No. 21 Baylor (11-2, 0-1) vs. No. 12 Kansas (11-2, 0-0)
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I don't know how to feel about this game. On the one hand, just about every advanced metric suggests that Baylor should win this game. They possess a higher effective field goal percentage, a higher offensive rebounding percentage, a more efficient defense, a lower points allowed per game average, a higher block percentage, etc., etc., etc. In everything but free throws, the stats come up Bears. KenPom projects a 68-65 Baylor win, with a 66% chance the Bears defend home court.
But then you think about everything else. Kansas clearly has the better talent. Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, projected NBA lottery picks, are starting to gain more consistent minutes and are proving worthy of Bill Self's trust. Perry Ellis is a smart player who has a big bag of tricks down low. Frank Mason is a lightning bolt with the ball in his hand, even if he lacks a plan 50% of the time he gets to the paint. Wayne Selden Jr., despite a somewhat disappointing start, is still a threat to go off from deep given enough space. Oh, and Kansas has Bill F'ing Self. Add in that the students won't have returned to Waco for the semester, and that home court advantage dissipates. It might be more accurate to count this as a neutral court game, unless Bears fans surprise me.
Johnathan Motley and Rico Gathers will have to have huge games for Baylor to win this one. If they prevent Kansas from getting to the offensive glass, get offensive rebounds themselves, finish around the rim, draw fouls, and make free throws, that might be enough to swing this game Baylor's way. That's a lot to ask of your forwards when Jamari Traylor (think Gathers Lite), Alexander, and Ellis are on the other side.
Royce O'Neale and Kenny Chery will have to show up, too. This Kansas defense, while not exactly disastrous, isn't quite up to snuff for a Bill Self coached team. There will be opportunities. Selden has had trouble getting through screens for stretches of games. Scott Drew might try to put him in high pick-and-roll situations to free up whoever Selden is guarding. Oubre, who seems likely to be assigned to guard Taurean Prince, is long and athletic. Prince will likely have a tough night ahead of him, but he has a huge edge in experience. It will be interesting to see him use it.
Can you tell I'm nervous about this game? I'm pretty nervous about this game. I'll give you the three quick keys, each teams distribution stats, and get out of here before I write an entire manifesto out of nervousness.
Three Quick Keys
1.) Disrupt passing lanes: OU shredded Baylor's zone with inside-outside passing. Baylor must congest those passing lanes to limit the rain of three pointers Kansas' wings can bring.
2.) Get Alexander and Ellis in foul trouble: the easiest way to do this is to get offensive rebounds. Gathers and Motley both draw a high rate of fouls, particularly after grabbing offensive rebounds. The more fouls the Kansas forwards rack up, the fewer minutes they can be on the floor.
3.) Free throws, make them.
Please join the conversation in the comments below. I will need comforting.