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Kansas at Baylor Preview and Prediction

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Baylor looks to stay in the Big 12 title race

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas (23-3, 11-2) takes on Baylor (22-4, 9-4) at 12:00 on Saturday. The game is at the Ferrell Center and airs on CBS.

Kansas won the first matchup 72-67. Baylor led at halftime, but the Jayhawks rallied in the second half. To fully consider this contest, we’ll look at both sides of the ball and consider what’s relevant from the first game.

Defense

Baylor played decent defense in the first game. Kansas has the #6 KenPom offense. They average 1.21 points per possession. In the first game, they scored 1.09 points per possession. While it might seem nice that Baylor held Kansas under their season average, Baylor generally keeps teams well under their season average. The Bears have a good offense. They have a great defense. Baylor’s adjusted opponent average is .90 points per possession. In other words, Kansas scored a decent clip better than Baylor will traditionally allow.

The Bears played zone for most of the first game. The zone was effective in the first half. KU only scored 28 points in that half. But KU did well in the second half. The Jayhawks finished with 14 offensive rebounds. The Bear’s zone—like any zone—gives up offensive rebounding opportunities. Here, Dwight Coleby missed a second chance opportunity, but Kansas got plenty of second chance looks against Baylor because the zone leaves smaller Baylor players in a position where they have to box out against bigger players:

This might lead to the conclusion Baylor should play man-to-man. But Baylor’s hesitancy playing man-to-man stems from the assignments that creates. In man-to-man, one of Baylor’s big men is left defending Svi Mykhailiuk (Svi). Svi is a good 3-point shooter, which means a Baylor big man has to run around screens. That can tire Jonathan Motley or Jo Lual-Acuil. Additionally, having one of those two guard Svi means they either can’t offer help at the rim and on drives, which is pretty rough because of how good Josh Jackson, Devonte Graham, and Frank Mason are on dribble penetration, or it means giving Svi space. Motley left Svi some space in man-to-man, and his late recovery led to a Kansas 3-point make:

In my mind, Baylor is probably best switching defenses, but playing primarily man-to-man. Kansas can slide Josh Jackson to the middle of the floor in the zone. That gives Kansas space to operate, and it gives Kansas offensive rebounds and open 3-point looks. In man-to-man, Baylor can have Landen Lucas’ defender shade over and help, while also ensuring Baylor does not leave shooters open if the zone leads to the defense being pushed to one side. You pick the way Kansas can beat you. I’d rather make Svi drive, play off Josh Jackson from deep and ensure a big man can offer a ton of help off Kansas’ big man. That gamble can still get you beat. But I’d rather roll the dice with those odds.

Beyond any concerns about what defense to play, Baylor made two big mistakes in how they played. I framed these as cardinal sins in my preview of the first game. First, Baylor went under a Frank Mason screen:

Going under on Frank Mason is absolutely awful. Mason is shooting 51% from deep. He is 7th in the country. And he shoots a ton of threes. Kansas City Star beat writer Jesse Newell says it well:

The second cardinal sin Baylor committed was flying by Josh Jackson on a late contest. Jackson has improved his 3-point shooting and is now shooting 35% from the perimeter. That also seems to be a run of luck more than a run of skill. The reason you can’t fly by Jackson on closeouts is because he is so talented off the dribble. Jackson is a wonderful athlete, fierce competitor and smart basketball player. He cannot be given space to work. Jackson will be a top five pick in the NBA draft with a jump shot that offends the concept of jumping and shooting. By flying by Jackson on a pump fake, Baylor made a big mistake, which led to a Kansas dunk:

That weird HBO “Young Pope” show had its season finale, so hopefully Baylor doesn’t commit any cardinal sins now. It’s understandable Baylor will make a mistake or two on defense. But those two mistakes really are cardinal sins. They cannot be made against Kansas. Those plays led to five Kansas points. They might have scored otherwise. But they cannot be allowed to score that easily.

Offense

Baylor played well offensively, but there are a few spots they can improve. The Bears scored 1.01 points per possession in the first game. Kansas has the #36 KenPom defense, which is far lower than the usual Bill Self defense. The Bears need a better offensive performance this time.

Manu Lecomte had an excellent game. He had 16 points and shot 4-of-6 from deep. The Bears have started playing Lecomte off the ball more because he’s one of the best in the country at making spot up 3-point shots. Lecomte drilled looks like these against Kansas:

Al Freeman may also return for this game. He’s been suspended the last three games. David Smoak of ESPN 1660 reported Freeman has been practicing. Hopefully he can return and find Lecomte like he did in the first game:

Johnathan Motley was unstoppable in the first half. Kansas is bad at defending elite big men, so this was expected. Motley finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. But Motley only made one shot in the second half. KU worked to make anybody but Motley beat them.

In this one, Baylor will need to get Motley more shots. He’s too good, and KU’s interior defense is too bad to be comfortable with Motley attempting only 11 shots. He finished with 1.47 point per possession finished, according to Synergy. Even when he’s guarded, there’s a reason Motley is an All-American. He should have at least 15 shots in this one because he’ll make about anything:

Terry Maston is primed for a big game. Maston finished with 12 points in the first game. Kansas likes to hard hedge pick-and-rolls. That leaves an opportunity for Maston to slip screens and make jumpers.

Maston is coming off a career high 22 points against Texas Tech. Maston occasionally has a defensive lapse. Against Kansas State, he failed to come out on Dean Wade, and he didn’t play much after. If Maston is focused on the defensive end, he should earn a lot of time in this game. His fantastic mid-range game is tailored to take advantage of Kansas’ defense. And if Kansas keeps Svi on Ish Wainright, then the 3-4 pick-and-roll is a big opportunity to get Maston going:

Differences

Carlton Bragg did not play in the first game. He was suspended after entering a diversion agreement for possessing drug paraphernalia. Bragg has returned for the Jayhawks. But he’s had a disappointing season. Self may play more two big men lineups. If he does, Baylor should absolutely go man-to-man and be thrilled they have been given a gift. The Bears are not well positioned to defend Kansas’ four guard look. They are designed to crush traditional lineups.

Al Freeman could still be out. As I mentioned, he’s practicing now, and hopefully he will return. If he does not, I would expect Kansas to throw some full-court pressure at Baylor. The Jayhawks completed a miraculous comeback against West Virginia while applying full court pressure. If Kansas had one more guard, say Malik Newman was eligible this year, they would probably run that more and be the #1 team in the country. But with less depth than Self might prefer, they have been predominantly man-to-man and played some zone. Yet, Kansas showed how skilled they are when pressing. Baylor has had tough stretches dealing with the press. I think Kansas at least presses some.

Prediction

There is no game I would rather Baylor win. Since Baylor last beat Kansas in 2013, I have earned a degree from both Baylor and Kansas. It’s been a while since the Bears have beat the Jayhawks. And as a Kansas resident, I have to hear from a lot of Kansas fans when the games go against those of us that remind people neon is a great color.

I think Baylor finally grabs another win against Kansas. I expect Motley will shoot more, Wainright will make a few big defensive plays and somebody will get hot from 3-point range. I’ll take Baylor 76-72.