A traditional pre-season top 25? They’re fairly ubiquitous this time of year. Everyone has one, but from Duke to Mississippi Valley State and in between, there’s a lot of intriguing teams for the upcoming college basketball season.
In ascending order of of teams that pique our interest, our list consists of teams with a rare chance to make noise, have a lot to prove, signed up for a difficult non-conference schedule, or are just named Kentucky.
Follow along. Story lines aren’t just for the nation’s elite.
At 39 years old, Baylor’s Scott Drew remains one of the most unheralded coaches in the college ranks. How many coaches nowadays would willingly take reigns of a program facing the ‘death penalty’, proceed to turn it into a budding powerhouse, and still stick around to see the results?
Too often in this sport we watch firsthand as others try to follow Drew’s path of rebuilding, only to bolt at a moment’s notice for a more prestigious position. In a way, that’s just the business end rearing its ugly head but at the same time part of the intrigue of college hoops comes from the love/hate relationships that fans develop with figureheads like Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Drew isn’t quite on that same level, and he may never be, but he represents a rare breed of coaches who have the stones to roll up their sleeves and build something from the ground up. People admire that kind of stuff.
That’s the major difference when you compare Drew to his peers around the country. This man came to Baylor in order to build something great, and he’s still doing it seven years later. Intrinsic rewards like a 2010 Elite Eight appearance and the signing of unanimous top ten recruit Perry Jones are just icing on the cake. Drew is putting his own personal stamp on Baylor basketball. Knowing the terrible mess that he inherited back in 2003, that’s one heck of an achievement.
What happened this summer?
All-everything junior Ekpe Udoh went sixth overall to Golden State in June’s NBA Draft. Graduates Tweety Carter and Josh Lomers also said their respective goodbyes without too much fanfare. Carter, who served admirably as Baylor’s enigmatic point guard, is currently fighting it out for a roster spot with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Former five star recruit and UCLA castoff J’Mison Morgan chose Baylor from a list of possible suitors in a move that will literally beef up their vastly depleted frontcourt. Despite being a low-risk move, the Bears are banking on the fact that Morgan has turned a corner. Until he proves it, however, he remains a monumental question mark.
Oh yea, and...
LaceDarius Dunn was arrested for assaulting the mother of his three year old son. He's been suspended from school for the foreseeable future.
Games that really matter
- 1/17 vs. Kansas
- 1/24 @ Kansas State
- 2/12 @ Texas
- 2/23 @ Missouri
Most intriguing player
Perry Jones (6'10" forward; freshman) The highest rated prospect in the history of Baylor hoops, Jones is a freakish athlete with a wingspan that reminds you of an elite level shot-blocker. Ten years ago, players like this wouldn’t even bother stopping for a cup of coffee at the college level. Now, Baylor fans can take solace in the fact that they get at least one season out of this kid before he bolts for a high-paying job in the NBA. Jones’ arrival is also a major reason why fans were able to stomach the loss of Udoh this spring. Ridiculous Upside did a nice job laying the foundation for Jones and what we might come to expect from the sensational diaper dandy in his first year on the job. The comparisons to Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett are both spot-on.
No matter how you slice it, Perry Jones is a beast.
What’s on the line?
Stability as a conference frontrunner. The Bears were picked to finish fourth in the Big-12 preseason poll, but you can’t ignore the fact that only two starters (Dunn and 6’10" junior Anthony Jones) return from last year’s Elite Eight squad. Roster turnover is something that comes with the territory now that Baylor has ascended the proverbial ladder, so it’s very important that Drew proves that he’s capable of reloading effectively with all of these youngsters he’s brought in.
Another area of importance is player development at the point guard position. Knowing that Jones and Dunn will likely be in the NBA by this time next season, it’s imperative that sophomore floor general A.J. Walton is able to step into the starting role with relative ease. It is much harder to replace a longtime point guard when the core of the roster is unproven, so this season is crucial for Walton’s development as he won’t be asked to shoulder much of the scoring load.
Improving on last year’s Elite Eight run might prove to be a daunting task. The extensive media scrutiny on Dunn certainly won’t help things either. We know there’s enough talent here for Drew’s team to go dancing this spring, but all of these question marks make it difficult to endorse a repeat performance.
- Conference: 5th
- Postseason: NCAA 2nd round