With a dominant frontcourt made up of Rico Gathers (who has further stepped up his game this season) and Taurean Prince, the Baylor Bears squeaked into the preseason rankings.
They were pegged at No. 22, their highest since the 2012 season. But the writing seemed to be on the wall. Baylor could soon slip from the rankings with question marks at point guard after the graduation of Kenny Chery.
The Bears didn’t have a true player to fill his role, so Lester Medford would have to make do, switching over from shooting guard. As much as Gathers and Prince have been earning their dues as the top scorers and rebounders, Medford has been.
Medford is averaging nearly seven assists per game, just behind Iowa State’s Monte Morris, one of the most efficient passers in the nation. But it hasn’t been until recent play Medford has started to separate himself as a true point guard, not just a second shooter alongside Al Freeman at the 2.
Baylor is playing its third Top 25 team this season, and the second in the past four games, as it prepares to travel to Texas A&M on Saturday night. Vanderbilt was the last top tier team Baylor faced, and it was in that two-point win Medford showed he can play against top competition. He nailed a three-point jumper to seal the Bears’ win and scored a season-high 15 points.
But Baylor has always been a team to thrive in Waco. Playing on the road has been a different story, and Medford has already shown weakness playing in foreign environments.
In the second game of the season, Baylor made its way to then-No. 25 Oregon, losing by seven points. Medford found himself in early foul trouble. He was on the bench after 26 minutes of play, leaving with two points, an assist, and his worst offense–six turnovers.
It was arguably his sub-par play that gave the Bears their only loss of the season.
Playing No. 24 Texas A&M team on the road, Medford can redeem himself and continue to prove doubters from the Oregon game wrong — that he can be a true leader up top against stiffer competition, not just Hardin-Simmons.
Medford is undersized compared to most teams (standing at just 5’10”), but considering A&M’s two towering guards Danuel House (6’7″) and Jalen Jones (6’8″), it will be vital Baylor sticks to its 1-3-1 zone defense to aid Medford’s ability to move the ball around. Not only has Medford’s quickness propelled Baylor to the nation’s third-highest assist rate, and to scoring more than 80 points per game, but his 2.4 steals per game have been just as vital — Baylor is 13th in the nation with 10.7 steals per game.
He struggled to make noise defensively against Vanderbilt — having just one steal — as head coach Scott Drew switched to a man strategy. But should he be placed in zone defense, Medford has a good chance to continue feeding the rock to his own big men, Gathers and Prince.
This is likely going to be a battle won with size, but if Medford–the converted 5’10” shooting guard can make an impact among the chaos–he should solidify himself as just an effective point guard.
Just like his undersized predecessor, Kenny Chery.