We were pleased to interact with Andy Mitts of our sister site Rock Chalk Talk, Kansas' SB Nation site, to get his thoughts on tonight's matchup between the Bears and the Jayhawks. We talked shootyhoops and mixed in a little BBQ. No Perry Ellis old jokes to be found here (yet).
1. Kansas has turned into its usual sith lord self and is headed towards what would be a 12th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship. What's been the biggest key for KU's run over the last month?
RCT: I think you mean "Sith Lord Self", and therein lies your answer.
Seriously though, the answer is a combination of the emergence of Landen Lucas and Devonte' Graham. Frank Mason and Wayne Selden have been slumping something fierce over the last month and a half, but Landen Lucas has gone from being an offensive weapon and defensive liability to a complete player in a starting position. Graham has gone from being a solid backup at PG to a lock-down defender that can contribute even if his shooting game is off (like we saw at Kansas State on Saturday).
We've also seen the main advantage that Kansas had coming into the season manifesting itself. The depth of this Kansas team was supposed to be the main asset. Perry Ellis, Mason and Selden as the main players were considered a good lineup, but with no "elite" or "go-to" guys, Kansas was expected to be challenged by the teams with those elite players. But we've come to see that the conference is so good that the teams that were top-heavy have worn down as the grind of the season has continued, causing many teams to falter against the unrelenting competition.
2. How is the fanbase feeling about KU's tournament prospects this year? The Jayhawks should be in line for another #1 seed if they can close out the conference title.
RCT: Depth here is a strength in a conference grind, but the real concern is that the collection of good and great players can't match up in a one-off basis with a hot team with an elite star. Luckily for the Jayhawks, the development of so many of their role players throughout the year has given them multiple places to turn to, and has made game-planning difficult. Add in the fact that Perry Ellis is turning in a bona fide elite performance this year (we have an excellent fanpost showing this that just published recently) and Kansas looks to be a dangerous team come tournament time. This team will be battle tested too, and hopefully that depth will keep too much fatigue when the tournament actually rolls around.
3. Baylor has played its best basketball of the season over the last week, led by reigning Big 12 Player of the Week Johnathan Motley. What will the Jayhawks plan to do defensively to slow his roll?
RCT: His name is Landen Lucas. If this game had happened two weeks ago, I would have been concerned that we didn't have anyone inside that could go toe-to-toe with Motley without being a liability on the offense. But the development of Lucas' defense gives me hope that we will at least have someone who can force difficult shots and keep Motley from having his way inside. Jamari Traylor can still be an asset in case Lucas starts to get into foul trouble, and Carlton Bragg adds more depth in a pinch.
But the main weapon will be to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible. The KU guards have shown talent to close out passing lanes and rotate effectively, denying many opportunities for the opponent to get their big men big points. I'm expecting Graham and Mason (and Selden to a degree) to disrupt the guards and Lucas and Traylor to throw off the timing when the ball does get inside.
4. For those who will be making their way to KC for the Big 12 Tournament in a couple weeks, what is the one place that I need to go to get BBQ?
RCT: This is the subject of much debate, and I don't know that there is a definite answer. Unfortunately, I don't live in KC anymore, so my intel is a big dated, but you can't go wrong with Joes Kansas City (formerly Oklahoma Joe's). That Z-Man is famous for a reason. (FANK SIDENOTE: Can confirm. The Z-Man is spectacular.)
5. Who you got tonight? Should be a great game between two top 20 teams building momentum towards the NCAA Tournament.
RCT: I'm loathe to pick against my Jayhawks, and the way they are playing I'm having a hard time seeing them lose, but Baylor is riding high from some big wins, and I'm still remembering all the times we got punked against Baylor teams that weren't nearly this talented. It's going to be a back and forth affair, but I'll pick Kansas to edge it out after coming back from double digits early in the 2nd half.
Thanks to Andy for taking time out of his day to answer us. Look for my responses to his questions over on Rock Chalk Talk prior to the game. And get yourself to the Ferrell Center tonight to help give us a huge home court advantage and make sure Andy gets his pick wrong! #SicEm