Don’t think that an early exit in last year’s NCAA Tournament has set well with No. 5 Baylor as it has gone through preparations for its season-opener against Mississippi Valley State on Monday in Waco, Texas.

Yes, the Bears will have just three players on the court on opening day that saw significant time last season when the team went 27-7 and won a co-share of the Big 12 regular-season title. But the roster has reloaded more than rebuilt at Baylor, so much so that the Bears were picked to finish atop the standings in the Big 12 preseason poll.

Baylor returns two starters, including unanimous preseason All-Big 12 team member Adam Flagler, who will pair with preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year pick Keyonte George in the backcourt.

Preseason All-Big 12 honorable mention selection LJ Cryer is back at full strength too after an injury-plagued sophomore season. So is Langston Love, who missed the entire 2021-22 season with a torn ACL.

The Bears brought in experienced transfers Caleb Lohner from BYU and Jalen Bridges from West Virginia. That pair is expected to join Flo Thamba in the frontcourt. Thamba has started 64 consecutive games for Baylor in the post.

“First of all as a coach we’re really blessed to have guys who are team-first guys,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Whenever you have leaders who are experienced and are great team guys and great teammates, they’re great examples for the first, second and third-year guys.”

The Bears look to advance deeper into the NCAA Tournament after losing in the second round to eventual national runner-up North Carolina.

Baylor got an early start in building its chemistry at the GLOBL JAM in Toronto in July, earning a berth in tournament finals before falling to Brazil.

“Not a lot of teams got to do something like that,” said George, just the fifth McDonalds All-American in Baylor history. “It jelled us together. I just feel like we came together as one early. So, we’re better than a lot of college teams right now.”

The Delta Devils head into the 2022-23 campaign off a 2-26 showing last season and with a new coach. Former Mississippi Valley State player and assistant George Ivory has taken the reins of a team that finished last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference last year and dropped its final five games.

The Delta Devils were picked to finish at the bottom in the SWAC in the conference’s preseason coaches poll. Six players return from last year’s roster, including guard Terry Collins (9.7 points per game ) and center Daniel Umoh (3.9 rebounds per game).

“We have several guys that score the ball, and we are learning about the eight new players that we brought in,” Ivory said. “We think that they will help our team very much. We’ve tried to build a mixture of all the guys and we’re very pleased and very excited about these young men. They’ve come right in and worked very hard.”–Field Level Media