The Baylor men’s basketball team is well on their way to a possible No. 2 or 3 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament. However, they currently enter the final leg of the regular season with a very noticeable limp. The return of junior guard Al Freeman might be the remedy the Bears need to make a deep tournament run.
Think back to January 28. Baylor had just knocked off SEC opponent Ole Miss sat atop the Big 12 standings with a 20-1 record. They were poised to be a major threat to the Kansas Jayhawk’s 12-year grasp on the Big 12 title. Those times feel like ages ago as the Bears have gone on to lose five of their last eight.
The blame for the recent bumps in Baylor’s road can be placed on several things: Manu Lecomte’s injury, Johnathan Motley’s disappearance against Texas Tech, the general lack of scoring help from the bench or that the team is ranked No. 153 in the country in three-point shooting percentage. The Bears will need more help to survive the early rounds of March Madness.
Don’t get me wrong, Motley and Lecomte have been nothing short of fantastic. Without both of them combining for almost 30 points per game, Baylor would have a few more “L’s” in its resume. The bench also has been better than recent years. Sophomore guard Jake Lindsey has been an invaluable ball handler off of the bench and I would argue that he is Baylor’s most improved player this year.
The issue for the Bears going forward is the lack of scoring from anyone not named Manu Lecomte or Johnathan Motley. Ish Wainright provides great energy and hustle, but his scoring abilities are average at best. He’s only averaging 5.6 points per game. Likewise, King McClure, Nuni Omot and Terry Maston have provided sparks at times (most notably Maston’s career-high 22 points in the loss to Tech), but all three cannot be counted on at crunch time when the team needs a bucket.
With all that being said, it’s no wonder many around Baylor’s campus are starting to wonder if the Bears might be bounced in the first round of the tournament for a third-straight year. I would argue that the scoring help Baylor needs rests in the hands of junior guard Al Freeman.
Remember Al? Baylor’s leading returning scorer off of last year’s team? If you don’t I don’t blame you. Freeman (up until the past two games) had played a grand total of one minute in four straight games due to a violation of team rules. Before that, his numbers and offensive efficacy had been on a downward spiral. We have to go all the way back to January 17 for the last time Freeman hit double digits in scoring.
Freeman has shot almost 62 percent in the past three games including a 17-point outburst against Iowa State where he hit all five of his three-point shots.
Freeman’s return could be an answered prayer for Baylor fans. I have been saying all season that the Bears need someone else besides Motley and Lecomte to get double digits scoring in order for Baylor to go from a good team to a great team. Look at the stats — in Baylor’s big top 25 wins against Louisville, Xavier and Kansas State, at least three Bears had over 10 points.
Freeman can create for himself better than Wainright, McClure and Lindsey. He can be that third offensive threat that can help propel the Bears deep into March. Baylor has the team to do it, but they need a resurrected Al Freeman to be the guy to take the heavy load off of Motley and Lecomte.