Edwards will likely be asked to play the five for this Bears team. The 6-foot Edwards might bring as much size as past Baylor fives, but averaged 8.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in her last season at Kentucky. She also provides a little pop from the outside, attempting 2.1 threes per game that season and shooting 34.5%.
This Team Added Some REAL Talent...
Based on Baylor’s exhibition game, Kentucky transfer Jada Walker is set to start beside Andrews in the backcourt. Walker averaged 12.9 points, 3.1 assists, and 2.6 steals per game last season. She was also exceptional on fast breaks and in the paint, ranking in the 96th percentile in fast break points and 92nd on paint points per game per CBB Analytics. Baylor was a solid fast break team last year, but Walker can help them push the pace even more.
The team also added two good mid-major transfers, with Madison Bartley joining from Belmont and Yaya Felder from Ohio.
Bartley should see plenty of minutes as the main backup big this season. She averaged 14.1 points per game on 51.3% shooting last season. She averaged 5.0 attempts per game at the rim, which ranks in the 96th percentile. Bartley also showed an ability to step out and shoot threes as well—Baylor fans can think of this as the Caitlin Bickle replacement.
Then there’s Felder, a 5-foot-8 guard who averaged 22.0 points per game for Ohio last season. She shot 34.9% from three on 5.8 attempts per game. This is your spark plug off the bench. Felder will likely be asked to come in and just get some shots up. Last season, she ranked in the 99th percentile in both fast break and paint points, and she also added 2.2 steals per game. This addition really isn’t getting talked about enough. The MAC is a pretty good mid-major conference and she was just unstoppable in it.
Oh yeah, there’s also Denae Fritz, who joins the team from Iowa State. A 33.9% shooter from three last year, Fritz is another player who can come off the bench and put up shots. The guard/wing depth this year really is incredible. Plus, Fritz brings some good stuff on defense, as she averaged 1.0 blocks and 0.7 steals per game last season. Per Her Hoop Stats, she ranked in the 83rd percentile in defensive win shares.
Why Baylor Can Win It All
All of this adds up to my overarching reason the Bears can hoist the trophy: this is a deep team that can beat you in a variety of ways. The new additions can help in games where Baylor just needs to out-shoot people, but then returning players like Andrews, Littlepage-Buggs, and Blackwell can help in physical games. Versatility is a key for this team.
It might be a bit of a longshot, but don’t be too shocked if Baylor’s left standing at the end of the season. This is the deepest roster that Nicki Collen has had.