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Baylor Men’s Basketball Non-Conference Preview: First True Tests

A look at Virginia, UCLA, Illinois, and McNeese State

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at VCU Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Intro

Welcome to part 2 of this preview series. Part 1 was published before the season started and included a lot of projecting based on the previous year’s results and stats. This edition will also do a lot of looking at previous seasons in addition to showing the small sample size of results and stats as of the publish date. The next 2 parts of the series will likely focus almost entirely on current season stats, as by that time, we’ll have more data to work with. This edition will cover 4 teams. The Baylor Bears will only play 3 of these 4 but it’s at this point uncertain whether the Bears’ second matchup in Vegas this weekend will be Illinois or UCLA. We’ll cover both here just so that we’re good either way. Again, not every player on these teams will be covered herein. We’re only going to look at the projected starters and 3 or 4 guys who can be reasonably expected to be part of each team’s rotation.

Virginia Cavaliers (November 18, 2022, at 5:00 PM CT in Las Vegas, Nevada; Televised on ESPN2)

2021-22 Record: 21-14 (6th place finish in the ACC regular season standings; No. 6 seed in the NIT; lost in the NIT quarterfinals)

Coach: Tony Bennett (entering 14th season with the program; career record: 316-117; 2019 national championship coach)

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

The Hoos went into last season trying to replace its top 3 scorers and ton of important bench reserves lost to the portal. The team, while disappointing by UVA standards, was far from terrible, boasting wins over Duke (in Cameron), Miami, and Virginia Tech who all made the Big Dance. It was the first NCAA Tournament to not feature Virginia since 2013. This year, Virginia brings back many of their best players while bringing in a big-name transfer and a talented batch of freshmen.

Projected Starting Lineup

Kihei Clark

Measurables: Guard, #0, 5’10” 170 lbs., Super Senior

Old Stats: Last 3 Seasons: 10.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.9 APG, and 0.9 SPG in 90 games played (88 starts; 35.8 MPG) on 38.9% FG, 35.0% 3P, and 80.5% FT.

New Stats: 8.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 6.0 APG, and 1.0 APG in 2 games played (both starts; 27.5 MPG) on 46.2% FG, 44.4% 3P, and 25.0% FT.

Analysis: The only player on the roster who was part of the national championship team, Clark is a small point guard who captains UVA’s methodical offense. He’s an elite passer with growing confidence as a 3P shooter.

Reece Beekman

Measurables: Guard, #2, 6’3” 190 lbs., Junior

Old Stats: Last Season: 8.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 5.2 APG, 2.1 SPG, and 0.7 BPG in 35 games played (all starts; 35.1 MPG) on 44.9% FG, 33.8% 3P, and 76.1% FT.

New Stats: 8.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, and 1.0 BPG in 2 games played (both starts; 24.0 MPG) on 35.7% FG, 42.9% 3P, and 100.0% FT.

Analysis: A natural point guard who primarily plays off-ball when Clark is in the game, Beekman is the team’s best defensive player and one of the most efficient secondary offensive facilitators in the nation.

Armaan Franklin

Measurables: Guard, #4, 6’4” 200 lbs., Senior

Old Stats: Last 2 Seasons (1 with Indiana and 1 with UVA): 11.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, and 1.1 SPG in 57 games played (54 starts; 29.8 MPG) on 40.5% FG, 33.7% 3P, and 75.2% FT.

New Stats: 14.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 0.5 APG in 2 games played (both starts; 26.5 MPG) on 53.3% FG, 54.5% 3P, and 87.5% FT.

Analysis: The team’s 2nd leading scorer a season ago, Franklin is hoping to be more efficient offensively this season. He’s a dangerous three-level scorer.

Jayden Gardner

Measurables: Forward, #1, 6’6” 230 lbs., Super Senior

Old Stats: Last 4 Seasons (3 with East Carolina and 1 with UVA): 17.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, and 0.8 SPG in 116 games played (114 starts; 33.0 MPG) on 50.1% FG, 24.0% 3P, and 75.0% FT.

New Stats: 6.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 0.5 APG in 2 games played (both starts; 17.5 MPG) on 27.3% FG and 66.7% FT.

