With the unveiling of the non conference schedule today, the Bears full slate of games for the 2012-2013 season can now be consumed and analyzed. At first glance, this schedule is the easily the most ambitious that Coach Drew and his staff have put together during their time in Waco.
Oct. 25 Abilene Christian (Exh.) - Waco, Texas 7 p.m.
Nov. 9 Lehigh - Waco, Texas 9 p.m.
Nov. 11 Jackson State - Waco, Texas TBD
Nov. 15 vs. Boston College - Charleston, S.C. ESPNU 2 p.m.
Nov. 18 TBD - Charleston, S.C. TBD
Nov. 24 College of Charleston - Waco, Texas TBD
Dec. 1 at Kentucky - Lexington, Ky. 11:30 a.m.
Dec. 4 Northwestern - Waco, Texas 8 p.m.
Dec. 12 Lamar - Waco, Texas 9 p.m.
Dec. 17 USC Upstate - Waco, Texas 7 p.m.
Dec. 21 BYU - Waco, Texas TBD
Dec. 28 at Gonzaga - Spokane, Wash. 7 p.m.
Jan. 19 Hardin-Simmons - Waco, Texas TBD
I have put the teams that made the 2011-2012 NCAA tournament in red, and all of the home games are bolded. As you can see, the two biggest names on the schedule in terms of NCAA success are both on the road, and both at two very difficult places to win at, Spokane and Lexington.
However, there are two home games that I am very interested in. The first is actually the season opener against Lehigh, who is coming off of one of the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history, when as a 15 seed, they upset Duke. Lehigh returns C.J. McCollum, one of the best scorers in the college ranks. He averaged 21.9 points per game during his Junior season, an decided to come back for his final season of eligibility despite being a probable first round draft choice. McCollum is a good sized guard who is more of a scorer than a shooter. He is an all-around player averaging 6.5 rebounds per game and 3.5 assists per game, and with another big season, could put himself even higher up draft boards.
The other game that really interests me is BYU. They are a top-25 caliber team and will be making the return trip to Waco after the Bears defeated BYU in Provo last year. They return Brandon Davies, Matt Carlino and Brock Zylstra from last year's NCAA tournament team. They are a well coached squad who will be a good test for the Bears.
Also visiting Waco will be the Northwestern Wildcats. The Wildcats had high expectations for them last year. Simply make the tournament. They are the lone big conference school to not make the NCAA tournament in their history, and hope that this is the year. They lost their best player from last year in John Shurna, but bring back quite a bit outside of him. The Wildcats are bringing back their starting backcourt from last year in Dave Sobolewski and Drew Crawford. They are also welcoming back Reggie Hearn who might start at the small forward position as he provided good depth for them last year.
The Bears are also participating in the Charleston Classic, which will open with them playing Boston College and could include games against Colorado and/or St. Johns. While there are not high level teams in the field, there are several teams that should be NCAA caliber opponents on a neutral floor. Colorado (if they get past Dayton) is a team Baylor fans should remember from last year's NCAA tournament run. I am sure they remember Brady Heslip, and some bright uniforms. The Buffaloes lost a few seniors but bring back one of the best lesser known players in college basketball in Andre Roberson. Watch out for this 6-7 do everything forward.
St. Johns is entering their third year under Steve Lavin, though last year he had medical issues that limited him to coaching just 4 games last season. They were one of the youngest teams in the country last year, and with guys like D'Angelo Harrison, God'sgift Achiuwa being joined by Jakarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa, they will again have a very young and very athletic group coming back.
The big news on this schedule though is the two marquee road games that the Bears will play. The Bears will visit defending national champion Kentucky on December 1st, but it will look nothing like the team they Bears last saw in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats will look to replace Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and a host of other players that are now in the NBA. In fact, the only contributor to last year's squad that returns is Kyle Wiltjer (who played just 7 minutes in that Elite 8 game).
What they will lack in experience though, they will make up for in talent, similar to last year. They welcome in Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley to Lexington. This was either the best or second best recruiting class in the country last year. While I think the Wildcats will be a good team next year, I do not see them as being as good as last year, and I think they will have some issues at the point guard position.
The other marquee road game will be against mid-major power Gonzaga, whom the Bears lost to in Dallas during the 2010-2011 campaign. Gonzaga will be a Top-25 ranked team to start next year. While Kentucky is loaded down low, Gonzaga will have an excellent backcourt with both Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos returning to lead the Zags. Gonzaga does lose Robert Sacre, who is one of those players that seems like he was in school for about 9 years, but they do have some big bodies to take over his roll.
All things considered, I do like this schedule. It will easily be the most difficult of the last 5 years for Baylor, and will test them in several different ways. There are a few question marks (what is a USC Upstate????) but this is truly a step up from what we have seen the past few years.