As the Bears look to win their third straight game, Kansas (19-5, 8-3) takes on Baylor (14-10, 4-7) at 1:00 on Saturday. The game is in the Ferrell Center and airs on CBS.
Baylor has lost the last 11 games against Kansas. As I’ve had to mention too many times during this streak, I’ve graduated from Baylor and Kansas since the Bears last beat the Jayhawks. I dream of the day I can stop saying that.
Kansas knocked off Baylor 70-67 in Allen Fieldhouse. I wrote about the end of that game here.
As always, we’ll preview playing offense against the opponent, then turn to defense. Finally, we’ll close with a prediction.
Baylor scored just .97 points per possession (PPP) in the first game. But that number was hampered by a terrible start. The team started the game with two big men against Kansas’ usual four guard lineup. And Baylor seemed like they were done by the first T.V. timeout. Kansas raced out to a 16-3 lead. The Bears’ big lineup couldn’t space the floor:
Scott Drew elected to go small. It nearly led to victory. Baylor had better driving lanes and came alive in the second half, averaging 1.11 PPP; a very solid mark that would rank second in Big 12 adjusted offensive efficiency.
Since that game, both teams have played differently. Bill Self started Mitch Lightfoot against TCU because LaGerald Vick’s effort had been awful (Jesse Newell of the Kansas City Star has a wonderful look at that situation). Lightfoot’s had nice moments against TCU, but the Bears should look to put him in pick-and-rolls as much as possible. The Horned Frogs started that early and created pick-and-pop opportunities. Terry Maston has gone 14-of-16 from the field in the last two games. After breaking his hand against Xavier, he hadn’t been the same shooter. If Maston is back, this shot will be there:
The Jayhawks will likely play some zone because Baylor’s been anemic making threes. Even after making 15 triples against Oklahoma, Baylor ranks last in Big 12 play in 3-point percentage. Baylor also doesn't want to take too many deep shots—ranking just 299th nationally in percentage of shots taken from beyond the arc.
Baylor needs to crash the glass, especially when Kansas plays zone. The Jayhawks rank 272nd in defensive rebounding rate and have allowed an offensive rebound on 36% of opponent misses during Big 12 play, which is the worst mark in the league. Baylor ranks 24th nationally and second during Big 12 play in offensive rebounding rate. Oklahoma State rebounded 47% of their missed shots against Kansas. Vick just doesn’t give any effort below, and that’s a constant problem for Kansas. He might be awakened by Self taking him out of the starting lineup for the TCU game, but bad habits eventually just become something bad about you:
Manu Lecomte needs a big game from the perimeter. Starting with the Oklahoma game, Baylor has played Lecomte off the ball more by having Jake Lindsey start and handle the ball, and by giving King McClure more point guard responsibilities. The Bears ran a ton of floppy against Oklahoma State to try to free Lecomte. He did well against Oklahoma too. Graham has played every minute of the last seven Kansas games. The Bears should make that man keep up with Lecomte:
The Bears might look to run a few Spain pick-and-rolls. Lecomte does a nice job bumping Udoka Azubuike, and he gets wide open from deep. This set is a nice way to either force Azubuike to switch or to get an alley-oop or open three:
Another set to watch for is Baylor’s high horns set. The Bears have their big men set the screens at a different angle than Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys achieve the same result: slip a man to the hoop and force a defender to decide if he wants to help on the big man near the hoop, or if he wants to leave a shooter open in the corner. Marcus Garrett decides to help, and the Cowboys make an open three:
A final offensive play to focus on is Baylor’s 3-point looks out of the awesome play. That set is their rip action play. Baylor’s first option on that play is a pass to a big man who receives a screen from a guard under the basket. The second option is for the guard—who sets the screen for the big—coming off a screen near the nail. And if that fails, the Bears will run the original ball handler off two screens. Given the Jayhawks’ problems running off screens (and this is especially a problem between Graham and Vick), Baylor will run this at least a few times:
That’s the play Baylor ran when McClure ended up not getting the call on a late attempt against Azubuike. Whether he went straight up is debatable (I say no, but some folks say yes). But the point of that play is that it can forces defenses to scramble and either get an open three, a layup under the hoop or a driving lane while defenders recover around off-ball screens.