Analysis: The team’s leading scorer and rebounder from a season ago is back for his 5th season of college ball. He has a nose for the rim and is capable of finishing through contact as a scorer.

Kadin Shedrick

Measurables: Center, #21, 6’11” 230 lbs., Redshirt Junior

Old Stats: Last Season: 6.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 1.9 BPG in 35 games played (19 starts; 20.8 MPG) on 64.1% FG and 70.9% FT.

New Stats: 9.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.5 SPG, and 1.5 BPG in 2 games played (both starts; 24.0 MPG) on 50.0% FG, 0.0% 3P, and 90.0% FT.

Analysis: Shedrick is an elite rim protector. He also projects as the program’s most improved player over the offseason. He dominated in the team’s foreign tour this summer and looks like a stronger, more confident rebounder and low-post scorer.

Projected Rotation Players

Ben Vander Plas

Measurables: Forward, #5, 6’8” 235 lbs., Super Senior

Old Stats: Last 3 Seasons (with Ohio): 14.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, and 1.4 SPG in 91 games played (all starts; 34.1 MPG) on 46.4% FG, 33.1% 3P, and 67.7% FT.

New Stats: 8.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, and 1.0 BPG in 2 games played (off the bench; 21.0 MPG) on 55.6% FG, 57.1% 3P, and 60.0% FT.

Analysis: The incoming transfer is skilled enough to play on the wing and strong enough to play down low. Coach Bennett has raved about his leadership, his passing, and his ability to space the floor.

Francisco Caffaro

Measurables: Center, #22, 7’1” 250 lbs., Redshirt Senior

Old Stats: Last Season: 4.3 PPG and 4.6 RPG in 35 games played (16 starts; 17.7 MPG) on 52.4% FG and 60.3% FT.

New Stats: 10.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 1.0 APG in 1 game played (off the bench; 10.0 MPG) on 100.0% FG and 80.0% FT.

Analysis: He is the Cavaliers’ biggest player. His size, toughness, and physicality makes him tough to move and contend with in the paint.

Isaac McKneely

Measurables: Guard, #11, 6’4” 180 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: High School (Senior Season): 20.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 3.8 APG.

New Stats: 9.0 PPG and 1.5 RPG in 2 games played (off the bench; 25.0 MPG) on 50.0% FG, 50.0% 3P, and 33.3% FT.

Analysis: A high-efficiency, high-volume scorer in high school, McKneely projects as the team’s most talented guard coming off the bench.

Ryan Dunn

Measurables: Forward, #13, 6’8” 210 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: 44% 3P shooter over final 2 seasons in high school

New Stats: 13.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, and 3.0 BPG in 1 game played (off the bench; 27.0 MPG) on 83.3% FG, 100.0% 3P, and 50.0% FT.

Analysis: The freshman looked good in training camp and brings in a strong combination of size and above-the-rim athleticism.

Keys to Beat

1) Careful and deliberate passing, dribbling, and cutting on offense. The Hoos will try to limit the total number of possessions and slow the game down. Every turnover will be exponentially more costly. Everything on the offense must be purposeful and confident (no dribbling/passing just for the sake of doing it).

2) Win the battle of the boards. Zone teams like Virginia frequently struggle to block out, creating an opportunity for opponents to create numerous second-chance opportunities. Baylor tends to be an effective offensive-rebounding team, making this a favorable matchup for the Bears.

History: This will be the first ever meeting of these 2 great programs.

Preliminary Prediction: Baylor 74 Virginia: 67

UCLA Bruins (potentially November 19, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada; likely Televised on the ESPN Family of Networks)

2021-22 Record: 27-8 (finished 2nd in the Pac-12 regular season standings; No. 4 Seed in the NCAA Tournament; lost in the Sweet Sixteen)

Coach: Mick Cronin (entering 4th season with program; career record: 433-201; 1 Final Four [2021])

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament East Regional Practice Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

Despite losing Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard (who averaged a combined 28.4 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 3.5 APG, and 1.7 SPG), UCLA enters the season with high expectations yet again. They bring back an elite scoring duo while bringing in the 2nd best recruiting class in the conference. Ranked inside the AP Preseason Top 10, they no doubt view themselves as Final Four contenders.

