No. 16 Baylor (18-6, 6-5) at No. 8 Kansas (20-4, 9-2)
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I mentioned this in the Q&A preview for this game, but it bears repeating. At Kansas, Bill Self has earned at least a share of the Big 12 title in ten straight seasons. In that same stretch of time, the Jayhawks have lost nine home games, the last one being two years ago when Marcus Smart turned the entire state of Kansas against him with a celebratory backflip. If Baylor wins today, it will be one of the rarest occurances in college basketball.
There are a couple of reasons to be hopeful. First of all, we've already seen that Baylor can play at a high level on the road. The Bears went into Morgantown and ran away from a good West Virginia team. Secondly, Mr. Get-It-Out-The-Mud:
Lastly, Baylor's three point shooting is capable of keeping them in any game.
There are also a couple of reasons to think maybe you should just go for a nice nature walk instead of yelling at your TV. The first factor in Kansas' favor is their three point shooting. They are 1st in the league and 7th in the country in 3Pt%. They've drained an absurd 42.6% of their shots from deep in Big 12 play. The second factor is their defense. Big 12 opponents are shooting just 29.7% from three and 40.3% from two against the Jayhawks. They don't cause many turnovers, and they don't foul a lot, but they stay in front of their man and force sub-optimal shots. If the Bears get behind early and starts to play a little hero ball to try to get back, they're toast.
That's all I've really got to say about this game. Most fans probably crossed this game off as a loss back in October. We'll see if this Baylor can continue to surprise us. After all, anything is possible in college basketball.
1.) Extending the zone: Baylor gave Oklahoma State a nice cushion on the perimeter on Monday, and the Cowboys took advantage and moved the ball with ease and precision. Kansas has three-point shooters everywhere. Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Brannen Green, and Frank Mason are all having excellent seasons from deep. Baylor has to apply pressure and force them to put the ball on the deck.
2.) Running the offense, even when KU starts pulling away: This was the other part of Monday's game. Baylor got behind and tried to dribble their way back. The Bears have to keep moving, keep passing, and keep executing the game plan Scott Drew has laid out for them.
3.) Staying cool: Allen Fieldhouse is going to get rowdy. It just is. Staying calm and collected even when calls don't go their way is going to be the big mental challenge for the Bears. They got tense down the stretch of Monday's game, and you could see some bickering among the Bears even on TV. If tempers get loose and things start to come undone, The Phog will eat them alive.
I'm just going to go ahead and out myself as one of the skeptics. Baylor has lost the last their last 4 games in Lawrence by an average of more then 16 points. The biggest weakness every zone faces is three point shooting, and that's exactly what Kansas has, plus a zone-buster inside in Perry Ellis who can make short-range jumpers. If Rico Gathers gets 20 rebounds, Kenny Chery drains 5 threes, Taurean Prince finds open spaces off the ball, Lester Medford registers 8+ assists, and Royce O'Neale approaches 12-6-4-3, then Baylor's got a shot. And maybe only three of those things need to happen if KU can't find their stroke. But it's KU at home, and that's an historically successful team on their home floor. Baylor 61-Kansas 78. Sorry.
Think I'm wrong? See a light at the end of the tunnel? Talk about in the comments, and let's get through this together.