Malik Newman and Garrett will likely defend Lecomte quite a bit. Lecomte can struggle with bigger defenders, but Vick couldn’t defend him. Twice near the end of the game Lecomte blew past Vick. He missed one of those looks, but the Jayhawks can’t feel too confident that Vick can keep Lecomte in front of him, and he’s so good near the free throw line:
We can talk scheme all day, but the Bears are going to have to make shots. They can’t go 4-of-20 from three and win this game. If Baylor shoots like they did against Oklahoma, they should win this game. If they shoot like they did in Lawrence or at home against TCU, then the losing streak against Kansas will reach twelve.
Baylor started the game in Lawrence big and in zone. Kansas ruined any hope that could stop them. The Jayhawks made their first three triples because the Bears were killed schematically and athletically in zone:
Baylor tried to play man-to-man with the two big man lineup. That didn’t go well either. Newman had a career day with 24 points on 3-of-4 shooting from beyond arc. But he’s too fast to draw Lual-Acuil on the perimeter. With two big men, the Bears were left with a disastrous decision every possession:
In response, the Bears went small for the rest of the game. And the defense played well. Kansas finished the game at just 1.01 PPP. That’s tied for Kansas’ lowest mark in Big 12 play.
The Bears did a nice job daring Garrett and Lightfoot to beat them. Garrett’s hit some threes recently, but he’s a terrible free throw shooter and extremely hesitant to shoot. Lightfoot can hit some jumpers and is a good rebounder. But against a top 15 KenPom offense, this is about as great a defensive possession as a team can have:
If Baylor stays small, they should have no problem fouling Azubuike non-stop. He went 4-of-11 from the free throw line against Baylor. The man is a 42% free throw shooter. If Baylor only needs about 50 minutes from their big men, then they can just hammer Azubuike and bet that he won’t hit many shots.
Once again, the cardinal sin—and it’s a horrific sin, hence the cardinal for anyone confused after HBO cancelled “Young Pope”—is providing help off KU’s 3-point shooters. The Jayhawks take 41% of their shots from deep and are 18th nationally in 3-point percentage. Graham has hit 43% of his 169 attempts. May God excuse this kind of decision. I can’t:
Baylor switched a lot of Kansas’ pick-and-rolls and dribble hand-offs in Allen Fieldhouse. I’d prefer they stick with that, when small. Kansas is excellent at getting lob plays and 3-point shots when the defense ices and weaks. They’re also quick at turning the corner against teams that hard hedge, and Graham is adept at finding guys if the defense can’t recover. The Bears were substantially better hard hedging against Iowa State, but the problems they had against Oklahoma make me nervous to try and hard hedge against Kansas:
The Bears’ defensive goal should be to limit Kansas to no more than 20 3-point shots and keep Azubuike from getting more than 10 points off layups and dunks. Those are difficult tasks, but I’d prefer to give up a little bit on offense to run Kansas off the perimeter and be ready to hack Azubuike. He can’t get too many lobs:
The Jayhawks are capable of getting stupidly hot from three. Svi Mykhailiuk went 15-of-30 over a three game stretch before going just 2-of-10 from deep the last two games. I’d expect Self to draw up a few looks for him early. Newman ended the Bears’ hope of winning in Allen Fieldhouse, and Graham is superb. Vick hasn’t made more than two 3-point shots in 2018, but he did that five times in non-conference. Better to gamble the Jayhawks won’t make semi-contested twos than threes.
Kansas’ big lineup may crash the glass, so Baylor needs to be especially alert. Giving up an offensive rebound to Lightfoot because someone doesn’t box out well is catastrophic. This should be a tough battle. Don’t make it tougher:
After 11 straight losses to Kansas, it seems pretty crazy to pick Baylor to win this game. The Jayhawks are a top 15 KenPom team that can rain threes. They have bad moments, but this team still should add another Big 12 title.
KenPom gives Baylor a 45% chance to win and has KU winning by a point. That seems like a reasonable prediction for this game.
But I’m predicting a Baylor victory. Lecomte seems a lot more confident getting more time off the ball, and the Bears’ defense has been better with more minutes as a small ball team. I think Kansas doesn’t beat Baylor by much from beyond the arc, and the Bears do well on the offensive glass and attack the hoop well. I’ll take Baylor 70-65.
Season Prediction Record: 20-4
Record Against the Spread: 9-7