By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Particularly with flight travel issues around the country, Baylor coach Scott Drew was just happy to get his full squad back Monday for the 12th-ranked Bears’ first practice since a 58-48 win over Northwestern State on Dec. 20.
"We were really blessed, got everyone back," Drew said. "It’s tough, you only have one day of practice, and today’s practice has to be a little bit lighter. It’s always challenging. But first and foremost, get everybody here. We did that, and then had a good practice. Have a good one today and get ready for a good Nicholls team."
Riding a four-game winning streak, Baylor (9-2) will host Nicholls (6-6) at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Bears’ final tune-up before Saturday’s 1 p.m. Big 12 opener at Iowa State (9-2).
"We treat everybody the same," junior forward Zach Loveday said. "We scout everybody the same. We prepare like it’s the best team in America. That’s how we prepare for every game. And I think that’s why we’re so successful."
With close losses to Texas Tech and then-No. 17 Mississippi State, Nicholls is listed as the automatic qualifier from the Southland Conference and one of Baylor’s six pre-conference opponents in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology projections.
Including the backcourt trio of Latrell Jones (Portland), Caleb Huffman (Central Michigan) and Micah Thomas (Indiana State), nine of the 15 players on the Colonels’ roster are transfers. Jones (15.5 ppg), Huffman (15.4 ppg) and Jones (10.9 ppg, 4.3 assists) are averaging double-digit points, while 6-7 forwards Marek Nelson (9.5 ppg) and Manny Littles (8.4 ppg, 8.5 rebounds) are in their sixth and fifth year, respectively.
"They’ve got three really good guards that lead them in scoring," Drew said. "No freshmen, a bunch of seniors, juniors and graduates. So, when you have that experience, talent, used to winning, well-coached, and especially good guards, that’s a recipe for success in college basketball."
Baylor counters with a talented backcourt trio of its own with senior Adam Flagler (15.7 ppg, 5.1 assists), junior LJ Cryer (14.9 ppg) and freshman Keyonte George (15.1 ppg, 3.9 assists). Flagler missed two of the previous three games with an illness, but is "doing great, healthy and had a good practice (Monday)," Drew said.
Since a 96-70 loss to Marquette on Nov. 29 in their only true road game, the Bears have tightened up the defense, holding their last four opponents to just 56.8 points per game.
Junior forward Jordan Turner, who missed the first eight games of the season with a wrist injury, said the biggest difference is "definitely our improvement on the defensive end."
"We talked about it (Monday) and just over the weeks that we need to stay aggressive and keep being us and do what we do best," Turner said.
With the start of conference play now just a few days away, Drew said there are a few other areas that need to improve.
"Our turnover percentage is not as good as it’s been, so we’ve got to keep working on that," he said. "Probably our shot election in lower-possession games can still improve. And in our rebounding, offensively and defensively, we can get better."
The Big 12 currently has five teams ranked in the top 25 by both the Associated Press and coaches’ polls, with three others receiving votes. In Lunardi’s latest projections, nine of the 10 teams are projected to make the 68-team field (Baylor as a No. 3 seed), with Oklahoma State as one of the first four out.
"At one point, Joe Lunardi had every team in the Big 12 in the NCAA Tournament, and that’s never happened before," Drew said. "That speaks to the depth. Once again, the No. 1-ranked conference. And the reason is, it’s great to have five in the top 25, but it’s even more impressive to have everybody in the NCAA Tournament. There’s no night where you’re going to have a bad loss. You just have opportunities for quality wins. A lot of close games, a lot of one-possession games, and you’ve got to be on-point and ready."
Wednesday’s game will be streamed by Big 12 Now on ESPN+, with "Voice of the Bears" John Morris and former Baylor basketball standout King McClure calling the action.
• No. 12/13 Baylor hosts Nicholls in its final game before conference play begins
• Baylor has won 12-straight home games, tied for the fifth-longest home winning streak in program history.
• The top-eight Ferrell Center winning streaks have all come under Scott Drew and five of the top eight have come in the last seven years.
• BU is 2-0 all time against Nicholls, and the two are meeting for the second-straight season.
• The Bears are the best offense in the Big 12 (10th best in the nation) according to Ken Pom (114.2 Adj. Efficiency rating), averaging 80.6 points per game.
• BU has won 70-straight when shooting a higher percentage than its opponent (last loss March 2, 2019 at K-State).
• Baylor is 79-4 in its last 83 non-conference home games dating back to Dec. 12, 2012.
• Baylor is 24-7 against AP top 25 teams over the last four seasons, the nation’s best mark against ranked teams. 15 of those wins came against top 25 teams away from home.
• With its 64th consecutive week in the AP Top 25, Baylor has the nations second-longest streak (Gonzaga 122).
• BU held NWST to 48 points and improved to 44-1 under Drew when holding an opponent under 50 points (12/20).
• The 12th-ranked Bears spent a school record 54-straight weeks top-10 ranked in the AP Poll (12/19/19 -12/5/22).
• Keyonte George scored a game-high 19 points to lift BU to a win over Washington St., its seventh-straight win over a Pac-12 foe (12/18)
• Down its two leading scorers, George and Langston Love and went for 20+ points each to lift the Bears past Tarleton (12/6).
• BU held the nation’s best offense in Gonzaga, to a season-low 63 points in a 64-63 win in the inaugural Peacock Classic (12/2).
• LJ Cryer set career highs in points (28), field goals (10), rebounds (4) and minutes (35) against No. 8 UCLA (11/20).
• Cryer’s 23.5 points per game in Las Vegas earned his first-career Big 12 Player of the Week Award.
• Baylor has had at least one player score 20+ points in seven of the last 12 games.
• Adam Flagler and Keyonte George have three 20-point games in that stretch, followed by Cryer (2), Jalen Bridges (1), and Love (1).
• With a 95-62 win over Northern Colorado (11/14), Scott Drew became one of 10 active coaches with 400+ wins at his current institution.
• Drew has a winning percentage of .700 (371-155) since BU’s first year with no scholarship restrictions in 2007-08.
• In his 20th season at BU, Drew is coming off Big 12 Coach of the Year honors for a 3rd-straight season, joining Gene Keady (Purdue, 94-96) and Jay Wright (Villanova, 14-16) as the only high-major coaches to accomplish the feat.
• Baylor is 45-5 vs. unranked teams over the last three seasons.
• Baylor is playing its 631st game of the 20-year Drew era – more than half (322) have been as a ranked team.
• BU was ranked in two of 2,197 games over the program’s 97 seasons prior to Drew.
• Baylor has been in the Preseason AP Top 25 in 10 of 13 seasons since its first preseason ranking in 2010-11.
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