Drew Preview: Bears vs. Midwestern State

The Baylor men open up their season Thursday night with an exhibition game against the Midwestern State Mustangs at 7 p.m. at the Ferrell Center.
About Midwestern State...
The Baylor Basketball team is opening up its season with a tough Division II opponent. MSU is ranked 13th in Division II after boasting a 31-3 record last year and the Mustangs are picked to win the Lone Star Conference again this year. They had a similar historic run to the Elite Eight last year causing their head coach to also receive the TABC Coach of the Year. MSU head coach Grant McCasland, a former walk-on for Baylor under Coach Harry Miller, lost eight players in the offseason but picked up eight transfers (four from Division I schools).
The Mustangs return two starters and are hopeful their transfers can come in and contribute immediately. They are a team with decent size having four guys at 6-7 and one at 6-8. Look for Chris Hagan to be the main guy for the Mustangs. He average 14.1 points, 4 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.2 blocks last season. The only other player that had a significant contribution last year was Adrian Van Buren who averaged only 8 points. Michael Loyd, a transfer from BYU, averaged only 5.1 points last year during his average 14 minutes per game but is expected to be a major contributor.
The Mustangs have three players that have shown they can shoot from beyond the arc (Hagan 34%, Van Buren 45% and Loyd 42%). However, they lost four of their top five rebounders and four of the top five guys that averaged the most minutes per game.
I look for this team to be very athletic, well coached and physical. They play Purdue next.
About the Bears...
I expect Baylor to win this game, but be forced to actually play well in order to do so. MSU is not going to be a cakewalk. They have great coaching, good players and the same confidence we have after a great season last year. I can see this being similar to Tarleton State a few years ago. MSU can shoot fairly well from behind the arc which could allow them to make a game out of it.
The Bears start out this season as a rather unknown in terms of style of play offensively. We have the tools to do many different things and it usually takes Baylor teams a few games in order to find our identity.
Most of us know that we will learn more in the first few games than in all of the reports from the previous off season. So I am just going to highlight a few things about each player and look at a few story lines for the upcoming season.
Starting Line up
A.J. Walton, Stargell Love, Anthony Jones, Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III
The Players
LaceDarius Dunn: We all know the situation and what he can do on the court. He has done a very good job of getting noticeably better from year to year. Excited to see how he has improved this year.
AJ Walton: A.J. has proven himself as a top defender in the Big 12 and seems to be confident in his passing ability and ball control. The question about A.J. is whether or not he is able to replace Tweety's scoring ability and leadership. A.J. seemed to emerge as more of a scoring threat during his European tour this past summer. Hopefully it translates to Big 12 play.
Nolan Dennis: We will probably see an entirely different player than last year. Coaches and players have said that ever since his corrected surgeries for the inner ear problems he was plagued with last year, he has drastically improved. He is benefiting from actually being able to practice everyday and gel with the team. We might need him to be ready to play until Lace gets back.
Stargell Love: After hearing reports of his progression being slower than expected, it was surprising to hear that he is projected to start in the first game of the year. He has huge upside being an athletic freak, but has been turnover and mistake prone in practice. I am very excited to see him and A.J. playing next to each other at the top of our zone.
Perry Jones III: We have all seen the videos and heard the reports about his NBA potential and how good of an athlete he is. I have heard though that he is surprising people with the high level of his actual basketball skill set. Hopefully Drew has figured out a way to make PJ3 play as hard as he is capable. Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.
Quincy Acy: The story on him is the work he has put in on his mid range jumper. Coaches have been working on his confidence in his own shot rather than resorting to what he does best, drive to the rim and dunk in peoples faces. I think he is the verbal leader on the team this year and is working for a future in the NBA.
Anthony Jones: He is such an asset to have on the court due to his size and skill set. He is always a match up problem for other teams and is perfect in our zone with his length. He hopefully has improved his shot in the corner and made it almost automatic since it is usually open regardless of a defender. I have heard he played a little more fiercely in his ability to drive and get to the rim.
J'Mison "Bobo" Morgan: I hope the coaches have shown him a ton of film of Lomers. If Bobo can be a physical bruiser down low and clean up the trash points and rebounds, than I see him being very effective.
Corey Jefferson: I think he is one of the most underrated players going into this Big 12 season. He has the tools and potential to be a starter by the end of the year but has to embrace the physicality and effort the game requires. He has put on some good muscle and seems to be priming himself for substantial minutes.
Fred Ellis and Dragan Sekelja: Haven't heard a lot about any progression, but I love having both of those guys practicing against our starters. They are big, athletic players who work extremely hard.
Final view
The other big story for Baylor is going to be how we replace Epke Udoh and Tweety Carter.
Just looking at the numbers, I do not see us having much of a drop off once the season is underway. The things we will miss from Tweety are his intangibles such as leadership, experience and knowledge of the game. I believe we can account for his scoring, defense, passing and ability to play consistently with A.J. and Lace.
Replacing Epke is going to be an
interesting process. But I think it boils down to something similar to Tweety. His leadership, passion, drive to always be getting better and ability to be coached are assets I will miss most. His points, rebounds and blocks will hopefully be replaced by a team of PJ3, Acy, Anthony Jones, Bobo and Corey. All are capable of providing help to at least one of those categories.
We have a fun season ahead of us with a lot of hype from the rest of the country. We will no a lot more of our team in a few weeks. I would not expect these first few games to be blow outs by any means.
Historically, we have not been that great in the first game of the year. However, I cannot help but be extremely excited for the future of Baylor Basketball and have high expectations for this season.
-- Chris Corley