As hard as it is to believe, college basketball tips off in just a few DAYS from now, with the "Champions Classic" getting things rolling on November 9th at Madison Square Garden.
And to get you ready for the season, Aaron Torres Online will be giving you 30 previews in the coming 30 days to get you ready for the start of the year, all written by college basketball nut and recruiting guru Jacob Polacheck.
We are smack dab in the midst of these previews, with thoughts on Indiana, USC, LSU, Maryland Saint Bonaventure, Colorado State, Florida State, Virginia Alabama, Michigan and UConn. Plus, last week, we got an exclusive sit down with Bruce Pearl to preview the Auburn Tigers.
Today, it's time to take a look at a team that was better than them all last year - the Baylor Bears.
That's right, Scott Drew's club won the school's first national title, and has re-loaded enough in the off-season to make a real run in 2021-2022 as well.
How it went down in 2020-21
There was no team better than the Baylor Bears in 2020-21, as evidenced by its first national championship in program history. Despite some early season COVID cancellations (including the Bears’ regular season matchup versus Gonzaga), Baylor made easy work in the regular season, going 18-0 to start the season without many teams even coming close to knocking them off.
After going on another COVID pause, the Bears returned to face Kansas on the road Feb. 27, falling 71-58 for their first loss of the season. Yet, Baylor bounced back, winning its next four games, including a 74-68 win over Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament. However, the Bears were then upset by the Cade Cunningham-led Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Big 12 Tournament.
Then came the NCAA Tournament and that’s when Baylor kicked it into high gear. After easily defeating No. 16 seed Hartford in the first round, Baylor was able to avoid upsets against Wisconsin and Villanova to reach the Elite 8. Facing No. 3 seed Arkansas in the Elite 8, the Bears, led by 22 points from Teague, advanced to the Final Four, setting up a matchup with Houston.
Led by Jared Butler’s 17 points, Baylor looked dominant in the Final Four, with a 78-59 win over Houston, setting up a National Championship all of college basketball was anticipating all season against No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga.
Despite Gonzaga’s undefeated record heading into the game, Baylor completely took over from start to finish, easily winning 86-70 with Davion Mitchell being named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
For most of the season, Baylor was led by the three-headed monster of Butler, Mitchell and MaCio Teague. Butler led the team with 16.7 points per game with Mitchell averaging 15.9 and Teague at 14.0.
Coming off the bench, Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer made solid contributions, averaging 9.1 and 8.1 points respectively, fourth and fifth most on the team behind the aforementioned trio. Mark Vital and Flo Thamba were the remaining starters for Baylor, providing solid defense and rebounding for a very deep team.
What You Need to Know About 2021-2022:
Key Returnees: Matthew Mayer, Adam Flagler, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Flo Thamba, LJ Cryer
Key Losses: Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Mark Vital
Key Transfers: James Akinjo
Key Recruits: Kendall Brown, Jeremy Sochan, Langston Love (out for season)
Losing four starters in Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Mark Vital is certainly significant, yet Baylor is bringing in some major talent to fill those losses.
Five-Star forward and McDonald’s All American selection Kendall Brown is an underrated addition to this Baylor program. At 6-foot-8, 205-pounds, Brown is a versatile offensive and defensive player that is expected to contribute right away. Jeremy Sochan, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward out of Weißenhorn, Germany, may take more time to make an impact, but could wind up being a great long-term prospect for the Bears.
Maybe most importantly however is what Scott Drew did in the transfer portal. James Akinjo isn't the biggest guy on the court (generously listed at 5'11) but he will bring a lot of the toughness that departed when Mitchell, Butler and Teague went pro. He was a first-team All-Pac 12 guard at Arizona last year, averaging 15.6 points and a conference-best 5.6 assists per game.
Losing Vital is a tough loss, but Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Thamba return to give them some more frontcourt depth. Baylor was a deep team last year and this year should be no different.
This squad will look different, but with the core of Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Thamba, Adam Flagler and Matt Mayer leading the way, joined by key additions like Brown and Akinjo, this team should once again compete at the top of the Big 12.
Playing in the Big 12, Baylor is assuredly going to face its fair share of tough competition with Kansas and Texas starting the season ranked in the preseason Top 10, but the Bears’ non-conference schedule is not to be ignored.
After opening the season with what should be three key buy games, the schedule picks up with some key Power Five matchups starting with Stanford on Nov. 20. Baylor then travels to the Bahamas to play in a loaded "Battle for Atlantis" field. They open against a re-configured Arizona State, before playing either VCU or Syracuse in the second round. The other side of the bracket might be even tougher, featuring UConn, Auburn, Michigan State and Loyola (IL) - one of which Scott Drew's team will have to play.
What's crazy is, the schedule only gets... TOUGHER from there! Next up is a December 12th matchup against Villanova in Waco, featuring a pair of preseason Top 10 teams, and then the Bears travel to Oregon to face Dana Altman's squad, which was ranked No. 13 in the preseason. The out of conference schedule eventually wraps in late January with a game at Alabama - oh, just ANOTHER preseason Top 15 team - in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
Big 12 play opens on New Year's Day with a matchup with Oklahoma, and thankfully for the Bears, things are manageable in league play early. Three of Baylor's first four Big 12 games are at home, and five of their first eight.
The schedule makers did them no favors though, with all four matchups with Texas and Kansas (again, preseason Top 5 teams) coming in February, including a back-to-back against Kansas in Waco, and then a trip to Austin just 48 hours apart on February 26th and 28th.
The regular season with conclude with a home game against Iowa State.
What to Expect in 2021-2022:
While it would be unrealistic to expect Baylor to replicate its success from a season ago, this team has the potential to surprise many anticipating a major falloff.
Matthew Mayer and Adam Flagler will lead this team, but once again, the frontcourt should be a major strength. Add the Bears’ best recruiting class since 2012, and a difference-making transfer in Akinjo, and Baylor should be a top team in a loaded Big 12 conference.
Depth is a strongpoint for this Bears team and with national championship experience, there’s no slowing down Baylor anytime soon.
For more college hoops coverage, make sure to follow Jacob Polacheck on Twitter @JacobPolacheck
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