Leading up to the opening of the 2020-21 Big 12 Men’s basketball season Heartland College Sports will analyze each of the Big 12 men’s basketball teams. Today it’s the Baylor Bears.
2018-19 Record: 26-4 (15-3 in Big 12)
Postseason — All postseason tournament action was canceled due the coronavirus. Baylor would have likely been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor finished No. 5 in the final Associated Press Top 25.
Top returning players: G Jared Butler (16.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.6 spg), F Tristan Clark (4.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg), G/F Matthew Mayer (4.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg), G Davion Mitchell (9.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.5 spg), G MaCio Teague (13.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.0 spg), F Flo Thamba (2.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg), G/F Mark Vital (6.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.7 spg).
Seniors/lettermen lost: G Devonte Bandoo (7.6 ppg, 38.5 percent from 3-point line), G Obim Okeke (played in nine games), F Freddie Gillespie (9.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg, team-leading 66 blocked shots, 33 steals).
Recruits signed: C Dain Dainja, 6-foot-9, Park Center (Minneapolis, MN); G LJ Cryer, 6-foot-1, Morton Ranch (Katy, TX); C Zach Loveday, 7-foot, Huntington Prep (Huntington, WV).
This is a hefty class. Dainja is the centerpiece, ranked No. 57 nationally (per 247Sports.com). Cryer is also in the Top 100, and Lovelady is just outside of it. Stealing Lovelady out of West Virginia’s backyard is quite the coup. The class is big on size and the Bears will need it with the departure of Gillespie. Given the potential depth of this entire roster, I could see the Bears redshirting this entire class.
And, not for nothing, the Bears’ 2021 recruiting class is the No. 4 class in the country per ESPN.com. The Bears signed earlier this week five-star recruit Kendall Brown, a 6-foot-8 small forward from Sunrise Christian in Wichita, Kansas; 6-foot-4 guard Langston Love from Montverde Academy in Montverde, Florida; and 6-foot-8 forward Jeremy Sochan, a German who plays at Orange Academy.
Transfers eligible for 2020-21: F Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, 6-foot-8, Douala, Cameroon/NBA Global Academy – Australia (UNLV); G Adam Flagler, 6-foot-3, Duluth, Ga. (Presbyterian). Tchatchoua averaged 3.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game for UNLV last year. Flagler, meanwhile, was the Big South Freshman of the Year, averaging 15.9 points per game for the Blue Hose.
Transfers expected to sit out for 2020-21: None.
Looking ahead to 2020-21: While Baylor will naturally wonder ‘what might have been last March’ for a long time, it’s time for the Bears to wonder ‘what might be this season.’ What might BE a national championship. While Butler and Teague tested the NBA waters, they decided to return to campus. And that makes this team silly talented and deep. The one area of concern will be inside, where Gillespie emerged as one of the Big 12’s best players and is out of eligibility. Who replaces him? Well, frankly, that’s a hard question to answer right now, in part because Baylor could deploy a lot of different players in their frontcourt in many ways, and that includes Clark, Mayer, Thamba or Tchamwa Tchatchoua. Heck, you could even include the true freshman, Lovelady, on that list, since he is 7-foot and the Bears could use that. Flagler brings his Big South Freshman of the Year talent to the floor after sitting for a year. But with Butler, Teague and Mitchell all back, how much he can contribute might be a question mark. But these Bears were great at sharing the ball in the backcourt last year. Then, there’s Vital, who, to me, is the best ‘joker’ in college basketball, a hyper-hustle guard/forward who does all the dirty work required. If injuries happen, the incoming freshmen are good enough to contribute. Plus, lost in the shuffle is the ONE recruit from the 2019 class, Jordan Turner, a Top 10 player in Texas who could help at forward. The Bears can play 10 right away and not skip a beat, and they’re probably the only team in the Big 12 that can say that right now. The Big 12 favorite going into the season? Absolutely, it’s the Baylor Bears. And assuming this team remains healthy and together all season, a late run into early April seems a tantalizing possibility.
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