The Baylor Bears’ men’s basketball season is done. Here are five thoughts about the 2021-22 season and what’s ahead for the basketball program.
The Bears started the season as defending national champions, but not as the nation’s No. 1 team in the preseason AP poll. The Bears moved back into the No. 1 spot in the season’s fifth week. The Bears stayed there for four weeks and won their first 15 games before falling to Texas Tech at home. The Bears remained a big part of the national landscape and the Big 12 regular-season race. The Bears won a share of the Big 12 regular-season title and did so after losing forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and guard LJ Cryer to injury. After a quarterfinal exit from the Big 12 Tournament, the Bears were a No. 1 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament and won their first-round game. In the second round, the Bears nearly pulled off the biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history, erasing a 25-point lead against North Carolina in the final 10 minutes of the second half. But, neither team won in regulation, the Tar Heels pulled away in overtime. The Bears fought to the end, but injuries and depth issues finally caught up to them.
After the NCAA Tournament, associate head coach Jerome Tang took the head-coaching job at Kansas State, replacing Bruce Weber. That’s a big enough loss. On the player side, forward Flo Thamba, guard James Akinjo, and forward Matthew Mayer are listed as seniors. Theoretically, all could come back if they choose to use their COVID year of eligibility. But Akinjo, a third-team All-American, has NBA aspirations. Mayer tested the waters last summer. Thamba figures to be the player most likely to tap into the COVID year, given his improved level of play, especially after Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s injury. Also, keep an eye on freshmen forwards Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan. Both had fine seasons as true freshmen, but both are also popping up on NBA mock drafts in the first round. That may be too good for either of the pair to ignore.
Who’s Coming Back?
Excluding the seniors that have decisions to make, the Bears expected to return include guard Adam Flagler, guard Dale Bonner, guard LJ Cryer, guard/forward Jordan Turner and forward Zach Loveday. Thamba seems like a player that will return. Last year’s top recruit, guard Langston Love, missed the season with a torn ACL and should return. If Brown and Sochan return, then head coach Scott Drew’s 2021 recruiting class would be intact. This could be an experience-laden lineup again especially if the COVID year players return. Or, it could be an incredibly young team anchored by Flagler, Thamba and Tchamwa Tchatchoua when he returns from injury.
Who’s Coming In?
Drew and the Bears have a massive recruiting class coming in, led by McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Games selection Keyonte George. He’s a consensus five-star guard out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The Bears have also signed Dillon Hunter out of Sunrise Christian in Kansas. He’s a combo-guard who is considered a Top 200 player. Plus, the Bears inked a center, Joshua Ojianwuna, a 6-foot-10 player out of the NBA Global Academy. He’s another Top 200 player. George figures to play right away, whether every Bear that can come back does or not.
What to Watch For
The transfer portal. Will any Bears choose to follow Tang to Kansas State? In this day and age, that’s something to keep an eye on. The decisions of Thamba, Akinjo and Mayer will have an impact on what players Drew might be able to chase before signing day in April. As it stands now, there isn’t much room, scholarship-wise, unless players leave. Plus, Drew has to hire an assistant coach. Does he promote Alvin Brooks III to Tang’s position? Does he go chase a rising assistant coach from another school? Drew’s hire may actually be the most important part of the offseason, given the impact Tang had on the entire program as Drew’s lieutenant for nearly 20 years.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.