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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-UC Santa Barbara vs Baylor

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Where do we go from here? Preliminary Musings on the 2023-24 Baylor MBB Team

Baylor is built to reload - Jed and Michael share their thoughts

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The end of the 2022-2023 season has left many of the Baylor Bears faithful wanting more.

Well, Baylor basketball and Our Daily Bears are here to help fill that gaping hole.

Next season holds a great deal of promise with another round of highly rated freshmen coming to join the program’s developing talent and whoever hitches onto the Bears’ wagon via the transfer portal.

To help set a baseline for our expectations next season, our good friend Jed and I are going to walk through what we do (and don’t) know about the coming roster. We’ll say some goodbyes, welcome new faces, laugh, cry, have a little too much Dr Pepper, and just generally enjoy the fact that Baylor basketball is a place where players come for growth, camaraderie, competition, and preparation.

The Miro hype train is about to leave the station. We’re now taking tickets and keeping receipts.

— Michael Nichols, Editor in Basketball

What we know for sure:

Flo Thamba is gone

Jed: He has no more collegiate eligibility. I’m gonna miss the big guy. He was never a star player for the Bears and he made me say some not-so-nice things at my television while watching him play on many occasions. Still, he’s a guy who never made it about himself and worked his tail off for this program for 5 years. He’s got that championship ring, and nobody can ever take that away from him. I’m glad he was (and always will be) a Baylor Bear.

Michael: When Flo joined the Bears, some of our readers may not have even been born yet. Shoutout to all of our 5-year-old readers reading at a 6th grade level! Back then, King McClure was entering his senior season. In that time, Flo’s been a standard bearer in the program and played a massive role in the championship game, which will forever remain his biggest game in the biggest moment. We’ll miss seeing him around.

Ja’Kobe Walter and Miro Little are on the way

Jed: In terms of true freshmen reinforcements, it doesn’t get much better than this duo. Little is a Finnish point guard and the 28th best player in the class of 2023 (per 247sports.com). Assuming that Flagler is gone and given some transfer uncertainty with other guys, Little could compete for the starting point guard spot next year.

Walter, a shooting guard, is a high-volume scorer, elite defender, and the 23rd best player in the class of 2023 (per 247sports.com). Walter is a potential one-and-done guy and I can’t see a scenario where he isn’t a starter.

Michael: These two freshmen will absolutely make an impact. Given Scott Drew’s comments this season about how young the team was relative to the rest of the league, though, it is worth considering how much Drew wants to rely on freshman even as talented as these two. Ultimately, I’m with Jed, though. Walter’s size and defense likely gets him into the starting lineup alongside two other guards, while Little will be tasked with playmaking for the second unit. Something to consider, though: if Baylor’s glut of guards all return, that makes it easier for Drew to ease the freshman into the program without the burden that seems to have effected George so much down the stretch. On the other hand, there’s a scenario where Baylor has to rely heavily on these two to step into gaps left by the transfer portal. That would not be ideal.

What we’re pretty sure of:

Keyonte George is 99% gone (to the pros)

Jed: His postgame comments seemingly leave the door open so that he might come back. A case can be made that he should come back. Another season in college likely wouldn’t hurt his draft stock and could even enhance it if he finds a way to finish stronger next year than he did this one. Over his final 4 games, his scoring efficiencies were 23% FG, 19% 3P, and 69% FT. For the season, his efficiencies weren’t exactly eye-popping, shooting 38% FG, 34% 3P, and 79% FT. Those aren’t terrible percentages especially at the volume that George was letting it fly, but for a guy whose best asset is his scoring, did he do enough this year to be picked in the lottery? Of the 7 major mock drafts I’ve looked at (ESPN, SBNation, Bleacher Report, NBC, Yahoo!, HoopsHype, and Tankathon), all of them have George going in the lottery. Unless something bad and unforeseen happens (hopefully it doesn’t) George is gone. Personally, I’m gonna miss the guy. He could have gone to literally any school in America or could have gone to the G-League. He chose Baylor and gave amazing effort the entire time. Yes, he missed a large number of shots (more than 250) and had a lot of frustrating turnovers. That’s what you get when you put the ball in the hands of a true freshman and ask him to be Superman. I will think fondly of his time in Waco. Replacing him and his production will be a big task for the Bears this offseason.

Michael: To all the detractors — George absolutely elevated this team, and he’s going to have a long NBA career that almost certainly starts this summer. As Jed noted, his efficiency fell as the season progressed. The physicality of the Big 12 and an ankle injury were two big pieces of that. George is ready to be a pro.

