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Kansas at Baylor: Preview and Prediction

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Baylor looks for 24 straight

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

No. 1 Baylor (24-1, 13-0) takes on No. 3 Kansas (23-3, 12-1) at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday in Waco. The game airs on ESPN.

If you need tickets, they’re here on StubHub.

Baylor won the first meeting 67-55. Both teams have changed since that meeting with Kansas scrapping any two big lineups and Baylor playing a lot of four guard looks too.

The Bears are a one point favorite on KenPom. They’re favored by two on Torvik.

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

Offense:

Baylor scored 1.08 points per possession in the first game. That’s higher than anyone but Texas Tech scored on the Jayhawks this season.

Everything starts with Jared Butler. He’s scored 53 points in his last two games against Kansas, both in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks will either have to put Marcus Garrett on him or start shading some of their defense to stop this man:

Garrett has been one of the nation’s best defenders. After trailing for most of their game in Morgantown, he broke the Mountaineers, swiping steal-after-steal to end the game. Butler is better than anyone for West Virginia though. He ended up working Garrett, including getting him to go under a screen for a big triple:

Kansas might think that Butler is due for a bad game though. He’s had some clunkers in Big 12 play, but he’s so capable of scoring. Does Kansas really want to roll the dice again knowing what Butler’s done to them?

The Jayhawks ice pick-and-rolls on the side (try to force the ball handler toward the baseline or away from the middle), which is what Baylor does too. Both teams are willing to switch those screens as well. Kansas will look back at the first game and think that the Bears hit a few too many tough shots. They’ll play the same defense and gamble that MaCio Teague—if he can even play—wont’ do this enough times:

The Bears will likely run a lot of their veer looks. That play worked in Lawrence, and it’s been a staple of the offense. Butler’s gotten a host of open threes in that set. And when teams ignore Mark Vital—a common occurrence—he can find guys on cuts:

Kansas needs to figure out what they’re going to do with Freddie Gillespie. He’s undervalued and a quality 2-point shooter. He finished with 13 points in Lawrence. He told me earlier in the season that he developed the midrange jumper because he thought it would help him getting playing time. He’s hit 50% of those shots, per hoop-math, which makes them a valuable tool. If Kansas gets too transfixed on Butler, then Gillespie will have chances:

The Jayhawks make it nearly impossible to score inside. They’re one of the country’s best shot blocking teams. Udoka Azubuike ranks 18th nationally in block rate. Baylor ranks second worst nationally in percent of shots blocked. The Bears don’t want to drive at him. But when they clear out, they can score at the rim:

Another set Kansas has to deal with is Baylor’s rip action play. The Bears dealt with Azubuike’s strength by wearing him out during the game. By the end of the contest, he couldn’t handle Gillespie on an island. Kansas will likely want to get much more offensively from him this game, so he’s probably going to be fatigued again on defense. If that’s the case, the Jayhawks will probably focus more on pressuring the ball to prevent Gillespie from having a chance near the hoop this time:

Bill Self might just figure they’re better than they were that first game in January and don’t need to change much. Baylor went 8-of-21 from three and made some tough 2-point shots. Even if Butler gets going, the Bears might not be able to make enough shots. With Self abandoning their two big lineups, Kansas may not fall behind 9-3 this time. In a closer game, Garrett might come up with a few steals, find Devon Dotson in transition and pull away from the Bears.

Baylor has new counters too. If Teague can go, they’ll likely play the Fival—Mark Vital at the five/center for some stretches. They’ve closed with four guards and Gillespie or Vital in a ton of games. That spacing will give the Jayhawks some issues and will also allow Baylor to park a guard on the wing to take Garrett out of defensive plays. He won’t be able to leave a quality shooter, and Baylor will feel confident they can win a 4 on 4 game on the other end of the court.

Matt Mayer has also played much better and in control since the original game. He scored 13 points in just 17 minutes against West Virginia. If Baylor needs a spark, he’s ready.

The Jayhawks have an exceptional defense. They stymied Baylor’s offensive rebounding, and that’s something I expect they’ll do again. Baylor’s going to focus more on getting a quality first look than worrying about their odds at a second look. Kansas is also too good in transition to have everyone sell out for a second chance; Baylor will need to make their first attempts count.

Defense:

Kansas scored .89 points per possession in the first game. They’ll look at the first game and think they have several spots to improve.

First, Dotson had a hip pointer in game one. He played 28 minutes, but his skill is speed in transition. If he’s healthier, he might change the calculus for Baylor. The Bears already messed up one play in transition, finding a worse shooting Marcus Garrett to leave a better shooting Isaiah Moss open:

Second, Kansas missed quite a few threes. Baylor’s “no middle” defense doesn’t give up that many threes, but Kansas went just 4-of-15 from beyond the arc. The Bears effectively contested late, but that’s still a low percentage for Kansas, and they had some okay looks.

Baylor can argue they botched a few defensive plays. The Bears should have switched this screen. They’re much better at not making these kind of mistakes now:

Third, Kansas has to think they can get Udoka Azubuike the ball more. He leads the nation in field goal percentage. Kansas likes to run high-low looks for him and get him dunks. They couldn’t find him most of the first meeting. Baylor elected to front him and have a guy lurking for a tough double team. But maybe they’ll let Garrett run some plays for him. He’s been adept at finding him on lobs:

Baylor crushed Kansas’ attempts to get the ball low though. Mitchell and Vital were too much, and Gillespie wasn’t afraid of anyone:

This probably comes down to Kansas needing to make some threes to keep Baylor from roving a defender. Garrett went 6-of-9 from three against Oklahoma. If he can do that in Waco, then Kansas is going to win the game. Dotson went 6-of-8 from three against Iowa State on Monday. Again, if that happens, Kansas is going to win this game. But those dudes are very unlikely to make six threes against Baylor. The issue is whether they can combine for five or six. That would put enormous pressure on Baylor to shift their defense.

Maybe Baylor will break out a zone for a few possession in this one. Baylor’s played almost no zone this season, and Baylor has the nation’s No. 3 KenPom defense, No. 2 Torvik defense and No. 1 defense during Big 12 play. It’s weird to elect to play something different. But Kansas is such a tough team that throwing a zone out for a few minutes might slow a Kansas run. I’d roll with the normal defense until Kansas started going on a run with the lead, but Kansas is good enough to require a changeup.

Prediction:

Kansas will argue they’re a lot better than they were in January. Baylor is too. The Bears were ranked No. 9 on KenPom when they won that game. They’re No. 2 today and have won 23 straight games—the longest streak ever for the 270 teams that have played a season of Big 12 basketball.

If Teague can go, Baylor has too many guards for Kansas. Even with their smaller lineup, Baylor’s ability to go small late will give Kansas trouble.

Maybe Self figures out a way to get Azubuike the ball and overwhelm Baylor’s frontline. Maybe Ochai Agbaji goes insane from three.

I have degrees from both Baylor and Kansas, and I try to remain objective when picking this game (even though I am a far bigger fan of Baylor than Kansas). I thought Kansas would win the game in Lawrence. But Baylor’s defense has been so great at stopping big men that Kansas needs to show they can score inside against Baylor.

I haven’t been to the Ferrell Center since Baylor beat Kansas in 2013 (living in Kansas City makes getting to Waco difficult). I think that I’ll see another Baylor win over Kansas in Waco on Saturday. The Bears will be ready and hit enough shots. These teams might end up playing again in Kansas City and in Atlanta, but in Waco, Butler has another run and Gillespie hits a few jumpers. I’ll take Baylor 66-62.