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Baylor Men's Basketball 2014-15 Season Primer

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After a Sweet 16 run that at one point seemed impossible, the Bears take the court next week to kick off the 2014-15 campaign.

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Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you've been living under a rock for more than a decade, I don't need to explain to you the magnificence of the turnaround that Scott Drew and his staff are responsible for with the Baylor men's basketball program. What he took over and did with this program is, quite simply, incredible. The Bears will have a brand new look this year with multiple offensive weapons graduating, but when one door closes a new one opens. We now have an opportunity to let seasoned veterans like Kenny Chery and Rico Gathers step up as leaders for the newer guys like Deng Deng (we are going to have a TON of fun with that name) and Johnathan Motley. The Bears host McNeese State as our season opener on Friday night, so put your football helmets on the shelf for a few minutes, grab your arm sleeve and headband, and get super turnt. IT'S BAYLOR BASKETBALL TIME, Y'ALL.

Also, I credit all of the program's success to Scott Drew's positive attitude. I dare you to find me a picture of him not smiling (when he isn't coaching mid-game, of course).

If you missed it, PocketChange did me (and you, reader) a HUGE favor with the position preview post yesterday. If you want information regarding an individual player, read that. My  post is just a general preview of the squad, what to expect this year, etc. PocketChange goes directly into each position, specifies the strengths and weaknesses and does an excellent job with it. Oh, and great job with the nicknames, PC. Those are gold.

Before we get into the preview, let's cover who we lost to graduation/draft, who we're returning, and some other offseason news.

WHO WE LOST:

Our 2013-14 team had one of the biggest turning points in the program's history, when after a 2-8 start in conference play they, out of nowhere, found a way to win 7 of their last 8, setting themselves up for a run to the Big 12 Championship game and eventually the Sweet 16. The team showed immense heart and fire during its second half surge, and it was truly something special to see. Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to a few key players from that squad.

  • G Brady Heslip - Yes, sadly, Mr. Three-Point Goggles had to leave eventually. After bouncing around practicing with a couple different NBA teams, Brady was selected 11th in the D-League draft by the Reno Bighorns, a Sacramento Kings affiliate. Brady will make it splash wherever he ends up flinging his green and gold.
  • F Cory Jefferson - CJ was selected as the very last pick of the NBA draft by San Antonio, but was traded to the Brooklyn Nets the same night. Jefferson made the squad but hasn't seen a ton of action yet this season.
  • F/C Isaiah Austin - When Isaiah was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects connective tissue, just days before the NBA draft, he received the devastating news that he could never play basketball competitively again; however, his faith and positive attitude have inspired thousands of people across America, and he still got to fulfill of his dream of being selected in the NBA draft. Austin has been assisting Coach Drew getting the team ready for this season and always has a home at Baylor. We love the guy.
  • G Gary Franklin - G4, GForce - whatever you call the guy, we'll miss him. Gary was never a standout player for the squad but was always reliable to make plays when we needed him. He was a pretty solid sharpshooter from the arc and we could rely on him to make some important plays.

Those are four cogs of the machine that the Baylor basketball program has been over the past couple years. We will miss them but wish them nothing but the best!

WHO WE RETURN:

Well, we "return" quite a few players, but here are just some of the guys you'll enjoy watching this season.

  • G Kenny Chery - Chery averaged 11.5 PPG last year and made 34 starts. His mid-range game is spectacular, and he'll be the focus of a ton of highlights this year if he has the season we know he's capable of. Kenny had an assist percentage of 33.34% last season, which is a pleasing statistic that only justifies how well he handles the ball.
  • F Rico Gathers - Rico is a beast. We all know this much. As one of the team's more physically dominant players, he brings tons of defensive prowess and returns as one of our leading rebounders from last season (6.4 per game, 14.3 per 40 minutes).

LOOK INTO HIS EYES AND I DARE YOU TO TRY TO PLAY BASKETBALL AGAINST HIM.

RICOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

  • F Royce O'Neale - Royce averaged 7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists last year. Royce's chemistry with Kenny will definitely be visible early in the season, and hopefully they carry some momentum together into conference play. Of his strengths, I think Royce's passing will be the biggest this season. He's had an assist percentage (estimate of field goals made that a player is at least partially responsible for assisting) of around 20% in each of  his last two seasons and averaged over 4 AP40 (assists per 40 minutes) last season. Royce can shoot fairly well, but I'd like to see him feed the ball a lot this season.