Adam Flagler is likely gone (to the pros)

Jed: He has remaining eligibility and I cannot imagine that he’d transfer. He will either go pro or be back in Waco next year. On the one hand, at Flagler’s age, it’s probably now or never for him if he wants to go pro. The older you get the less attractive you are to NBA front offices. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that he would get drafted (I believe that he absolutely should get drafted; despite being a little older and undersized, he is a phenomenal guard who is an established three-level scorer and showed his ability to run an offense this season; he also has all of the intangibles that a good team would want to have in a guard). Of the 7 mock drafts I like (see above), Yahoo! is the only one that has Flagler getting drafted at all (and that’s at #54 out of 60). There’s a very real possibility (if not probability) that if Flagler stays in this summer’s draft, that he goes undrafted and has to try to work his way through the G-League. He’s never backed away from a challenge before though and at this point, I expect that Adam will likely (maybe 80% confidence) not play for Baylor next year. He will be missed and replacing him will not be easy. If he doesn’t return, his legacy at Baylor should not be overlooked. We don’t win a natty without him. A transfer from Presbyterian, he waited his turn, bided his time, and took advantage of pretty much every opportunity placed in front of him since arriving at Baylor.

Michael: While it would be incredible to have Flagler return for one more season, I just don’t see it happening. He flashed the point guard skills he was asked to show when he went through the NBA Draft process last offseason, and he’s got nothing left to prove at the collegiate level. His leadership, lauded by teammate LJ Cryer in Sunday’s postgame press conference, of this season’s team was indispensable. It’s time for him to move on and for the next generation to step up.

Jordan Turner and Zach Loveday are likely gone (to the portal)

Jed: Both of these guys have waited patiently for an opportunity to play for the Bears. They both have eligibility remaining, but they both went through Senior Day festivities. All signs point toward these guys hitting the transfer portal. As long as they don’t end up with another Big 12 team, I’ll root for them wherever they go.

Michael: Put it this way - this season’s team needed depth on the wing and at center this season badly enough to bring in two wings via transfer (Bridges and Lohner) and to play a super raw freshman major minutes (Ojianwuna). Never once did it look like Turner and Loveday were options to fill these positions of need. If these two want to play, it does seem likely they will need to look elsewhere.

Joshua Ojianwuna and Langston Love should be back

Jed: The true freshman big and the redshirt freshman guard were important bench pieces who saw major fluctuations in playing time down the stretch. Both will be major pieces of Baylor’s rotation next year no matter what and it’s possible that one or both could start depending on who comes back. Ojianwuna had the 2nd best Net Rating on the team this season (per sports-reference.com). He also had the 3rd best Player Efficiency Rating on the team this season. Love was 4th on the team in scoring per 100 possessions and should be an above-average defender next season.

Michael: I’m extremely excited to see continued growth from both of these guys. This will be the first full offseason in the program for both of them. Langston was still returning from his knee injury last summer, and Ojianwuna didn’t join the team until the GLOBL Jam had already started in July. They’ve both got tremendously high levels of talent that Drew and the staff will almost certainly get the most out of.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Creighton vs Baylor Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

What we (should) hope for:

Jalen Bridges and Caleb Lohner come back

Jed: Bridges might test the NBA waters but none of the 7 mocks I like (see above) have him getting drafted. I don’t think either of these guys will transfer. I expect both to be back and that leaves you with a pretty solid tandem at the power forward spot. Bridges, the starter, had his best collegiate season and only got better as the year went along (over his final 6 games, he averaged 14.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 1.2 BPG on 60/54/90 splits). If he comes back, he would be an all-conference candidate. He is a solid 3P shooter who can finish at the rim and is an above-average defender and rebounder. Lohner’s stats leave a lot to be desired and I’d say that overall, I’m sort of disappointed in how he performed this year. Still, he was excellent in the team’s final two games (that mountain air just does things to this former BYU transfer). If he can build on his finish, Lohner could be a big factor for Baylor coming off the bench next year.

Michael: Lohner should almost certainly be back for another season. He meets a position of need, and another summer to work on his shot could make a big difference in his effectiveness. Bridges is much tougher to get a read on. At the start of the season, he was talked about as a dark horse to sneak into the first round of this summer’s draft as a three-and-D wing. Now he’s off the mocks entirely. A lot will depend on whether he gets an invitation to the combine in a couple of months. With how he came on the last two months of the season, he may very well impress teams in the draft process and secure himself a promise or two. The big question will be this: if Bridges gets a promise in the second round but not in the first, does he come back in hopes of improving his stock? There’s a lot still to develop for him before we know anything for certain.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Creighton vs Baylor Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

LJ Cryer returns

Jed: Cryer should not attempt to go pro. He will not get drafted. There’s a real possibility that he transfers. He’d likely make some big bucks from NIL in the transfer portal. However, I think it’s just as likely (probably a 50-50 proposition) that he runs it back. That’d be huge for the Bears. He’d be a strong Big 12 Player of the Year candidate and could average close to 20 for the Bears if he stays healthy.

Michael: Cryer will almost certainly play another year of college ball. Will it be with the Bears? As Jed mentioned, NIL could play a big factor in his decision. Matthew Mayer left Waco last season for just that reason. Cryer could take a similar path. It may also come down to whether the coaching staff is willing to promise him point guard duties so he can show off his ability to run a team. That wasn’t something he was tasked with this season, nor did he flash much ability to create for others when he was the lead guard in some rotations. Getting Cryer back would do a lot to lift the ceiling of next year’s team.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-UC Santa Barbara vs Baylor Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua stays.