Projected Starting Lineup

Tyger Campbell

Measurables: Guard, #10, 5’10” 180 lbs., Redshirt Senior

Old Stats: Last 2 Seasons: 11.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, and 1.0 SPG in 65 games played (all starts; 33.0 MPG) on 43.7% FG, 35.1% 3P, and 80.5% FT.

New Stats: 14.3 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 4.3 APG, and 1.3 SPG in 3 games played (all starts; 26.7 MPG) on 46.2% FG, 33.3% 3P, and 100.0% FT.

Analysis: The undersized vet has great quickness. He’s a pass-first point guard who has seriously improved as a scorer recently. He has a ton of experience and is the straw that stirs the drink for the Bruins.

Amari Bailey

Measurables: Guard, #5, 6’5” 180 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: High School (Senior Season): 18.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 2.6 APG.

New Stats: 11.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, and 1.0 SPG in 3 games played (all starts; 26.3 MPG) on 54.8% FG, 20.0% 3P, and 0.0% FT.

Analysis: He’s a long and physical combo guard. Expect him to function as a capable secondary playmaker. Bailey is an explosive athlete who will hunt out opportunities to posterize opponents, especially in transition.

Jaylen Clark

Measurables: Guard, #0, 6’5” 210 lbs., Junior

Old Stats: Last Season: 6.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, and 1.1 SPG in 29 games played (6 starts; 18.1 MPG) on 50.6% FG, 25.9% 3P, and 54.2% FT.

New Stats: 17.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 4.3 SPG, and 0.7 BPG in 3 games played (all starts; 26.7 MPG) on 66.7% FG, 53.8% 3P, and 100.0% FT.

Analysis: Clark is looking at a major increase in playing time this season. He is widely considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the Pac-12. He’s also a guy who can attack the rim and who has reportedly improved as a shooter this offseason.

Jaime Jaquez, Jr.

Measurables: Forward, #24, 6’7” 225 lbs., Senior

Old Stats: Last 2 Seasons: 13.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.0 APG, and 1.2 SPG in 66 games played (all starts; 32.7 MPG) on 47.8% FG, 34.1% 3P, and 71.3% FT.

New Stats: 12.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.7 APG, 0.7 SPG, and 0.7 BPG in 3 games played (all starts; 30.3 MPG) on 50.0% FG, 42.9% 3P, and 50.0% FT.

Analysis: Jaquez played much of last season with a sprained ankle and was still highly effective. He is their biggest scoring threat and arguably their best player. Limiting his production will be of paramount importance for the Bears.

Adem Bona

Measurables: Center, #3, 6’10” 235 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: High School (Senior Season): 15.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, and 3.5 BPG.

New Stats: 9.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, and 1.0 BPG in 2 games played (both starts; 20.0 MPG) on 77.8% FG and 50.0% FT.

Analysis: Viewed by the coaching staff as an excellent rim protector and potential anchor to an aggressive full-court defense, Bona has the body and work ethic to be an impact player right away for UCLA.

Key Rotation Players

David Singleton

Measurables: Guard, #34, 6’4” 205 lbs., Super Senior

Old Stats: Last 2 Seasons: 4.8 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.8 APG, and 0.5 SPG in 65 games played (5 starts; 16.9 MPG) on 46.5% FG, 46.4% 3P, and 64.3% FT.

New Stats: 12.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, and 0.7 SPG in 3 games played (off the bench; 26.7 MPG) on 60.0% FG, 60.0% 3P, and 100.0% FT.

Analysis: Having appeared in over 120 career games for the Bruins, Singleton has tremendous experience and is viewed as a leader despite coming off the bench. He is a three-point specialist who also holds his own on the defensive end.

Dylan Andrews

Measurables: Guard, #2, 6’2” 170 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: High School (Senior Season): 13.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, and 2.6 APG.

New Stats: 2.3 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.7 APG, and 0.7 SPG in 3 games played (off the bench; 12.0 MPG) on 37.5% FG, 0.0% 3P, and 33.3% FT.

