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Why Baylor Needs A Transfer Guard

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Baylor has missed out on three graduate transfer guards who have immediate eligibility, and could miss out on a fourth if Sterling Gibbs decides to stay in the northeast. Missing out on all of those guards is a tough blow for the Bears. Here's why.

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Baylor is currently 0-3 on graduate transfer guards. They missed on Anthony Collins (South Florida to Texas A&M), Dylan Ennis (Villanova to Oregon), and Johnny Hill (UT-Arlington to Purdue). Seton Hall's Sterling Gibbs, the top-rated transfer guard, seems likely to stay in the northeast, having already visited Pitt, UConn, and Ohio State. While I do not think going 0-4 in recruiting those players is any sort of requiem on Scott Drew and his program, lacking one more capable, reliable guard could be very significant for the program's success in this upcoming season. Let me explain.

This season, Baylor found its greatest success, both offensively and defensively, when Taurean Prince played the power forward position. In my position preview for the 2014-15 season, I suggested that Prince could see time at the four, the position he played in high school, and could become Baylor's scoring threat inside. If Prince could productively play that position, I thought, and could become a more reliable defender, he could have a huge impact. I was right and wrong. I was right that Prince would have a huge impact as a power forward, but I was wrong in thinking his impact would be inside. After a summer working on his outside shot, Prince transformed himself into the most influential type of player in modern basketball: a stretch-four. His shooting ability from long range as a power forward - and particularly off the catch - dragged opposing power forwards away from the basket, freeing up driving lanes and removing a would-be rebounder so that Rico Gathers could clean up the offensive glass. This offensive advantage was why Drew closed games with Prince at the four.

The other side of that coin, though, is that Drew had players who could capably play positions one through three in Kenny Chery, Lester Medford, and Royce O'Neale. If even one of those players was missing from the roster, Drew would have had a much harder time playing Prince at power forward. Royce O'Neale, in particular, was particularly effective on the wing as a weak-side spot-up shooter and rebounder and a more than reliable wing defender. Having three reliable wing players was just as important as having a stretch-four.

As the roster is currently constructed, it is hard to know if Baylor has the right players to allow Prince to continue playing major minutes at power forward. Here's what I project as the two-deep roster for the upcoming season:

Starters G-Medford W-Freeman W-Prince F-Motley F-Gathers
Reserves G-Mills/Lindsey W-McClure/Mitchell W-Wainright F-Acuil F-Maston

If Prince is to continue ruining the lives of the other teams' power forwards, three of the guards/wings groups need to be on the floor alongside him. Medford would seem to be a lock, and Al Freeman is the incumbent starter. That leaves the third spot to be filled by either a freshman guard, Austin Mills, or Ish Wainright. Mills is likely too small to play alongside Medford and Freeman, and Wainright has yet to demonstrate he can be a reliable player for long stretches of minutes. Relying on a freshman guard (especially those outside the top 15-20 players in their recruiting class) is a risky scenario. Of the three, King McClure comes with the highest expectations. He's a lights-out shooter, has a sick handle, and lacks no amount of confidence in himself. But how will that transfer to the college level when the game is faster and the defenders bigger? And if Drew continues to use the aggressive version of his patented zone defense, will McClure make reliable rotations from the get go? He is certainly talented, but Drew asks a lot of his guards on both sides of the ball, and it's difficult for freshmen to be able to make the proper reads on both ends. They just don't have the experience.

A graduate transfer guard, someone with experience and immediate eligibility, is likely best piece to fill that void and allow Drew to play Prince at power forward. That aside, the Bears will be relying on Wainright to make a big step up in his junior season, which, given that Prince did just that this past season, is possible. At minimum, Wainright will need something resembling a reliable outside shot in order to play on the wing. Realistically, he has many other weaknesses to shore up, and it might be too much to ask of him.

If Drew wants to play a stretch four, there is one more possibility I haven't mentioned yet, and it might be the most intriguing of all. Joseph Acuil, a top rated 7-0 JUCO transfer, has an outside shot and quick feet. If he can prove himself in the offseason, Drew might consider going with him at power forward while Prince plays the wing. The lineup of Medford-Freeman-Prince-Acuil-Gathers could allow Baylor to continue playing the 4-around-1 offense that worked so well for them last season, should Drew want it.

Of course, this might all be a moot point. Drew might just as well decide to return to a more traditional lineup with two inside scorers, which would be the starting lineup I proposed in the above table. If Drew takes that route, the need for a graduate transfer guard will be much less imperative. Even so, nabbing one wouldn't hurt.