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Baylor-Kansas State Preview and Prediction

The Bears look to return to form against the Wildcats

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor (15-1) looks to recover from Tuesday’s loss to West Virginia as they travel to Manhattan to take on Kansas State (13-3). The game airs at 3:30 on ESPNU.

The Bear’s offense has regressed dramatically in Big 12 play. Following their 29 turnover performance in Morgantown on Tuesday, the Bears now rank 219th in turnover percentage on KenPom. Baylor has also fallen to 147th in 3-point percentage and 285th in percent of shots taken from the perimeter.

Hopefully Baylor can have a strong 3-point effort against the Wildcats. Kansas State often plays D.J. Johnson and Dean Wade together, which can leave the Wildcats slow to rotate. And somehow, they went under screens against Frank Mason, who is one of the best 3-point shooters in the country. If Kansas State does this against Baylor, Manu Lecomte should fire:

The Wildcats are a solid offensive and defensive team. They rank in the top 50 of both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Baylor’s defense struggles to turn people over and snag rebounds. Despite having a good offense, the Wildcats are only 112th in offensive rebounding, so the Wildcats are not in a perfect position to exploit the Bear’s weakness. Although the Wildcats often play two traditional big men, Dean Wade often works his way out to the perimeter on offense.

Kansas State has a talented roster. Kamu Stokes is shooting 44% from the perimeter, and Wesley Iwundu is one of the best guards in the Big 12. D.J. Johnson finds a way to score in the paint, and Dean Wade provides excellent size and can even create his own shot:

Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil should continue to play well. Those two have been the Bear’s best players, and they rank in the top five among Big 12 players on KenPom. They’ve also been a huge reason the Bear’s defense has risen to 6th on KenPom, which is worlds higher than the Bears often are. Motley was the best player on the floor, as he so often is, in the Bear’s home win against the Wildcats last season. Motley was 7 of 7 in that contest, and he should be able to perform well again Saturday.

But the Bears need more than Motley, Lual-Acuil, and Ish Wainright’s usual effort to win this one. Al Freeman had his best game last season in Manhattan. The Bears certainly need better guard play than they’ve had in the three games since they crushed Oklahoma in Norman. If Freeman returns to nailing this shot, then the Bears can pull out another win:

One weird factor in this game is how badly Kansas State has been treated by the officials. In the Kansas game, the Jayhawks won at the buzzer on a layup where Svi Mykhailiuk took four steps. Against Texas Tech, Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber was called for a technical foul with less than a minute remaining for being too far onto the court. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that call made in crunch time. Kansas State lost that game by a point.

One might counter that Kansas State should have still lost those games. A properly called travel against Kansas only would have ensured overtime, and the technical foul was called while Texas Tech led Kansas State. Still, I can’t remember a team facing two egregious calls in crunch time within a three game span. The Wildcats may be due for some justice in officiating.

Maybe Kansas State is facing some sort of weird suffering for not hiring Brad Underwood. Underwood attended Kansas State and ended up at Oklahoma State after the Wildcats elected to retain Weber. That’s not to say Weber would deserve to lose his job in a normal situation. Weber is a solid coach. He had Illinois in the national championship game with Bill Self’s players, and he won the Big 12 with Frank Martin’s. Weber ended up losing his job at Illinois, and after collecting a group of guys he couldn’t quite manage, the Wildcats struggled the last two seasons. But the Wildcats are playing well and are a good team. Yet, Underwood seems like a future star, he attended Kansas State, and he was available. If your girlfriend you probably aren’t getting married to can leave you for Matt Damon, you can understand if she makes the move. Kansas State may come to regret letting Brad Underwood take the Oklahoma State job, but Weber is still a worthwhile guy to have.

Prediction

This will be a weird game. Kansas and Missouri are preparing for a giant ice storm. Basketball is played inside, but after traveling to Morgantown earlier in the week, dealing with the awful weather and another road game in the same week is not a fun experience for Baylor. Add in the slump the Bears have had from 3-point range, and the Bears are facing a difficult challenge.

The guards are really due to return to form. I thought they would against West Virginia, and that certainly did not happen. If the Bears play as poorly from the perimeter as they have the last three games, they are almost assuredly losing this one. But I think the guards play closer to how they did in non-conference and against Oklahoma. I’ll take Baylor 64-62.