MBB Game Preview: #3 Baylor @ #7 Kansas

The stars is in the building

They hands is to the ceiling

I know I’m ‘bout to kill it

How I know? I got that feeling.

You are now watching the throne.

- Kanye West

The 2012 Big 12 Men’s Basketball season will not end tonight. However, the 7 year stranglehold that the Kansas Jayhawks have held on the conference crown could be put on life support tonight. We’ll take a further look at what the advanced statistics tell us about these two teams, but before anything, we need to start at the most important place – the standings. Both Baylor and Kansas are undefeated in Big12 play, both have wins at Kansas State, neither have played Mizzou yet. If Baylor were able to combine a win tonight at the Phog with a win at home this weekend against Mizzou’s guard heavy lineup, they would become the heavy favorites to win their first conference championship since 1945 before the calendar even turns to February. A Kansas win would likely see the Bears fall and the Jayhawks rise enough to pass them in the next set of polls, placing Baylor in the chase position until KU’s return trip to the Ferrell Center.

Unfortunately, this matchup seems to favor Kansas on paper. Despite Baylor’s undefeated record and #3 ranking in both polls, there are a few arguments that #7 Kansas is actually the better team and they get to take advantage of what is one of the best home court advantages in the entire country. This may come as a surprise to some who haven’t seen Kansas play that much this year, but Kansas’ three losses all came more than a month ago and are the type of losses that are not going to harm them much come Selection Sunday. Neither losing by 10 to #2 Kentucky or by 7 to #4 Duke is anything to be ashamed of and even the 6 point loss to Davidson isn’t horrific. Additionally, they have a win over a top 10 team in Ohio State [albeit, without POY candidate Jared Sullinger], where Baylor has none.

All of this, plus the aforementioned incredible homefield advantage, is why Kansas is favored by 6 points tonight. While that line feels a bit high, I don’t disagree that Kansas should be favored. Let’s take a look at what the advanced statistics from kenpom.com say after the jump…

W-L

AP Rank

Pythag

Pythag Rank

Adj Offense Rank

Adj Defense Rank

Baylor

17-0

3

.9388

8

11

11

Kansas

14-3

7

.9646

2

13

3

Based on kenpom’s statistics, we see that he has Kansas rated 2nd in the nation with Baylor coming in at #8. Looking into it further, we see that Baylor is a very balanced team ranking 11th in both adjusted offense and defense. I have been tracking this over the past few weeks and Baylor has been steadily climbing, likely due to a combination of improved play and better opponents outweighing early cupcakes. Kansas has been ranked very high virtually the entire season, suggesting that their tumble in the standings after the loss to Davidson was premature.

Moving on to the game tonight, this is quite an interesting matchup on paper. Kansas doesn’t have the depth of All Americans like it has in past years, but in the same way that a large part of Baylor’s success this year has been to unheralded recruits like Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson, Kansas has had players step forward in their development to becomes serviceable to great players. Thomas Robinson is a forward for Kansas who has put up 17.3 points per game, 12.2 rebounds per game and has been gaining steam as a Naismith Player of the Year candidate, but he lost a chance to state his case on a big stage when Jared Sullinger was held out of the OSU-KU game. He is a talented low post player who is going to challenge Baylor’s defensive depth down low. Building off of him and talented point guard Tyshawn Taylor are guards Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson, who are not the most consistent players, but have the ability to keep Kansas in the game in a shootout.

As much as I am concerned with Baylor’s ability to defend against Self’s very effective offense, I am most concerned with Baylor’s two biggest weaknesses all year – rebounding and turnovers. Kansas will turn the ball over tonight, but I fear that too much adrenaline or sloppy play on Baylor’s part will result in a turnover margin that favors Kansas. Furthermore, Robinson and center Jeff Whitney create the sort of physical front that Baylor has trouble rebounding against this year. Indeed, Kansas is 1st in the Big 12 in rebounding margin.

I do not mean to paint the game tonight as a hopeless cause. For the first time that I can remember, it can be argued that Baylor legitimately brings a more talented team to this BU-KU matchup. We have seen Perry Jones III take over a couple of games this year and it may be that Baylor needs to lean on him more tonight instead of relying on their more balanced approach that has seen 5 players average double digits. I expect that Kansas will have designed plays to attack Baylor’s zone and if those plays work (or one of their guards get hot from outside), then I think we see more of the man to man that Baylor flashed in Manhattan, Kansas.

I think Baylor gets it’s first loss tonight, but I also think it’s a closer game than the 6 points by which Kansas is favored.

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