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Baylor Bears: Three story lines for the upcoming college basketball season

Considering recent Baylor Bears college basketball seasons, it’s difficult to believe that there was once a trope questioning Scott Drew’s coaching chops. Let’s just delete those thoughts.

Drew has proven he can take whoever he as on his roster and assemble a team that wins 20 games, finishes in the top half of the Big 12 and often makes the NCAA Tournament (seven trips since 2010). Last season, the Bears (who had to replace their top four scorers) were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12. Despite losing their best big man in January, Baylor finished fourth and reached the second round of the Big Dance.

This season, Drew’s challenge is to work with one of the deepest and most-talented rosters he’s had in recent years. It’s a good bet that Baylor will finish no worse than third in the standings and return to March Madness.

Top 3 story lines

Tristan Clark’s return. He was injured and lost for the season in mid-January. In 14 games, the 6-foot-9 Clark was making 73 percent of his shots while averaging 14.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Last season, Baylor adjusted to his absence, but his return makes the Bears a legitimate threat to challenge for the conference regular-season title.

Replacing Makai Mason. In his one season in Waco after transferring from Yale, Mason was a driving force all season, leading the team in scoring, assists and 3-pointers. Drew has had great success with transfers, and he prepared for losing Mason (along with senior King McClure) by bringing in transfers Davion Mitchell (Auburn) and MaCio Teague (UNC Asheville). They redshirted last season and should fit in well with backcourt returnees Jared Butler and Devonte Bandoo.

Chemistry experiment. Settling on a starting point guard and developing player rotations will be a nice challenge for Drew but making sure that everyone stays happy could be a concern. Last year’s team embraced the underdog role and shot lights out from 3-point range during Big 12 play. The Bears made 37 percent of their threes in Big 12 play after shooting 30 percent in nonconference games.

Number to know

Baylor has nine players who played at least 25 games at the Division I level, and the roster combines for 366 games. That’s a lot of experience.

Reasons to hope

Plugging in a healthy and productive Clark to score in the post and defend the rim will make the Bears a potent team. The players who had to fil in during Clark’s absence (Freddie Gillespie and Flo Thamba) gives Drew options and flexibility.

Reasons to doubt

Mario Kegler, one of last season’s most versatile contributors, was suspended from the team in September and decided to leave school to pursue professional basketball. Baylor still has a deep team, but losing Kegler means that any injuries to perimeter players could suddenly leave the Bears scrambling.

KenPom.com preseason rank: 13.

Next up: Iowa State

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