Countdown to College Basketball: #12 Baylor Bears

The reigning National Champions have arrived on the countdown, while last season’s team was one of the best teams in College Basketball history, this year’s team will take a step back. While the great quartet is off to play professionally (both basketball and football), there is room now for other players to have their moment in the sun, while elsewhere the Bears added some good pieces to fill their roles. This team certainly will not be as good as last season’s team, not many ever will, this is still a team that has a chance to repeat as Big 12 Champions, while they do have an outside chance at being the first team repeat as National Champions since Florida in 2007. 

While Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague, and Jared Butler aren’t walking through the door, a pair of transfers will make up a solid backcourt. Adam Flagler moves from his sixth-man role from a year ago to starter this season, while he should have a more consistent role in the offense. Flagler is a 6’3 guard that is an elite shooter, good scorer, plus he’s solid defensively, and while he’s best playing off the ball, he can run the point in some situations. Arizona transfer James Akinjo will come in and be asked to run the point for the Bears this season. Akinjo is a high-volume player, who is a good passer, good defender, and a solid scorer and is now looking to exchange stats for winning. Should Akinjo play within the offense while at times differing towards his fellow stars, this team should unlock their full potential. 

The Bears have a good duo of wings to be good players this season in Matthew Mayer and Kendall Brown, who both have NBA upside. Mayer is a 6’9 scorer, he’s a good shooter that is looking for nothing but his own shot, while he’s a tough defender as well. Mayer has a similar skillset scoring-wise to Kevin Durant in that he’s able to create his own shot and elevate easily without getting his shot blocked, which is an incredible skill set to have (no, he’s nowhere close to as good as Kevin Durant). Kendall Brown is a 6’8 wing that while not as skilled of a scorer, will be a good defender, and should be a good piece at attacking the rim. Brown’s ability to be a good piece in the NBA will be him working for his points off the ball by cutting and attacking the rim for dunks. 

Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua fill out a great two-big rotation for this team. Thamba is a 6’10 big that is a good rebounder and shot-blocker, although he’s not going to be a true threat offensively, him being a good role player will likely earn him the starting spot. Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua or “Everyday Jon” is the highest upside piece for this team at the center spot. “Everyday Jon” is a lesser shot-blocker, but is more mobile, allowing him to be better at defending guards, while he’s one of the best lob-catchers in the sport, making him a valuable offensive piece. 

Off the bench, sophomore LJ Cryer is a pure bucket-getter but played sparingly last season, he should spend time developing in a bench role once again. Add in Jeremy Sochan, a 6’8 freshman from Poland, who projects as an elite defender and high-end athlete and is someone that could develop into being an NBA talent. We can’t forget about 6’9 big man Dain Dainja who didn’t play a season ago, but will now come into this season looking to use his size and length to be a matchup nightmare for some teams inside.

It should come as a reminder that Baylor is projected to be this good despite losing four players in Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague, and Mark Vital, who were essential in this two-year run of greatness. That should just show how good of a rebuild Scott Drew did when it comes to putting this roster together, and that should be a major credit to him. The key to success will come from players stepping into larger scoring roles.

Yes, Akinjo should be a nice piece but if he has to be the leading scorer and not just the point guard, that’s a major problem. Flagler and Mayer seem poised to be the leading scorers for this team, Flagler will be a knockdown sniper who will excel with Akinjo setting him up. Meanwhile, Mayer now has full reign to be the higher volume player that can create his own shot and shoot whenever he wants. The freshmen will also be key, Brown needs to be able to pick up on the defensive system and excel while using his size and athleticism, while they’ll need something out of Sochan. While all of these seem like reasonable quests, there will be games throughout the regular season where it won’t be Baylor’s night and that’s okay. This team doesn’t need to go 38-2 to prove this season to be a success, heck they don’t even need to win the Big 12 league title again. This team can call it a successful season by simply just remaining a Top-15 team throughout the season and making a second weekend. That said, Scott Drew’s team will be out to prove that last season was no fluke and that this Baylor program is and should remain a College Basketball powerhouse. 

Projected Rotation 

PG: James Akinjo

SG: Adam Flagler

SF: Kendall Brown

PF: Matthew Mayer

C: Flo Thamba

B1: Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua

B2: Jeremy Sochan

B3: LJ Cryer

B4: Dain Dainja

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