Record: 19-15 (8-10 Big 12)
NIT: def. Wagner, 80-59 (first round); lost to Mississippi State, 78-77 (second round).
Seniors losing: G Manu Lecomte (16.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, team-leading 122 assists), F Jo Lual-Acuil (14.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg), F Terry Maston (11.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg), F Nuni Omot (9.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, team-leading 43.3 percent from 3-point line).
Any NBA Bound?: Lual-Acuil is the most likely player to be drafted of the four, as his height and overall skill could lead him to becoming a second-round pick. Maston should get a shot as an undrafted free agent or as a summer league invite. Lecomte and Omot have solid skill sets that could lead to summer league invites, but not necessarily training camp invites. If the NBA passes, I could see both getting into the G-League or going overseas.
Any One-and-dones or early entries?: None
Top players returning: F Tristan Clark (6.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg), G Jake Lindsey (4.5 ppg, 115 assists), G King McClure (8.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg), F Mark Vital (6.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg).
The players you don’t know about: F Freddie Gillespie. He sat out this season after transferring and walking on to Baylor from Division III Carleton College in Minnesota. He was a second-team All-Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection and an All-MIAC Defensive selection in 2016-17. The 6-foot-8 forward could become an interior presence that would theoretically replace Maston. Plus, there is guard Tyson Jolly, a former Top 100 national recruit who made his way to Baylor after signing with Cal and ending up at Elev8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, Calif. Jolly ended up playing in 20 games this season, but he didn’t make much of a dent in the scoring column. That should change next season.
Recruits already in the house: SF Matthew Mayer, 6-foot-7, Austin, Texas (Westlake HS); SG Darius Allen, 6-foot-5, Lake Worth, Florida (Palm Beach State College). Both signed in the early period. Per 247Sports.com, Mayer is a Top 100 national recruit. Allen is the nation’s No. 25 juco recruit according to jucorecruiting.com.
Commitments yet to sign: C Flo Thamba, 6-foot-9, Grundy, Virginia (Mountain Mission School). Per 247Sports.com, the No. 16 center in the country is a hard commit to the Bears. The Bears also received a March 5 commitment from Ibrahim Ali of Little Rock, Arkansas (Southwest Christian Academy), a 6-foot-9 forward. He is not ranked by 247sports.com, but he had offers from nine other schools, including Wake Forest, Syracuse, Georgetown and Arkansas.
Summarizing the season: The Bears were working from a deficit to start the season, with just nine scholarship players and five of them were injured at various times. Maston’s was the hardest to deal with, and it took him time to get back into a rhythm once he returned in January and, for that reason, the Bears struggled to start Big 12 play. Once Maston was right the Bears were rolling, winning five straight games, including victories over Kansas and Texas Tech within 7 days of each other. The Bears’ late surge wasn’t enough to get into the NCAA Tournament, as the Bears were the first team out of the field. But they ended up as the top seed in the NIT and, frankly, could have gone farther had they not allowed a nine-point lead to slip through their fingers against Mississippi State.
Looking ahead to 2018-19: This should be an interesting offseason for the Bears. On the one hand, they’re losing their top four scorers, which is more production than any other Big 12 team entering this offseason (a total of about 52 points per game). They have some high-effort players returning, including Vital, Clark and Lindsey, but none of them strike me as players that can assume that mantle as leading scorer just yet. On the other, head coach Scott Drew and his staff are one of the best group of player developers in the Big 12 and there is a passel of young talent to work with, many of which didn’t play this season (Gillespie, Mario Kegler and Jonathan Davis among them). The recruiting class isn’t ranked high in the Big 12, but it’s still near the Top 50 in the nation. How this young group develops is going to define Baylor’s next season. If it grows in a way that can take the place of Baylor’s departing seniors, then Baylor will be competitive. If this group struggles to improve, Baylor may find itself struggling just to get back to the NIT. Personally, I’m not betting against Drew.