Analysis: He should be the team’s backup point guard. Andrews brings speed and toughness and has been praised by the coaches as a gifted defender.

Abramo Canka

Measurables: Forward, #1, 6’6” 200 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: FIBA U20 2022 Euro Championship (7 games): 9.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG, and 1.4 APG.

New Stats: 2.3 PPG and 0.7 RPG in 3 games played (off the bench; 7.3 MPG) on 28.6% FG, 33.3% 3P, and 100.0% FT.

Analysis: Viewed as a potential NBA-caliber player, the Italian wing can do just about everything. The coaching staff is particularly excited about his defensive potential because of his size and athleticism. He can shoot it and pass it as well.

Kenneth Nwuba

Measurables: Center, #14, 6’10” 230 lbs., Redshirt Senior

Old Stats: Last Season per 100 Possessions: 11.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 2.8 blocks on 66.7% FG and 50.0% FT. He appeared in 20 games, averaging just 6.4 MPG.

New Stats: 3.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, and 1.0 BPG in 3 games played (1 start; 18.7 MPG) on 71.4% FG.

Analysis: Nwuba has played sparingly most of his career. This offseason he worked on his conditioning and stamina, losing a lot of weight to become a more usable player, and has seemingly won the backup center spot this year.

Keys to Beat

1) Mind the midrange. Last season this team was very effective at knocking down long-two-pointers. They’re likely to do the same this season. Baylor mustn’t be overaggressive in closing out on most 3P attempts. If they are, UCLA’s guys will pump and blow past for a clean look from the midrange.

2) Be quick but don’t hurry. That is, of course, a colloquialism attributed to arguably the greatest college basketball coach of all-time and UCLA legend, John Wooden. It holds true here though. I expect UCLA to use a lot of full-court defensive sets this season. If true, the Bears should try to break the press and score with a man advantage before the half-court defense can get set. As long as they aren’t going so fast as to be reckless and turning it over a ton, this could be roadmap to success here.

History: These programs have never played each other.

Preliminary Prediction: Baylor 81 UCLA: 77 (Assuming that this matchup takes place)

Illinois (potentially November 19, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada; likely Televised on the ESPN Family of Networks)

2021-22 Record: 23-10 (Big Ten regular season co-champions; No. 4 Seed in the NCAA Tournament; Lost in the Second Round of the Big Dance)

Coach: Brad Underwood (entering 6th season with the program; career record: 203-93; in 6 NCAA tournament trips, his teams have never made it past the first weekend of the Big Dance)

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Houston vs Illinois Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

There’s roster turnover and there’s losing Kofi Cockburn, Andre Curbelo, Trent Frazier, Jacob Grandison, Alfonso Plummer and 5 others. The fact that Illinois enters the season as a ranked team is a testament to how strong the Illini’s incoming class of transfers and freshmen is. After winning Big Ten championships (either tournament or regular season) in the last 2 seasons, Illinois will be looking to not just make the NCAA Tournament but for the first time since 2005, do some serious damage in March Madness.

Projected Starting Lineup

Skyy Clark

Measurables: Guard, #55, 6’3” 200 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: High School (Junior Season): 26.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 3.5 APG.

New Stats: 6.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, and 1.0 SPG in 3 games played (all starts; 22.7 MPG) on 62.5% FG, 50.0% 3P, and 100.0% FT.

Analysis: Before tearing his ACL in the Summer of 2021, Clark was considered one of the top high school guards in the nation. When healthy, he’s an explosive athlete and dynamic scorer. It remains to be seen if he’s truly back to 100% health. If he is, he could be one of the best young players in the Big Ten.

Terrence Shannon, Jr.

Measurables: Guard, #0, 6’6” 215 lbs., Senior

Old Stats: Last 2 Seasons (with Texas Tech): 11.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, and 1.0 SPG in 54 games played (33 starts; 25.9 MPG) on 45.1% FG, 37.1% 3P, and 76.7% FT.

New Stats: 22.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 0.7 BPG in 3 games played (all starts; 25.3 MPG) on 52.9% FG, 35.3% 3P, and 81.3% FT.

