Broadcast info: ESPN2 at 5pm CT.
As everyone expected heading into conference play, tonight’s game features the two leaders in the Big XII Conference standings. The Kansas State Wildcats (17-5, 7-2) are on a seven-game conference winning streak and stand alone in first place. Your Baylor Bears (15-7, 6-3), meanwhile, have won seven of their last 8 games. Kansas State’s streak has a couple of more impressive victories with wins over Kansas at home and Iowa State in Ames, but Baylor has its own win over Texas Tech in Waco and several dominating road wins over lesser conference opponents to boast. Both of these teams are currently riding high and hope to finish in the top half of the standings.
Kansas State, though unranked, has proven itself to be a Tournament team, particularly with star forward Dean Wade back in the lineup after missing early season games with injury. The Big XII preseason player of the year is the exact sort of player the Bears struggle to contain. He’s a skilled big man comfortable working from the elbows and shooting from the soft spots in the zone. Baylor doesn’t have anyone who matches up well with Wade. Mario Kegler will likely pull the assignment, but he will likely struggle to contain Wade’s advanced face-up game. Other than Kegler, Baylor’s other defenders lack either the size, quickness, or savvy to contain him.
Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes are tough-minded guards, and Brown certainly isn’t afraid of big moments in games. The best approach for Baylor is to let those two shoot from deep. Stokes and Xavier Sneed are both 34% 3-point shooters, but Brown is down to 30% on the season. With K-State shooting only 32.8% on the season, Scott Drew can increase his team’s odds of winning if he encourages Bruce Weber’s guards to take shots away from Wade.
With reports that Makai Mason being a game time decision due to a foot injury, Drew might have to try a few tricks to boost his team’s chances. Packing the paint to limit K-State inside is one of those options. Another, more creative option may be to implement something like a box-and-one defense, in which 4 defenders play zone while the fifth defender sticks to his man. Baylor used this scheme a few years ago to lock down Georges Niang for a win in Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum. Sticking a rabid defender like Mark Vital on Wade while the rest of the team zones up could be an effective curveball if Baylor needs late game stops.
Mason’s presence will mostly be felt on the other end of the floor. Baylor’s offense has been diverse recently, but Mason is the team’s best late clock creator. Jared Butler and King McClure will need to be on point if Mason is out. Butler, especially, will bear a heavier responsibility. Kegler will need to be efficient when he gets an inside touch or the chance to bully his way to the rim.
Expect a low scoring affair, especially if Mason isn’t playing. Baylor will want to ugly this game up. Let’s say it’s something in the range of Baylor 64 - Kansas State 61 if Baylor’s game plan shakes out. If the Wildcats get hot from three, this is an 8-12 point loss for the Bears, even at home.