By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer
Despite a crushing 85-76 loss to No. 6 seed Creighton University on Sunday in the Ball Arena in Denver, No. 3 seed Baylor men’s basketball has a lot to look forward to in the 2023-24 season.
Sunday’s loss was a culmination of the Bears’ (23-11) season. Questionable defense and a reliance on the 3-point shot determined the outcome of far too many games. Baylor still had the nation’s No. 2 offense according to KenPom, and it captivated the attention of many fans in the thrilling Big 12 title race.
While the Big Dance will continue on without the Bears, here are three exciting things to look forward to next year.
LJ Cryer is primed for a massive season
After a career-high 30 points in the loss, junior guard LJ Cryer will head into his senior season as the probable number one scoring option for Baylor. Cryer was a key contributor alongside redshirt senior guard Adam Flagler and freshman guard Keyonte George. With both likely headed to the NBA, head coach Scott Drew and the Bears will need Cryer to be a leader in the locker room and on the court.
The Katy native’s clutch shooting in Sunday’s game was just a glimpse of his potential. Being able to learn from Flagler, and former standout guards Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler, has allowed Cryer to develop on his own timeline.
Cryer will take over as the mentor for incoming freshman and 2023 recruits Miro Little and Ja’Kobe Walter. Flagler thrived as a leader and had his best season while taking others under his wing. With Cryer showing talent and allowing his teammates to showcase their skills, it’s easy to expect big things from the guard and the team as a whole.
The Bears have another strong recruiting class. Little, a four-star point guard, and Walter, a five-star shooting guard, will be exciting players to follow and watch develop in Drew’s system. Both guards bring much needed above average defensive versatility and toughness in addition to strong scoring abilities.
Alongside the current commits, Baylor is destined to be a big player in the transfer portal. Fifth-year senior forward Flo Thamba has run out of eligibility and junior forward Jalen Bridges, George, and Flagler are all potential candidates to go pro. With the losses, the Bears will have a lot of holes to fill.
Role players redshirt-freshman guard Langston Love and redshirt-senior forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua are expected to return and have larger roles, but the two can’t solely replace the missing pieces. Baylor acquired Bridges in the portal before the season and it will be exciting to watch and see if splashy moves are on the horizon.
The sweet is never as sweet without the sour
The sour taste of back-to-back NCAA Tournament departures in the round of 32 will only add motivation for the Bears. Baylor will be back with a vengeance and the Big 12 will be just as tough, especially with the new additions. After struggling early in conference play this season and running into tough patches near the end of the season, déjà vu was a potential reality in March Madness.
Expectations will be just as high for the Bears, but success will be even more fulfilling after a second disappointing finish to the season. With the Foster Pavilion on the way and new faces on the roster, there’s potential for many historic moments in the upcoming season.
So many great moments can come and the appreciation for them will be even higher after Baylor failed to live up to high expectations. Enjoying the moment will be a key for all Bears fans moving forward, and the future looks bright.