Jed: I don’t see Jon going pro right now. Nor do I think it likely that he transfers. The main risk with Jon is that he decides to hang it up altogether. Who could blame him? He suffered an absolutely horrific injury and I’m sure that it was anything but easy for him to battle back and play this season. He may pull an Andrew Luck and ride into the sunset. Hopefully, though, he returns for one last season. He’d be the team’s starting big man. We know what kind of leader, defender, rebounder, and worker Jon is. If he comes back, the team’s frontcourt would likely be set.

Michael: I would personally be pretty shocked if Jon wasn’t back next season. Jon is an icon in Baylor sports history for what he accomplished with his return. With more time to heal and condition, he will likely be a much more effective player and defender than he was in the last few games.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-UC Santa Barbara vs Baylor Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

Dantwan Grimes bursts onto the scene

Jed: The JUCO transfer redshirted this season. He played with the team in GLOBL Jam last summer and looked electric. He is a point guard with great speed and ball-handling ability. If his jump shot is even semi-reliable, he should be a prominent part of the guard rotation next year.

Michael: Drew loves speedy guards who can get after it. His redshirt season allowed him to gain strength and practice reps to acclimate to the massive step up in competition he’s going to face. Grimes is a winner, though, and that will get him far in this program.

Dale Bonner comes back

Jed: Personally, I expect Bonner to hit the transfer portal and go somewhere that will guarantee him a starting spot. Again, as long as it’s not another Big 12 school, I wouldn’t begrudge him for leaving. He was unceremoniously cut from the rotation during Big 12 play and only reappeared due to injury. If he comes back, he’d be a major part of the guard rotation as a guy who defends at a high level and showed great improvement on the offensive end this season.

Michael: It’s true that if he wants to be a starter he’ll likely have to look elsewhere. Bonner added so much to the team when it needed him. His return could provide Drew the opportunity to redshirt Little if that’s the route they want to go (big maybe there). If Cryer does end up transferring, Bonner is a candidate to take over at least some of the point guard duties. When you do the exercise to pare down a rotation, though, it comes down to Bonner or Grimes for the last rotation spot.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Baylor vs Iowa State William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor will likely have at least 3 or 4 scholarships to fill in the transfer portal

Jed: Unless they hit a home run in the portal, the rotation looks pretty solid already. The coaching staff should target underclassmen from smaller schools who won’t mind coming in and working hard without the promise of immediate playing time. Guys who will wait their turn and stay ready to contribute if injuries pop up. Some names to keep an eye on in this category: Wyoming’s Nate Barnhart (7-footer), Tulane’s Jadan Coleman (SG), Old Dominion’s Jadin Johnson (PG), Mount St. Mary’s Jaylin Gibson (SG), and Purdue-Fort Wayne’s Redford Dunton (forward).

Michael: I would personally be on the lookout for a power forward who can play next to Jon and Josh or a true wing who can guard on the perimeter. Those are tough to come by, but the roster still lacks a lockdown defender. Adding a power forward allows Bridges to slot down to his more natural position at the three, while adding a wing defender provides some versatility and length that would address much of the defensive issues that cropped up for this season’s guard-heavy roster. I wouldn’t be shocked if Baylor lands a lead guard in the transfer portal, either.

Our Ideal (Somewhat Realistic) Rotations

Jed’s Starters

PG: Miro Little

SG: LJ Cryer

SF: Ja’Kobe Walter

PF: Jalen Bridges

C: Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua

Rotation Players

G: Dantwan Grimes

G: Langston Love

F: Caleb Lohner

C: Joshua Ojianwuna

Fill out the deep bench with transfers and walk-ons

Michael’s Starters

PG: Transfer to be determined

SG: Langston Love

SF: Ja’Kobe Walter

PF: Jalen Bridges

C: Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua

Rotation Players

G: Dantwan Grimes

G: Miro Little

F: Transfer to be determined

C: Joshua Ojianwuna

Reserves

G: Dale Bonner

F: Caleb Lohner

Conclusion

Next season’s team would be more athletic, longer, and better defensively than what we had this year. The scoring may take a step back, but a lot of that would depend on the productivity of Baylor’s income star duo freshmen. I loved this year’s team. I loved writing about this year’s team. It could have and should have had a more satisfying ending than another 2nd Round exit, but I’ll take 23 wins in a season all day, every day. I’m excited for what the team will look like next year and what some of our departures will do with their bright futures. As always, Sic Em!

-Jed Johnston, Basketball Contributor

Nota Bene

There is a chance that 2024 5-star freshman Yves Missi could reclassify to the 2023 class and join the Bears this coming season. He’s a skilled 6-11, 230 center who could have a massive impact on how Baylor recruits from the transfer portal. We’re leaving him off our projections for now, but it’s something to keep in mind as the pieces continue shifting into place.

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