Analysis: Baylor fans should be familiar with the Chicago native who spent his first 3 collegiate seasons playing for the Red Raiders. He is an elite scoring option who brings great athleticism. He should lead the team in scoring this season.

RJ Melendez

Measurables: Forward, #15, 6’7” 210 lbs., Sophomore

Old Stats: Last Season per 100 Possessions: 26.5 points, 11.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.9 steals on 56.9% FG, 60.0% 3P, and 85.0% FT.

New Stats: 6.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2.0 SPG, and 1.0 BPG in 3 games played (all starts; 18.7 MPG) on 31.6% FG, 18.2% 3P, and 80.0% FT.

Analysis: Despite not getting consistent playing time as a freshman, there’s a lot of buzz around Melendez. He has reportedly added a considerable amount of weight and strength this offseason to complement his good shooting.

Matthew Mayer

Measurables: Forward, #24, 6’9” 225 lbs., Super Senior

Old Stats: Last 2 Seasons (with Baylor): 9.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, and 1.2 SPG in 63 games played (33 starts; 19.4 MPG) on 44.1% FG, 34.9% 3P, and 65.1% FT.

New Stats: 5.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, and 1.0 SPG, in 3 games played (all starts; 16.0 MPG) on 31.6% FG and 25.0% 3P.

Analysis: A man, and a mullet, who needs no introduction, Mayer brings his talents to the Big Ten. He’s got a lot of offensive upside to go with his defense which improved significantly last year. He’s a wildcard and the Bears will need to prevent him from getting hot early.

Coleman Hawkins

Measurables: Center, #33, 6’10” 225 lbs., Junior

Old Stats: Last Season: 5.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, and 0.8 SPG in 33 games played (14 starts; 19.0 MPG) on 44.2% FG, 29.2% 3P, and 65.0% FT.

New Stats: 11.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.0 SPG, and 0.7 BPG in 3 games played (all starts; 23.0 MPG) on 46.2% FG, 41.7 % 3P, and 75.0% FT.

Analysis: He primarily came off the bench except when injuries and a suspension elevated him into the starting lineup. He does all the things a big man should and can shoot it from the outside if left open. The coaching staff expects big things from Hawkins this season.

Key Rotation Players

Ty Rodgers

Measurables: Guard, #20, 6’6” 200 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: High School (Senior Season): 17.3 PPG, 15.4 RPG, 8.0 APG, 3.0 SPG, and 3.0 BPG.

New Stats: 3.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 2.7 APG in 3 games played (off the bench; 24.0 MPG) on 57.1% FG and 16.7% FT.

Analysis: This versatile wing is probably the first player off the bench. He’s an excellent rebounder for his size and a moderately high-upside scorer.

Jayden Epps

Measurables: Guard, #3, 6’2” 190 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: High School (Senior Season): 18 PPG, 4 RPG, and 5 APG.

New Stats: 12.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, and 0.7 SPG in 3 games played (off the bench; 23.7 MPG) on 52.0% FG, 43.8% 3P, and 75.0% FT.

Analysis: Another young score-first point, Epps loves to iso on opponents (especially if he gets switched into a mismatch).

Sencire Harris

Measurables: Guard, #1, 6’4” 160 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: High School (Senior Season): 20.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, and 3.8 SPG.

New Stats: 7.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG, and 1.3 SPG in 3 games played (off the bench; 15.7% MPG) on 47.1% FG, 55.6% 3P, and 0.0% FT.

Analysis: Coach Underwood has been impressed with the athleticism, versatility, and confidence of this long guard.

Dain Dainja

Measurables: Center, #42, 6’9” 270 lbs., Redshirt Sophomore

Old Stats: Last Season per 100 Possessions (SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT): 38.9 points, 19.4 rebounds, and 6.5 blocks. He appeared in 3 games for a total of 9 minutes.

New Stats: 17.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.0 SPG, and 3.0 BPG in 3 games played (off the bench; 19.0 MPG) on 82.8% FG and 36.4% FT.

