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Baylor Men’s Basketball 2023-24 Roster Preview: Bigs

The Bears have front court depth for the first time in a while

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

For the last piece of our roster preview, we’ll take a look at the front court for the Baylor Bears. It’s been a while since Baylor had this mix of depth and upside at the big spots, but a combination of experience, emerging talent, and some variation in skill will allow Scott Drew to do more mix and match combinations with multiple bigs on the floor for the fist time since 2018 with Terry Maston and Jo Lual-Acuil.

This is also the position with the least settled rotation. Drew will take some time in the non-conference to experiment with different starters and minutes to see what he has to work with.

Josh Ojianwuna

6’ 10”, 230 lbs

Projected role: Starting center

Ojianwuna is primed to be a breakout player in the Big 12 this season. He had significant but uneven minutes as a true freshman last season, appearing in 381 minutes in 29 games. He led the team in field goal percentage (59% FG), offensive rebounding rate (14.5%), and effective FG% (59% eFG), was second in block rate (3.3%), and was third in defensive rebound rate (17.8%). He struggled with free throws (66% FT) and foul trouble. He also looked to still be learning the game and struggled to stay in front of smaller guards on switches.

With a summer of training and the extra exhibition games abroad, Ojianwuna has the potential to be a reliable true center who can set big screens, dive to the rim, and protect the basket. Placing him in the starting lineup pairs him with the team’s best passer, RayJ Dennis, and a strong defensive group that will allow him to stay near the rim. He may not end the season as the starter, but he makes the most sense to start from a rotational perspective.

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua

6’ 8”, 250 lbs

Projected role: Backup power forward

Tchamwa Tchatchoua, despite being the longest tenured member of the roster, brings a lot of unknowns into this season. He’s another 9 months removed from his year-long absence due to a catastrophic knee injury. His three-point rate essentially doubled last year from the season before, and he’s reported to have dropped a significant amount of weight (not reflected in the team’s online roster listing). Those two developments suggest EJ could be spending the majority of his minutes at power forward instead of backup center, where he has spent his whole Baylor career.

His three-point shot (12-27 over the last two partial seasons) has been good enough to keep teams honest and means he has real potential to play alongside a center like Ojianwuna who wants to hang out in the dunker spot. Tchamwa Tchatchoua is an excellent screen and roll player, though, and it wouldn’t make much sense to take away that part of his game to toss threes from the top of the key — something opposing defenses will be happy to gamble on. Instead, it may make more sense for him to come off the bench and pair more of his minutes with Yves Missi, a freshman center who's received a lot of hype this summer. If Missi does turn out to have a reliable jumper, playing alongside EJ could put more pressure on defenses to defend the full court no matter who is going up to set the screen. Defensively, too, EJ can help take some pressure of the freshman early in the season by being the strong, physical presence defending switches and slamming into guys for rebounds.

This doesn’t mean Tchamwa Tchatchoua couldn’t see time at center, especially in a closing role with Jalen Bridges. And that’s what will make him so valuable this season — he enhances the versatility of the roster by playing multiple positions in multiple ways.

All of this requires a lot of projection around a player you could previously slot in at super-sub center. Can his jump shot hold up over a full season? Is his athleticism returned to a level that allows him to hold up on switches? Is the 6th year player willing to come off the bench in his last opportunity to play as a collegiate starter, or does his stature demand he start and push one or both of Ojianwuna and Missi to the bench?

Tchamwau Tchatchoua is the ultimate team-first player, something that could allow Drew to make the rotation adjustments to put the strongest possible groups on the floor at any given time.

Yves Missi

7’ 0”, 235 lbs

Projected role: Backup center

Missi, who reclassified from the 2024 recruiting class, is a highly rated recruit whose game seems to be growing at an accelerated rate since joining the team this summer. He came to Baylor in part because of its nearly two decade long legacy of developing big men, and his size and raw ability make him a candidate to blossom into a high level rotation player this season, if not the outright starting center.

And the excitement is growing around Missi for his ability on both ends. In the highlight above, he puts the move on a lockdown defender and Baylor alum Freddie Gillespie with fluid athleticism and decisive footwork. Missi clearly has a high, high ceiling as a true 7-footer with skill. Enjoy the highlights below.

Playing as a freshman center in the Big 12 is tough. The coaches know how to exploit a defensive anchor whose still adjusting to the speed of the league, and college basketball remains a physical game with the last few COVID seniors still hanging around into their mid-twenties, particularly the big men who don’t have the pro prospects that wings and guards do.

To ease Missi into things, Drew will probably want to bring him off the bench but be open to increasing his minutes as he proves he can be reliable as well as highlight-generating. He has more skill than Ojianwuna, if he doesn’t quite have the solid build of his sophomore teammate. If he is capable of anchoring the paint and keeping his turnovers down, then Missi has a real shot at being the starting center by the time the Tourney rolls around.

Caleb Lohner

6’ 8”, 235 lbs

Projected role: Backup power forward

Lohner at his best is an offensive rebounding, lob catching energizer off the bench with the potential to hang out in the left corner and knock down a respectable clip of threes. He was second last season in offensive rebounding rate, fourth in eFG%, and second in steal rate, all great indicators of a role player who can come into the game and impact the game in flashes.

On the flip side, he had the second-highest turnover rate and the highest foul rate on the team as he saw his minutes steadily decline with the start of conference play and the return of Tchamwa Tchatchoua to the active list. His dribble can be loose, playing sped-up with the ball in his hands as he hurtles into the paint.

At BYU, he shot about 27% on 119 three-point attempts. That’s suggestive that he may be capable of doing better than his 4-16 three-point shooting last season if he can be fed a regular diet of attempts. We already know he’s capable of slamming home lobs and put-backs. Still, with both Bridges and Tchamwa Tchatchoua in the rotation, it’s unclear how many minutes are available for Lohner unless Drew wants to push either Bridges down to the three or Tchamwa Tchatchoua up to the five for some lineups. The guard talent is too high to put Lohner in as a small forward.

Big, Big Options

Much like the wing rotation, Drew will have a lot to sort through with these versatile bigs. There’s talent, experience, and interesting combinations that will be developed into regular rotations as the season progresses (health permitting, which it never seems to). Drew could decide to play two bigs together for the first time in 5 years, or he could go small with a single big in to grab rebounds and protect the paint. And of any of the position groups, this is one where the projected roles are most subject to change as the two young bigs establish their roles and abilities.

That’s it for our roster preview series! If you missed them, catch the guard and wing previews here and here. There’s a lot to be excited for this season, and we’ve got more great basketball content on the way!