Another talented Baylor team after another early NCAA exit
Baylor has had some memorable moments in March under coach Scott Drew, who took over a program in shambles and has since made postseason tournaments a regular occurrence.
But there were crushing finishes in the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, when the Bears lost their opening games against double-digit seeds each time.
''Well, we were hoping after the first loss we'd learn the lesson for the second one,'' said Drew, who is going into his 14th season. ''We've had a lot of success in the postseason. And we've also lost in the first round the last two years. ... That drives your returning players to work that much harder to do better in March.''
The finale last season was a loss to 12th-seeded Yale, a year after the Bears blew a 12-point lead in the last 3 minutes of a loss to 13th-seeded Georgia State.
As difficult as those endings were, Drew knows the only way to do better in the NCAA Tournament is to get there again. Baylor has also been to the Elite Eight twice, losing to the eventual national champion both times, and made the Sweet 16 another time.
Even with the departures of big men Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers, and point guard Lester Medford, the Bears are expected to be in the upper half of the Big 12. They have preseason All-Big 12 pick Johnathan Motley (11.1 points, 5.1 rebounds per game last season), returning starters Al Freeman and Ismail Wainright, and several talented guards.
An upper-half finish in the Big 12 should be more than enough to get back in the NCAA Tournament, where the Bears have gone six of the last nine years, along with two NIT appearances (including the 2013 championship) in in that span.
''That's the beauty of the Big 12 Conference, the last three years, RPI-wise, it's been the No. 1-ranked conference in the country,'' Drew said. ''And when you get 70 percent of the league in (the NCAA Tournament), it gives a lot of opportunities to be successful in conference.''
Some other things to know about Baylor going into the season:
MOT'S EXTRA YEAR
When the 6-foot-10 Motley arrived at Baylor as a freshman before the 2013-14 season, the roster was already loaded with talented and experienced big men. So Motley, now a junior, redshirted that season. ''You saw that playing time might not be there his freshman year,'' Drew said. ''But he wanted to take advantage of the situation and an opportunity to go against him every day in practice but not burn that year. ... Up to this point, J-Mot's been one of those players that's gotten better each and every year.''
Ishmail Wainright is the only senior on the Baylor roster. The 6-5 Wainright started all 34 games last season, when he averaged 5.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He had only seven starts his first two years. Drew said Wainright waited his turn and is ''somebody that really exemplifies what you want in a leader and a teammate.''
CALL HIM AL
While Freeman has always been a gifted scorer, Drew said he has done a good job growing an improving as a facilitator on the court and passing the ball. Freeman is the top returning scorer at 11.3 points a game last season, when his assists total increased from 1.9 to 3.4 per game.
ONE FAR TRIP
The Bears leave Texas only once before their Big 12 opener Dec. 30 at Oklahoma. Baylor plays nine of 13 games before that at home, and another at Fort Hood, one of the nation's largest Army posts that is about an hour from the Waco campus. They will be in the Bahamas on Thanksgiving week in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.