Baylor is moving forward without most of its Ps and Qs.
Coming off a school-record 30 victories last season, the 19th-ranked Bears go into this year without forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller, who both left Baylor early for the NBA. Also gone is big man Quincy Acy, a heart-and-soul leader during his four seasons who was also drafted.
The Bears still have senior point guard Pierre Jackson, the Big 12 preseason player of the year.
"He's really improved and focused on his leadership, and being more vocal in practice," coach Scott Drew said.
Baylor's season-opening opponent also will rely heavily on a senior guard, and C.J. McCollum will lead Lehigh into Waco on Friday night eyeing an upset like the one they pulled in last season's NCAA tournament.
While the Bears made a run to the regional final, the Mountain Hawks notched one of the biggest surprises in tournament history by knocking off No. 2 seed Duke in the opening round. With McCollum back - he's a preseason All-American after finishing as the nation's fifth-leading scorer last season - Lehigh is unlikely to be overlooked by a Baylor team in transition.
Despite all the changes in the frontcourt, including two other post players who graduated, the Bears are still considered one of the Big 12's top teams. They were picked second in a preseason vote by coaches behind perennial Big 12 champ and seventh-ranked Kansas.
Jackson is among five guards back, including 3-point shooter and starter Brady Heslip. A.J. Walton has started 52 games his first three seasons, while Deuce Bello and Gary Franklin were key contributors off the bench in their first seasons at Baylor.
"As far as our team goes, experience in the backcourt, which is a little bit different," said Drew, entering his 10th season at Baylor. "In the last few years, we've been a taller team and more experienced on the front line. But when you lose three players to the NBA and return a lot of people in the backcourt, it kind of changes some of the things that you do."
That doesn't mean the Bears will be lacking for quality big men. They are just young, except for junior Cory Jefferson and senior J'mison Morgan, who sat out last season after starting 14 of the 31 games in 2010-11.
Their starting center will be 7-foot-1, 220-pound freshman Isaiah Austin, who was one of the nation's top-ranked recruits after playing at Grace Prep in Arlington.
"He brings a lot of height, a lot of length and a great skill set. The biggest thing when you look at him right now is you know he can get stronger," Drew said. "At the same time offensively, because he can shoot 3s and handle the ball, he really stretches the defense and makes it tough to guard a big guy like that. ... That versatility makes him special."
Other front-court freshmen are 6-8 Rico Gathers, 6-11 Chad Rykhoek and 6-7 Taurean Prince.
Acy, Fred Ellis and Anthony Jones left as the winningest senior class in Baylor history, after the Bears won 100 games the past four seasons.
That included a school-record 28 wins in 2009-10, before that mark was surpassed last season. They twice made it to an NCAA regional final before losing to the eventual national champion, Duke in 2010 and Kentucky last season.
Baylor had five players average in double-figure scoring last year, led by Jackson's 13.8 points a game. But with the next three leading scorers from last year now in the NBA and all the youngsters now around him, Jackson is sure to get more attention from opposing teams.
''He's used to scoring. I think he'll be focused on more defensively and offensively. Everybody will focus their game plan around him versus last year,'' Drew said. ''So as we all know, the expectations for him and the focal point, things are going to be tougher for him. At the same time, he's improved his game and is excited for that challenge."
The focus defensively for Lehigh's opponents will surely be McCollum. The reigning Patriot League player of the year has received plenty of attention from NBA scouts. McCollum averaged team highs of 21.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season as the Mountain Hawks went 27-8.
His 30 points keyed Lehigh's shocking 75-70 NCAA tournament win over Duke.
"C.J. has been a very reliable performer on the floor and has grown as a leader over the course of his career," coach Brett Reed said. "Our team has a great deal of confidence because C.J. exudes confidence in his performance and that ultimately transfers to his teammates. They feel more confident in their ability because he handles pressure situations and adversity very well."
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