College Basketball Preseason Top 25: #18 Baylor

Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports

Isaiah Austin has the chance to become a first-round pick in next year’s NBA Draft. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

18. Baylor Bears

If games were won on talent alone, Baylor might have already celebrated a Final Four appearance in Scott Drew’s time in Waco. Few programs have stockpiled as many blue-chip recruits in recent years as the Bears. Unfortunately, they don’t usually stick around to become great college players. This year could be more of the same, as Baylor boasts two top-flight NBA prospects, including 7-1 center Isaiah Austin, who could end up being a lottery pick next year. Austin (13 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.6 bpg) is athletic and skilled for his size, and could emerge as one of the best players in the Big XII. 6-9 sophomore forward Cory Jefferson is equally talented, and could easily have bolted Waco for the NBA last season.

In addition to Austin and Jefferson, senior sharpshooter Brady Heslip will help provide floor spacing. Heslip set Twitter on fire and became a national phenomenon for about a day when he nailed nine three pointers in an NCAA Tournament game against Colorado in 2012. He should be even more deadly this season as defenses try to collapse and defend Baylor’s bigs down low. Point guard Pierre Jackson has graduated, but senior Gary Franklin and top recruit Allerik Freeman will help ease the sting of his departure.

BOTTOM LINE: The Bears have plenty of raw talent, but whether or not they live up to it will depend on a few factors. First, someone needs to step up and take the go-to role that is vacated by the loss of Pierre Jackson, who was the heart and soul of last year’s team. Second, some of the freshmen will have to have an immediate impact. Baylor has had an interesting recent history, trading Elite Eight appearances in 2008 and 2010 with NIT bids in ’09 and ’11. This appears to be another NCAA Tournament team, but don’t expect a visit to the tourney’s final weekend.

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