MISCELLANEOUS OFFSEASON NEWS

Court Renovations!

The Ferrell Center has hosted Baylor basketball since the 1988-89 season, but the court will look a little bit different this year.

Of the changes, the most obvious is the swapping of the classic interlocking "BU" midcourt logo to a more modern, spelled out "BAYLOR". I really like the decision to do this. It matches the front of the new uniforms (which I'll get to below), and it just looks nicer, in my opinion.

Next, the new Big 12 logo has been added inside the paint, right above the free throw line. I love this. I've been a fan of the new conference look since day one, and it looks super sweet in green and gold.

Some text wrapping around the court has been altered, but nothing significant. There's still a big green and gold "BAYLOR BEARS" at both ends of the court. Look on the side of the court and you'll still be reminded of those two national championships our amazing ladies won in 2005 and 2012.

Uniforms!

Probably the biggest news from this offseason is that the team's uniform provider is no longer Adidas, but now Nike. So, we have new uniforms.

First, the home whites:

Second, the road greens (my personal favorites):

And finally, the black alternates:

Yes, the switch to Nike means we got rid of the electricity uniforms. Those received so many mixed reviews over the years, and, to be honest, I never hated them as much as some of you, but I'm happy to see them go at this point. I may be a uniform snob, but until chrome uniforms are a thing I can never be content.

New Student Seating!

Pretty sweet. In summary, the FC is #MegaTurnt.

SEASON PREVIEW

Time to actually preview the season! For those of you who are less in tune with the basketball team, I'll summarize this 2014-15 squad for you: We lost a TON of offensive firepower, but still have quite a few guys who possess defensive physicality and athleticism. Essentially, if we can score, we can win.

Baylor has made Sweet 16 runs in three of its past five seasons (2010, 2012, 2014), two of those furthering into Elite Eight runs. Making the tournament this year is certainly doable, but it's going to be difficult. We play basketball in the toughest hoops conference in America.

Here's a look at this year's schedule.
November
McNeese State Cowboys Friday, November 14 2014 9:30 PM EST coverage
@ South Carolina Gamecocks Tuesday, November 18 2014 12:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
Prairie View A&M Panthers Friday, November 21 2014 7:00 PM EST coverage
Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks Monday, November 24 2014 8:00 PM EST coverage
@ Memphis Tigers Thursday, November 27 2014 11:59 PM EST coverage
December
Texas Southern Tigers Monday, December 01 2014 9:00 PM EST coverage
@ Vanderbilt Commodores Thursday, December 04 2014 7:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
Texas A&M Aggies Tuesday, December 09 2014 9:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
New Mexico State Aggies Wednesday, December 17 2014 9:00 PM EST coverage
Southern Jaguars Monday, December 22 2014 9:00 PM EST coverage
Norfolk State Spartans Tuesday, December 30 2014 8:00 PM EST coverage
January
@ Oklahoma Sooners Saturday, January 03 2015 12:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
Kansas Jayhawks Wednesday, January 07 2015 9:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
@ TCU Horned Frogs Saturday, January 10 2015 4:00 PM EST coverage
Iowa State Cyclones Wednesday, January 14 2015 9:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
@ Kansas State Wildcats Saturday, January 17 2015 3:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
Oklahoma Sooners Saturday, January 24 2015 6:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
@ Oklahoma State Cowboys Tuesday, January 27 2015 9:00 PM EST coverage
Texas Longhorns Saturday, January 31 2015 6:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
February
TCU Horned Frogs Wednesday, February 04 2015 9:00 PM EST coverage
@ West Virginia Mountaineers Saturday, February 07 2015 12:00 PM EST coverage
Oklahoma State Cowboys Monday, February 09 2015 7:00 PM EST coverage
@ Kansas Jayhawks Saturday, February 14 2015 1:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
@ Texas Tech Red Raiders Tuesday, February 17 2015 7:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
Kansas State Wildcats Saturday, February 21 2015 1:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
@ Iowa State Cyclones Wednesday, February 25 2015 9:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
West Virginia Mountaineers Saturday, February 28 2015 4:00 PM EST coverage
March
@ Texas Longhorns Monday, March 02 2015 12:00 PM EST coverage Tickets
Texas Tech Red Raiders Friday, March 06 2015 9:00 PM EST coverage Tickets

