BREAKDOWN Baylor coach Scott Drew has spent the last two years assembling one of the most talented teams in the nation. Now comes the next step: Doing something with it. Not many teams enter the 2011-12 season with an opportunity as big as the Bears. Four Big 12 schools have first-year coaches, seven-time defending league champion Kansas is rebuilding and the conference as a whole appears to be down -- except for Baylor.
The Bears features two players -- forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller -- who are projected as top-10 picks in next summer's NBA Draft, while forwards Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones also have pro potential. Mix in junior college point guard Pierre Jackson and Boston College transfer Brady Heslip in the backcourt and Baylor, on paper, touts an arsenal superior to any team in the Big 12.
"We've definitely got a good group," Drew says. "But it takes more than talent to win in this league or any league. It's all about how your guys play together, how they mesh. Hopefully things will work out for us in that regard."
For the second straight season, the Bears will boast an extraordinary blend of size, length and versatility down low. The most notable name is Jones, who shocked the college basketball world in April when he announced he would bypass the NBA Draft -- where he likely would've been a top-five pick -- to return to school. Jones is 6-foot-11 and weighs 235 pounds, but he is hardly the typical forward. It's not uncommon for Jones to bring the ball up the court or handle it on the perimeter before exploding toward the basket. He has an excellent touch from midrange but still needs to be more assertive.
Jones isn't the only Baylor big man with a multi-faceted game. The 6-9 Miller was ranked as one of the top-10 members of the Class of 2011, despite missing his senior season of high school with a torn ACL. Miller is expected to be healthy this fall and has an array of moves both inside and outside of the paint that should work to Baylor's advantage.
Returning at small forward is 6-10 senior Anthony Jones, an excellent three-point shooter and penetrator who, like Perry Jones and Miller, handles the ball extremely well for his size. Acy is a dunk machine who will come off the bench after averaging 12.4 points as a junior. J'mison Morgan, who is 6-11, will also contribute after averaging 12.5 minutes last season.
LaceDarius Dunn, the Big 12's alltime leading scorer, is gone, and that's a good thing for Baylor. Dunn's poor and often selfish shot selection was one of the main reasons Baylor failed to reach the NCAA tournament last season. With Dunn out of the mix, forwards such as Perry Jones, Anthony Jones, Miller and Acy will get more scoring opportunities -- assuming, of course, that Jackson, Heslip and A.J. Walton get them the ball.
FINAL ANALYSIS Drew has orchestrated quite a turnaround in Waco, with Baylor in prime position to win the program's first conference title since 1950. The key will be whether Drew can keep his stable of talented players happy and get them to coexist. The other factor will be whether this group accepts coaching and learns to play with the discipline and structure that the Bears have long been missing.
NEWCOMERS Deuce Bello (G, Fr.): Will fill late-night highlight reels with jaw-dropping dunks.
Gary Franklin (G, So.): Was a part-time starter as a freshman at Cal before transferring.
Brady Heslip (G, So.): A combo guard who could emerge as the Bears' floor general.
Pierre Jackson (G, Jr.): May be Baylor's most important signee simply because of its glaring need at point guard.