We're T-2 hours and counting to the biggest game of Baylor's year so far in men's basketball; a sold-out contest against the #10 Kansas Jayhawks at home in the Ferrell Center. I hope the atmosphere there tonight is rocking, the students are all hopped up on Mountain Dew, and most of all that Baylor plays better than it did in Lawrence just two short weeks ago.
Tonight after the game as I either celebrate the biggest victory of the season or bemoan the biggest loss (both being to date, of course), I'll post a comprehensive links dump of the stories of the day. Right now I'm just going to focus on basketball and give you links to a few free previews of the game and my thoughts on what Baylor has to do. If you didn't see Prashanth's excellent post earlier today, here is a link. Where he says that Baylor needs to not suck today, I completely agree.
Let's go with the links first; my keys to the game will be below the jump.
- Up first we have the official game preview from BaylorBears.com, the site of Baylor Athletics. I think the part I like least about that preview is where it mentions that we're 2-17 all-time against Kansas. Ouch. Media information is also there for the game, but I can just tell you now that it's on ESPN2/3.
- Next we have the preview from ESPN.com, who will be carrying the game tonight on ESPN2 and ESPN3 (where available). I'll put a link to the ESPN3 broadcast in the GDT for those that need it. As always, that thread will go up 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the game (now only 45 minutes away).
- Bill Connelly from the mothership has put together an outstanding preview of all of tonight's games with a chart that makes exactly one of the points I was going to make below (SERIOUSLY, LOOK AT IT). The gist of it is that Baylor actually played relatively well in the first half except for a Kansas run at the very end, and then was absolutely destroyed in the second. That, to me, says that Kansas saw something at halftime that Baylor was doing (or not doing) and adjusted. Baylor never did. Though the Bears came back to be down only 11 points with 10:33 left on the clock, Kansas was never in serious trouble in the second half and was finally able to run away. He notes particularly:
They didn't even come close three weeks ago in Lawrence. Kansas absolutely torched the Bears' zone for 1.30 points per possession, shot 57 percent from the field and, worst of all, grabbed 14 offensive rebounds on just 26 missed field goals. In the game's first 16 minutes, Baylor outscored Kansas, 29-26; in the next 17, Kansas outscored Baylor, 49-26.
That seems bad to me.
- The Washington Post also provides a good viewing guide for tonight's games. I think it's safe to say this is the most exciting night of college basketball yet.
- Finally, USAToday has a preview up that basically hits the same points I'm going to hit below with added emphasis on Baylor's recently strong defensive play (basically since the Kansas-Mizzou games). This is actually something that I don't think gets mentioned enough; Baylor's problem lately (in so much as winning close games can be a problem) has been offensive, not defensive. Our improved defense in the last few games gives me at least some hope we can do what Bill says above that we must, which is stop Kansas on O.
On that note, hit the jump below for my keys to the game:
Any time you do something like this and try to break down an athletic competition of any kind, most of what you come up with seems relatively obvious. In just about every circumstance, a team is going to try to stop their opponent's best player, keep them from doing what they like to do or do best, and all the while attempt to start and keep doing what they like to do or do best. Pretty simple, right?
Baylor failed in just about every respect to do those simple things against Kansas in the first go-round. Kansas's best players, Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, combined for 55 points on 21 of 32 shooting on the night. Both of those numbers, points and FG%, are way above the season averages of both players. They whipped Baylor outside (Taylor had 4 made 3s out of 6 taken) and inside (9 of Robinson's 11 made field goals were dunks or layups) and Baylor had no answer. If you read the link I posted earlier in a fanshot, you'd know that Robinson's performance in particular angered Quincy Acy, Baylor's senior PF and vocal leader. He took it on himself, as he must if Baylor is to have any chance tonight, to stop that from happening again. If he fails and Robinson is able to score 20+ points again tonight with 14 boards (as he had in the first game), Baylor will lose.
That's why, if I am Baylor, I force Taylor to beat me and try to shut down Robinson. Easier said than done, obviously, since our bigs, as long as they are, lack ideal size to contain a player like Robinson. My primary hope is that Perry Jones III takes Robinson's game as personally as Acy did and hits the boards to eliminate some of the easy layups that plagued Baylor in the first game. My secondary hope is that Acy and Cory Jefferson can combine to check Robinson and his frontcourt partner Jeff Withey, who cleaned up Robinson's trash in the first game to the tune of 10 points and 10 boards. The latter is probably not all that reasonable given that Jefferson only played 4 minutes in the first game. I just don't trust Acy, because he is so much smaller than Robinson, to be able to do it himself.
Putting that aside, if you ask me my keys to this game, it's going to be the same two things it always is with this team: rebounds and turnovers. In the first game, Baylor was outrebounded 36-21 by Kansas. Turnovers were much more even at 15-11, but 15 is still too many. At this stage in the season Baylor is probably not going to suddenly become a lot better at ballhandling, but signs are pointing upward on the boards. In its 4-game winning streak, Baylor has outrebounded its opponent 28-24, 37-24, 35-33, and 37-28. Baylor has averaged 10.75 offensive rebounds per game in that stretch, as well.
Another key to the game tonight is going to be the simple fact that it is in Waco, Texas. Of Kansas' 5 losses this season 4 have come in games away from Lawrence, including both conference losses to Iowa State and Mizzou. Those are actually Kansas's last two conference away games. Kansas is simply a different team when playing in that godforsaken field house, as evidenced by:
- Kansas at home: 80.69 PPG on offense, 60.08 PPG defense.
- Kansas away from home: 68.8 PPG on offense, 60.1 PPG defense.
That's a difference of over 12 PPG, mostly on offense, when Kansas leaves its own building. In conference play, the numbers are similar, again mostly on offense:
- Kansas at home in Big XII play: 77.8 PPG on offense, 62.4 PPG on defense.
- Kansas away from home in Big XII play: 71.4 PPG on offense, 63.8 ppg on defense.
Taking Kansas's 81-46 drubbing of Texas Tech in Lubbock out of the away column makes those numbers 68.75 and 68.25, respectively.
I realize that what I'm doing involves extremely small sample sizes and probably isn't worth much in predicting how the game is going tonight. I believe that these numbers, however, support what is relatively plain to see, Kansas benefits greatly from playing at home in front of its own fans in the Hoosiers gym on steroids. Baylor's players admitted openly that in the blowout at Kansas, they were rattled by those fans and that atmosphere. When they got down, things snowballed on them and they couldn't dig themselves out. That kind of hostile atmosphere won't be there against them tonight. That effect won't happen again. This time, a sellout crowd will be on their side and the tables will be turned at least somewhat; I'm not saying our fans will be as loud or as passionate as Kansas' that day.
I think our team will play well tonight and win its biggest game of the season so far against a quality opponent. I'm looking for big games from PJ3 and Quincy Miller, who has played extremely well ever since that Kansas game. I believe Baylor has learned from its mistakes in the first matchup and will be ready to play tonight. I look forward to it.