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September 24, 2009
Baylor was one of the Big 12's biggest disappointments last season, finishing ninth in the league after the Bears were projected as high as third. Coach Scott Drew's squad made up for some of the heartache by finishing second in the NIT, where it lost to Penn State in the championship game. Still, Baylor was hoping for more. The good thing is that the Bears return enough pieces to get back to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. Tough as it is to lose stars such as Curtis Jerrells, Kevin Rogers and Henry Dugat, Drew has recruited well enough to keep things rolling in Waco.
Junior guard LaceDarius Dunn is one of the streakiest shooters in the Big 12.
One of Baylor's biggest problems during Drew's tenure is that it never has had a high-quality post player other than Rogers, who was more of a small forward than a power forward. Michigan transfer Ekpe Udoh is hoping to change that trend. Udoh (6 feet 10/240 pounds) averaged 6.0 points for the Wolverines in 2007-08 before transferring. He'll provide plenty of size to complement athletic sophomore forward Quincy Acy, who started his freshman season on a high note before fizzling down the stretch. Seven-footer Josh Lomers is a battle-tested veteran who will be relied on heavily off the bench.
One of the best players in school history, Jerrells will be difficult to replace. The only good thing about his departure is that it will open up additional opportunities for LaceDarius Dunn, who arguably is Baylor's most talented player. Dunn is one of the Big 12's streakiest shooters - and he rarely hesitates. That often hurts the Bears more than it helps, though, because Dunn is prone to taking ill-advised shots early in the shot clock. Drew is hoping Dunn cuts down on those mistakes, and so is point guard Tweety Carter, a former McDonald's All-American who averaged 10.6 points last season. Carter will have to become the vocal leader of the team now that Jerrells, Dugat and Rogers are gone. Freshman Nolan Dennis, who initially signed with Memphis, is expected to start on the wing.
Baylor is talented enough to finish in the upper half of the Big 12 and make the NCAA tournament. But it won't happen unless Drew and his staff impose more structure and discipline than they have in the past. That began to happen near the end of last season, when the Bears went to a more organized attack. The result was a deep run in the NIT and some newfound momentum in the wake of an otherwise frustrating season. Baylor needs to capitalize on that momentum - and stick with that approach - this season.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.
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