Analysis: Another former Baylor Bear, Dainja transferred during the middle of last season. He figures to get significantly more playing time with the Illini, as the backup big. He is strong and physical, much like Kofi Cockburn was for Illinois last season.

Keys to Beat

1) Set the tone. Baylor needs to dictate the pace and tempo of the game. Make them play our style of basketball, we’re better at it than they are.

2) Keep it popping. This team has a lot of length. The Bears will need to be creative and patient in half-court offensive sets.

History: Baylor beat Illinois in 2020 in a neutral site game behind a strong performance from Adam Flagler who led the team in scoring with 18 points off the bench.

Preliminary Prediction: Baylor: 79 Illinois: 68 (Assuming that this matchup takes place)

McNeese State Cowboys (November 23, 2022, at 3:00 PM CT in Waco, Texas; Streaming on ESPN+)

2021-22 Record: 11-22 (finished 7th in the Southland Conference regular season standings; missed the NCAA Tournament for the 33rd consecutive season)

Coach: John Aiken (entering 2nd season as HC; previously spent 3 seasons as associate head coach for the Cowboys)

NCAA Basketball: McNeese State at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

The first season under Coach Aiken was rocky, to put it mildly. They were one of the worst teams in the country at turning the ball over and also at sending opponents to the FT line. They’ll be looking to clean up some of those weaknesses this year but will have to do so while also replacing the majority of their best players.

Projected Starting Lineup

Rhyjon Blackwell

Measurables: Guard, #3, 6’1” 170 lbs., Junior

Old Stats: Last Season (JUCO): 8.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG, and 2.3 APG in 28 games played on 42% FG and 41% 3P.

New Stats: 3.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, and 0.5 SPG in 2 games played (both starts; 20.5 MPG) on 40.0% FG and 40.0% 3P.

Analysis: Blackwell winning the starting job in his first season of Division I basketball was a bit of a surprise, but he has shown promise as a 3P shooter early on.

Zach Scott

Measurables: Guard, #15, 6’4” 180 lbs., Super Senior

Old Stats: Last Season: 10.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.1 APG, and 1.2 SPG in 32 games played (23 starts; 27.0 MPG) on 41.0% FG, 40.7% 3P, and 91.9%.

New Stats: 11.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, and 1.5 SPG in 2 games played (both starts; 21.0 MPG) on 33.3% FG and 26.7% 3P.

Analysis: Scott is arguably the best 3P shooter in the Southland Conference coming into this season. He is also considered by his coaches to be one of the team’s most selfless players. He has over 2600 career minutes of playing time at the Division I level.

Jonathan Massie

Measurables: Guard, #5, 6’6” 190 lbs., Sophomore

Old Stats: Last Season: 5.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, and 1.1 SPG in 31 games played (25 starts; 24.0 MPG) on 37.3% FG, 18.0% 3P, and 63.5% FT.

New Stats: 12.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.0 SPG, and 1.0 BPG in 2 games played (both starts; 24.0 MPG) on 62.5% FG, 75.0% 3P, and 50.0% FT.

Analysis: Heading into his 2nd collegiate season, Massie will return to his more natural position on the wing after playing point guard for much of last season. His coaches expect that this will help his production as a rebounder and defender. After struggling mightily with his perimeter shot last year, he has reportedly improved his 3P shot this offseason.

Christian Shumate

Measurables: Forward, #24, 6’7” 210 lbs., Junior

Old Stats: Last Season: 12.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.8 SPG, and 0.8 BPG in 33 games played (9 starts; 23.4 MPG) on 51.7% FG, 19.6% 3P, and 57.4% FT.

New Stats: 13.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 1.0 BPG in 2 games played (both starts; 24.5 MPG) on 64.7% FG, 33.3% 3P, and 42.9% FT.

Analysis: Shumate was arguably the team’s most well-rounded player last season despite primarily coming off the bench. He’s in line for a more prominent role this season which could spur a spike in his already impressive production. Coach Aiken has said that Shumate is one of the most athletic players in the conference.

Malachi Rhodes

Measurables: Forward, #23, 6’8” 240 lbs., Junior

Old Stats: Last Season (with Bucknell): 3.8 PPG and 4.0 RPG in 32 games played (no starts; 12.8 MPG) on 47.5% FG, 40.0% 3P, and 54.8% FT.

