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Baylor-Kansas: Preview and Prediction

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Baylor looks for their first win in Allen Filedhouse

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

No. 4 Baylor (12-1, 2-0) takes on No. 3 Kansas (12-2, 2-0) at noon tomorrow at Allen Fieldhouse. The game airs on CBS.

Kansas is a 78% favorite on KenPom. They’re favored by eight.

This is different than most Baylor-Kansas games. The Bears have much better guards than usual. While Tristan Clark works his way back from injury, Kansas has a better frontcourt. Baylor hasn’t played much zone; Kansas hasn’t hedged many pick-and-rolls.

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

Offense:

Jared Butler dropped 31 points at Allen Fieldhouse last year. That was the most by any visiting player. He’ll have plenty of 3-point opportunities, as Kansas designs their defense to overload against the strong side (the side where the ball is). The Jayhawks refuse to surrender easy buckets near the hoop. They’ll give up threes:

The Jayhawks are incredibly athletic on defense, especially with Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett. Garrett and Davion Mitchell are by far the league’s best defensive guards (though Garrett plays enough positions that can be classified at multiple positions). Agbaji is an athletic freak, and Baylor’s going to have a difficult time scoring at the rim when even he can block shots:

Bill Self has switched Kansas’ defense to icing pick-and-rolls. In that alignment, Kansas wants to force the ball along the baseline. They don’t want the ball getting to the middle of the floor. They rarely hedge ball screens, which was their old favorite defense.

Kansas’ pick-and-roll defense, much like their base defense, will give up threes. They’ll sell out to stop layups and dunks:

The Bears’ best bet is to just embrace what Kansas gives. Against Syracuse last year in the NCAA Tournament, Baylor attempted a three on 57% of their shots. They should be willing to get radical from deep again. Winning in Allen Filedhouse is nearly impossible. Baylor has never done that. They might have a plan to cut against Kansas’ two big lineups, or a plan where they think they can get Butler or Mitchell switched onto Azubuike. But I don’t see that happening much.

Instead, Baylor should embrace that they’ll have some open threes and take them. Butler and Devonte Bandoo were the only guys that made shots last year. With another year, and a better team, they should roll the dice that they can make shots in a single game.

Defense:

Kansas starts two big men, but they usually revert to playing smaller lineups. Christian Braun, a freshman from Kansas, played the entire second half of the West Virginia game.

The Jayhawks love to run high-low actions for Azubuike. They’re goal is to get the correct angle, and then have Azubuike ready to go up for an easy layup or dunk.

When Azubuike is not doubled, he’s a menace in the post. The Jayhawks worked the paint in the final of the Maui Invitational to knock off a very good Dayton squad:

Self’s squad also gets quite a few alley-oops. With Devon Dotson’s speed, he draws extra attention. That makes it tough to defend him and guard KU’s bigs.

Azubuike is a threat for an easy dunk from anyone. He leads the nation in 2-point percentage at 79.2%, and Garrett finds him too:

Baylor’s probably going to start in man-to-man. The Bears have the country’s eighth best defense, and they’ve done that by playing almost exclusively man-to-man. I’d expect Baylor to double Azubuike immediately on catches. Freddie Gillespie will probably front him, and then Vital will try to offer a second path of resistance.

The Bears’ will likely play a bit of zone. They worked that well in the second half of their victory against Villanova, and Kansas tends to get better at exploiting defenses as the game progresses. The zone is a nice change. It also allows Baylor to ignore Garrett and gamble he can’t make threes. If he does, the Jayhawks are nearly unbeatable. He’s hit 35% of his threes this season, but he’s only fired 23. He made just 25% and 27% the last two years.

Prediction:

Baylor’s had the misfortune of their four best teams falling on years that Kansas is at their best. In 2010, Kansas was the No. 1 overall seed. In 2012, Kansas made the national title game. In 2017, Kansas was the No. 2 overall seed. And in 2020, Kansas is ranked No. 2 on KenPom.

The Bears can win this game if they have a very nice shooting day. Maybe they can ugly this one up and do it—that was good enough to beat a quality Texas Tech team in Lubbock earlier in the week—but I think they have to shoot well from deep to get the victory. Kansas will give up those shots, and if Baylor shots like they did against Villanova, they can do this.

Predicting anyone wins in Allen Fieldhouse is difficult though. The Jayhawks went 3-6 in Big 12 road games last year, but they won all their home games. I think Baylor wins the return game, but I’ll say Kansas 58-53.