No. 8 Baylor opens defense of national title vs. Incarnate Word

NCAA Basketball

No. 8 Baylor begins the mission of meshing seven returnees and five newcomers and opens defense of its NCAA title on Friday versus Incarnate Word in Waco, Texas.

Baylor will unveil its national championship banner in a pregame ceremony.

The Bears finished 28-2 and beat Gonzaga in the national championship game last year. Baylor returns Flo Thamba, the lone returning starter, as well as guard Adam Flagler, who averaged 9.1 points per game on 43.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 2020-21.

Forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and guard Matthew Mayer are in the mix for starting spots. Mayer’s role is expected to expand after he shot 39.5 percent on his 3-point shots last season.

That core will be augmented by Arizona transfer guard James Akinjo (15.6 ppg, 5.4 apg) and Dale Bonner (Fairmont State) as well as incoming freshmen forwards Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan, who make up part of the highest-ranked recruiting class in program history. Langston Love, a third piece to that frosh puzzle, will miss the season after suffering a knee injury late last month.

“The good thing about this team is you’ve got enough returning players where you’ve got an identity and a culture, and they know how, and what, it takes to be successful,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “At the same time, you have enough new players that you have excitement and energy because any time something’s new, normally that excites everybody.”

Mayer was named to the six-player Preseason All-Big 12 team, while Akinjo was an honorable mention and Brown was projected as Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

Baylor’s No. 8 ranking is its second-highest preseason ranking in program history, trailing only the No. 2preseason tab the Bears had entering their national championship campaign. The Bears were picked to finish third in the Big 12 Conference’s preseason coaches’ poll, behind No. 3 Kansas and No. 5 Texas.

Mayer was named to the six-player Preseason All-Big 12 team, while Akinjo was an honorable mention and Brown was projected as Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

Incarnate Word heads to Waco after a 75-57 loss at home to Texas State on Tuesday in its season opener. Josh Morgan led the Cardinals with 16 points in the defeat while Johnny Hughes III had 12.

The Cardinals were 8-14 in 2020-21 and qualified for the Southland Conference tournament for the first time in school history, earning the No. 7 seed and falling to Houston Baptist in the first round.

Incarnate Word lost six players to the transfer portal, including SLC freshman of the year Keaston Willis, its leading scorer from last year. UIW was picked to finish seventh in the eight-team SLC Preseason Coaches’ Poll and guards Brandon Swaby and Drew Lutz were chosen to the conference’s preseason second team; both averaged about 8 points per game last year.

Transfers RJ Glasper (who started 18 games last year for Oral Roberts), Kevin Schutte (Hofstra), and Hughes III (Division II University of Mount Olive) are expected to contribute for the Cardinals. Hughes racked up 18.1 ppg on the D-II level, where he earned first team All-Conference accolades last season.

“The main thing for us is we’re returning a lot of experience, and now we’re able to hopefully utilize that to build on what we were able to do last year,” Incarnate Word coach Carson Cunningham. “So, it’s exciting.”

–Field Level Media

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