New Stats: 8.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.5 SPG, and 0.5 BPG in 2 games played (both starts; 20.0 MPG) on 53.8% FG, 100.0% 3P, and 50.0% FT.

Analysis: Rhodes is a bit undersized to play at the five but makes up for it with toughness and physicality. Coach Aiken also likes that Rhodes can step out and make shots outside of the paint.

Key Rotation Players

Trae English

Measurables: Guard, #1, 6’0” 175 lbs., Sophomore

Old Stats: Last Season: 5.3 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, and 0.9 SPG in 28 games played (4 starts; 15.8 MPG) on 36.2% FG, 16.7% 3P, and 74.2% FT.

New Stats: 7.0 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, and 2.0 SPG in 2 games played (off the bench; 19.5 MPG) on 38.9% FG, 0.0% 3P, and 0.0% FT.

Analysis: The freshman point guard had a strong finish to his rookie campaign. Over his final 8 games of the season, he averaged 10.9 PPG and 2.6 APG on 50.0% FG. He lacks shooting range but is a creative scorer who knows how to get to his spots on the floor and convert.

Harwin Francois

Measurables: Guard, #22, 6’5” 200 lbs., Redshirt Senior

Old Stats: Last 2 Seasons: 6.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 0.8 APG in 42 games played (12 starts; 21.8 MPG) on 38.4% FG, 35.9% 3P, and 71.4% FT.

New Stats: 4.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 1.5 SPG in 2 games played (1 start; 22.0 MPG) on 30.0% FG and 22.2% 3P.

Analysis: Francois might not be in the starting lineup to start the season, but he should be getting 20+ minutes almost every game. He is an effective scorer and an active rebounder. He should be the team’s sixth man.

Donovan Oday

Measurables: Guard, #2, 6’3” 185 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: High School (Senior Season): 16.5 PPG and 5.0 APG

New Stats: 9.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, and 1.5 SPG in 2 games played (off the bench; 12.0 MPG) on 53.3% FG, 50.0% 3P, and 100.0% FT.

Analysis: The Texas native has earned his way into the early-season rotation behind his athleticism and versatility.

Dionjahe Thomas

Measurables: Forward, #12, 6’8” 230 lbs., Freshman

Old Stats: High SChool (Junior Season): 24 PPG, 13 RPG, 3 APG, 2 SPG, and 6 BPG.

New Stats: 6.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.5 SPG, and 0.5 BPG in 2 games played (off the bench; 13.5 MPG) on 54.5% FG and 25.0% FT.

Analysis: The athletic Louisiana native chose McNeese over offers from Tulane and FAU among others.

Keys to Beat

1) Make them make ‘em. Other than starting shooting guard, Zach Scott, the perimeter shooting ability of this team is very much in question. Baylor shouldn’t necessarily leave anyone wide open, but if they are settling for a lot of three-point attempts, that’s probably better than them getting good looks underneath the arc.

2) Wear them out. This team doesn’t have much depth. Pushing the pace offensively could tire out their starters and allow the Bears to expose favorable matchups against their reserves.

History: These teams have faced just once before, a 41-point beatdown in 2014.

Preliminary Prediction: Baylor: 102 McNeese State: 64

Conclusion

NCAA Basketball: Championship-Baylor at Michigan State Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This chunk of the non-conference schedule is much tougher than the first few games. I wouldn’t be totally shocked if Baylor lost one in this brief stretch. Even if that comes to pass, it’s a great thing that Baylor will face a multitude of Top 25-caliber teams in the non-conference. That’s part of what has helped the Bears get off to strong starts in conference play in recent seasons. It also helps the strength of schedule metrics on Selection Sunday. Looking ahead, the next group of non-conference opponents covered will also include a familiar foe (and fellow member of the AP Top 5) and a couple of other power conference teams. Sic Em!

Stats courtesy of sports-reference.com; njcaa.org; virginiasports.com; uclabruins.com; fightingillini.com; mcneesesports.com; 247sports.com; espn.com; and/or maxreps.com.

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