#22 Baylor by Ricky O'Donnell

Photo: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the tragic, scandalous place Baylor basketball was at before Scott Drew arrived in Waco, it's impossible to discount the progress the program has made over the last decade. Drew has helped Baylor make the NCAA Tournament five times in the last eight seasons following a 19-year NCAA drought, a run that's included two Elite Eights and the development of several pros.

Drew has turned around Baylor by recruiting high-level talent every year. Players like Ekpe Udoh, Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy haven't really left a mark on the NBA yet, but they've been drafted high enough to give Drew something to sell on the recruiting trail. Even as Baylor loses several quality players each season, there always seems to be new stars in the pipeline.

This year is no different. Baylor loses point guard Kenny Chery and wing Royce O'Neale from last year's No. 3 seed that got Hunter'd in the Round of 64, but the frontcourt trio of Taurean Prince, Johnathan Motley and Rico Gathers gives Drew another team that is capable of winning some games in March.

It starts with Prince, who enjoyed a massive rise to prominence last year as a sixth man. Now a senior, Prince could be Baylor's latest first-round draft pick. He has the size (6'8), length (6'11 wingspan) and shooting (39.5 percent on 4.6 threes per game last season) that NBA teams look for in a potential three-and-D wing. After averaging 13.9 points per game in just over 26 minutes per night last year, Prince could be one of the better scorers in the country with a bigger role in his final college season.

Motley, a sophomore, is another intriguing long-term prospect who should pay dividends for Baylor in the present. He's an athletic shot blocker with long arms (7'4 wingspan) who profiles as the perfect complement to Gathers inside. Gathers is a bruiser -- a 6'8, 275-pound monster who might be the best rebounder in the country. He bumped his scoring up to 11.6 points per game last year, and should be even more of a menace as a senior. Gathers' hulking presence alone makes the Bears one of the most intimidating teams in the country.

The one thing holding this Baylor team back? There's no Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip or Kenny Chery in the backcourt. While the guard rotation remains unsolved to this point, Baylor's size, rebounding and defensive prowess should combine with Prince's go-to scoring ability to make this a team no one wants to play.

How the Bears can succeed: Become one of the best defensive teams in America

Baylor has the individual pieces to be as tough defensively as any team in the country. The question is if Drew's standard 1-3-1 zone is the type of system that will accentuate the strengths of his best players.

Baylor was an awful defensive team for Drew's first few seasons, but finished top 75 in defensive efficiency each of the last four years. Last season was the best defense Drew has ever put together in Waco, a unit that finished No. 38 overall according to KenPom. With all of their top defensive players back, nothing should change this year.

The thing that makes Baylor so tough is their length up front: Gathers and Prince are each blessed with 6'11 wingspans, while Motley's arms measured at 7'3½ in 2012, according to Draft Express. That makes fitting passes through the zone an impossibly difficult task.

Baylor's gaudy steal rate of 12.5 percent, which ranked No. 13 in the country, is no coincidence then. What is a bit surprising is that Baylor jumped from No. 247 to No. 8 in three-point percentage against. Last season, teams only hit 29.8 percent of their threes against the Bears. That projects as the type of improvement that looks unsustainable moving into this season.

One thing Baylor knows it can count on is its rebounding. Gathers tied for third in the country by pulling down 11.6 rebounds per game last season, and as a team Baylor was No. 2 in offensive rebounding rate according to KenPom. With an ability to control the boards and long, athletic defenders sealing every opening near the hoop, there's no reason Drew's team can't be even better defensively this season.

How Baylor can go home early: Who steps up in the backcourt?

Baylor has had so many great guards over the last few years that it feels odd to see the backcourt a bit unsettled this season. That isn't to say it lacks talent: senior Lester Medford should be a solid caretaker at point guard, and there are a couple of intriguing, if unproven options at two-guard.

Medford will be looking to build off a solid but unspectacular junior campaign as a starter that saw him average 7.6 points and 3.1 assists per game on 39 percent shooting from the field. It helps that he's a good three-point shooter (38.5 percent on 3.6 attempts per game last year), and the hope is that he'll be able to cut down on his turnovers as a senior.

Al Freeman was a former top-100 recruit in the class of 2013 who redshirted after suffering a wrist injury as a freshman. He could be the team's breakout player this season. There's also three freshmen guards Drew is bringing in, led by homegrown product King McClure.

McClure was the No. 36 recruit in the class of 2015 per ESPN, and profiles as a deadly combo with the ball in his hands. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with a heart condition that could have been career ending. McClure is playing through it this season, but it will certainly be a subplot to monitor as his career goes on.

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