Personally, I think this team can have a pretty successful year. We lost the offensive powers I mentioned, and we also took a hit losing our only 7'0" player in Isaiah Austin. The problem is, we open conference play with a giant slap in the face of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa State all in an 11 day span. That's an incredibly difficult slate of games and it will be a true test considering how the team will have played up to that point. If this squad can click early in the non-conference schedule and carry some momentum from the Vanderbilt/TAMU games into conference play, I really think we have a shot. Five of our nine conference losses last season were decided by 10 or fewer points, and two of the losses that weren't were to top ten teams in Iowa State and Kansas. So that's something positive to look forward to this year.

For a team that started out 2-8 in Big 12 play last season, a 9-9 finish was nothing short of spectacular. This year will be equally, if not significantly more, difficult than last. Not only do you have the constant emperor of Kansas sitting on its throne, but new successful programs like Iowa State and Texas have taken advantage of Baylor recently. Kansas State is no slouch, nor is Oklahoma. I firmly believe that the Big 12 is the toughest basketball conference in the NCAA. We have to adjust after losing our 2013-14 leaders in field goals made, three pointers made, and free throw success. Not to mention we also lost the team's best rebounder in Cory Jefferson.

Who to watch for?

Keep your eyes on JuCo transfer point guard Lester Medford. A two-time All-American at Indian Hills CC, Lester will assist Chery in the backcourt (literally) and hopefully pick up some of the scoring load that guys like Brady Heslip left off. Lester averaged over 15 PPG last year at Indian Hills (knocking down 46% of his shot attempts and going 61-152, or 40.1%, from beyond the three-point line) along with 96 steals. His assist-to-turnover ratio was a dismal 1.9; that's 215 assists to 112 turnovers. If Medford is going to be a reliant offensive weapon, we can't have 112 turnovers from him in one season. It's not a giant red flag, but we should at least take note of it. The guy gets buckets, and he'll be immensely fun to watch this season.

Seemingly a fan favorite, Ish Wainright should have a breakout sophomore campaign. Although his shooting was rather underwhelming, he has a positive attitude that is contagious to the rest of the team and possesses massive physicality. The guy is huge. At 6'5" and 245 lbs., if he can get his shots to fall, he could develop into a PHENOMENAL player over the next three years. I wouldn't say we're all expecting him to become LeBron this season, but we certainly anticipate his progression this season.

What do we do to replace the loss of big men in Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson?

 

      
NCAA Basketball

(via StatSheet.com)

This chart shows a statistical impact of each player by basic categories of statistics. You can look at it yourself, but to use an example, we lost about 25% of our rebounding from last season in Cory Jefferson and a few others. That's nothing extremely significant, but we definitely need to chip away at that this season and be physical in the paint. My primary worry regarding this team is that allowing offensive rebounds will create so many preventable points for opposing teams. Yes, we still have DENG DENG and Johnathan Motley to eat up some boards, which we REALLY need them to do. How can you not get bajillions of rebounds when your name is DENG DENG?

DENG. DENG.

DARTHBEAR'S PREDICTIONS:

Overall: 21-9

Conference: 10-8/11-7 (in that area, at least)

Tourney appearance: Check.

Ceiling: Sweet Sixteen.

***NOTE*** I said CEILING. I genuinely believe that our ceiling is the Sweet 16. We're making a transition right now, saying adios to some familiar faces and handing the torch to lesser known stars-to-be such as Chery or O'Neale. If this team rides the momentum it can certainly build throughout the season, we can absolutely work some magic in the spring.

GET READY. GET EXCITED. GET TURNT. AS MUCH ENERGY AS WE'RE FEEDING THE FOOTBALL TEAM (WHICH IS AWESOME BECAUSE YOU KNOW I'M #READYFOROSU), WE NEED TO GET BUCKETS THIS YEAR. SO. MUCH. SIC 'EM.