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Baylor-Kansas State: Preview and Prediction

Sic ‘Em!

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Baylor Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

With first place in the Big 12 on the line, Baylor (15-7, 6-3) takes on Kansas State (17-5, 7-2) at 5:00 on Saturday in Waco. The game airs on ESPN2.

The Wildcats have won their last seven Big 12 games. They’re 6-0 in Big 12 games with Dean Wade, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year.

Baylor needs a healthy Makai Mason. Scott Drew said after the Texas game that he hurt his foot earlier in the week during practice. If he’s not at full speed, this will be tough.

As always, we’ll preview playing offense against the opponent, then turn to defense. Finally, we’ll close with a prediction.

Offense:

The Wildcats sport the nation's No. 5 defense. Their good at everything—ranking in the top half nationally in all four factors (effective field goal percentage, rebounding, turnovers and foul rate).

Kansas State does an excellent job denying passes. Barry Brown was on the league’s all defense team last season. He will make life tough:

Baylor will probably counter that by looking to run back-door cuts. King McClure scored twice in the Baylor-West Virginia game doing that, and he got to the hoop against Texas Tech doing that:

Baylor’s most successful offense against last year’s Wildcats involved exploiting Kansas State’s pick-and-roll defense. The Wildcats like to tag the roller. In that alignment, the wing’s defender in the corner bumps down to stop a big man rolling to the hoop. That look prevents easy rolls to the hoop, and it lets the guard focus on the ball-handler. But it can open up 3-point shots, as the wing defender is prepared to bump the big man in the paint. Iowa State hit a three against that look, as Kamau Stokes was too far away to defend Tyreese Halliburton’s shot:

The Bears are fine overloading one side of the court to prevent additional help. They’ll need to do that on Saturday:

Mason desperately needs to be healthy. Devon Dotson is the league’s fastest guard, and Xavier Sneed—a 6-foot-6 wing—blocked his dreams. This isn’t an easy team to beat to the hoop:

Mason will need to get near the hoop, then finish some of his wild shots. The Bears will probably play Mark Vital in space and work in dribble hand-offs to pull Makol Mawien from the hoop, and then hope Mason can just get close the hoop. When he does, the Yale graduate works all angles:

Defense:

The Wildcats’ offense isn’t very good. They rank 167th in adjusted efficiency. But they rank fifth during Big 12 play in offense. That still isn’t wonderful, but the offense was a lot worse without Wade.

Barry Brown is an adept scorer. He’s been the Wildcats best player during their seven game Big 12 winning streak. His 3-point shot might hamper his NBA prospects, but his intensity, intelligence and athleticism will give him a chance:

Baylor should probably play zone for nearly all of this game. The Wildcats have two big men that can give Baylor’s smaller lineup trouble in one-on-one situations. The Wildcats aren’t much of a 3-point shooting team either—they’re 245th in 3-point percentage and 216th in percent of shots from deep. Baylor should hang back and dare the Wildcats to make shots.

The formula for beating Kansas State is either: 1) Have an insane offensive day or 2) Have Kansas State miss a ton of threes:

The Jayhawks went to a 2-3 zone, and they mounted a strong run. Kansas State figured some things out, but it threw the Wildcats into a frenzy. Maybe Kansas State was caught off guard, but a veteran team struggled to solve things:

Regardless of defense, Wade will be a challenge for Baylor. Kansas—in Baylor’s first game without Tristan Clark—worked a high-low game. The Wildcats don’t often put Wade in that offense, but most teams don’t play a lineup as small as Baylor’s. Kansas State will look to flash Wade into the middle of the zone, and they’ll have him pick-and-pop. If Baylor plays man-to-man, he’ll try and pound Mario Kegler and Vital before turning around over them. There are many reasons he was the conference’s preseason player of the year:

Cartier Diarra is the X-factor (though Xavier Sneed has an X name, so nothing really makes sense with Kansas’ streak possibly over). He hasn’t lived up to the hype this season. I still believe. Nicknamed Carti D. and a former trained dancer, he can handle the ball and make shots. His play against the zone is not a threat, it’s a warning. Be careful with him:

I’m fairly convinced Baylor shouldn’t play man-to-man at all. If Kansas State hits 12 threes, then congratulations on ending Kansas’ streak. Their big men will be difficult to handle without sending help, and their guards aren’t superb shooters. Sneed and company could make shots. That’s okay. Life is about living with risk. In this game, the risk Kansas State will make threes is the best one to take.

Prediction:

Maybe Kansas State is going to finally end the streak. They’re old, great on defense and have a one game lead in the standings. The Wildcats have quality size and exceptional defensive guards. They could limit Baylor’s ability to create and win with just a decent offensive performance.

Baylor’s at home and probably about as good as Kansas State. The Bears are one of the best teams at exploiting defenses that will give weak-side 3-point shots. Even losing to Texas, Baylor still scored 1.07 points per possession, which would still be good for the league’s second best offense during Big 12 play.

The Bears have the league’s best offense. They’re favored on KenPom and Torvik—each give the Bears better than 60% odds. I think Kansas State fails to hit enough threes and the Bears drain a few big shots. I’ll take Baylor 68-66.