UPDATE: Sophomore forward Tristan Clark out for season with knee surgery. Adjust your reading of this short preview (and expectations for the season) accordingly.
The Bears’ win against Iowa State Tuesday was potentially huge for their postseason aspirations. This afternoon’s matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks is bigger, still. You can catch this game at 3pm CT on ESPN.
The odds are against it (Kansas is a 3.5 point road favorite), but if Baylor can manage to defend home court against the presumptive conference winner and a top 10 team, it will go a long way in making up for poor non-conference loses earlier in the season.
As always, Makai Mason and Tristan Clark will be the key players for the Bears. Clark provides the steady, reliable production needed throughout the game, while Makai is the closer. If Baylor manages to keep the game close down the stretch, the ball will be in Mason’s hands.
As for the rest of the team, Mark Vital and King McClure will be relied on to make the little things happen: rebounds, steals, and transition scoring. Neither Vital nor McClure have been particularly dynamic this season, but they are average to above average across the board (excepting Vital’s shooting, of course), making them functional support players around a hub like Clark. The more players like Mario Kegler and Devonte Bandoo can mold themselves into similar pieces, the more substantial a threat Baylor will pose in the conference. Jared Butler is already well on his way there, and Matt Mayer just needs to eliminate 4 bad shot attempts a game to be there, too. (It tells you about a lot about this team that I can’t hardly write a paragraph about it without thinking about next season.)
Dedric Lawson is Kansas’ go-to player, but the dynamic guard play of Quintin Grimes, Devon Dotson, and Legerald Vick will pose problems for Baylor on the perimeter. Scott Drew does not have an overwhelming amount of athleticism in his backcourt, which means the zone will be essential to stopping dribble penetration this game. What out for possessions where Baylor commits live ball turnovers for when Kansas gets a long defensive rebound. At times, Drew has his team go into man defense in transition and semi-transition, which will be the moments for Kansas to attack. If Baylor is disciplined about getting back on defense early to set up the zone, they stand a chance of holding the Jayhawk offense down. If the Bears can ugly this game up, they stand a chance.