For all of Jayhawk Nation that reads my articles, thank you. And I will start this article exactly how any Kansas fan would like me to. Kansas University beat the University of Texas in football this year in Austin. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s shift to basketball.
I would venture to say that this is the most anticipated and question mark game so far this season for the Bears. Baylor is hitting the road to go to one of the toughest places to play in college basketball history with something to prove.
I am diesel fuel gassed up for this game and cautiously optimistic. No matter what the scenario, Drew always has the boys buzzin and ready to rumble in difficult situations. This recent and upcoming stretch would classify as difficult. Please make ZERO plans Saturday afternoon and strap in for what will be a better game than most people think. I canceled my tee time, so you can skip an afternoon hang out with your significant other’s family.
Just a reminder we have waxed Kansas in Phog Allen before, we can do it again.
Setting the Scene
The Who: #8 Baylor MBB x #10 Kansas MBB
The What: Straight flames Top 10 matchup
The Where: Phog Allen
The When: Saturday 2/5 3:00 PM CT on ESPN
The Why: Bears out to prove the Big 12 doesn’t run through Lawrence, Kansas and 2020/2021 wasn’t a flash in the pan
How We Got Here
As we are all very aware, Baylor has not been playing up to their potential. This is due largely in part to injuries resulting in a lack of lineup consistency. The Bears had a head scratching loss at Alabama where the defense looked as disconnected as ever under Scott Drew (maybe an overreaction but you get my point). The boys then followed that up with a gutty win at home against West Virginia without Cryer and Flagler.
Kansas has also had ups and downs this season. Kansas got molly rocked by Kentucky at home in the most embarrassing loss under Bill “Cry Baby” Self. The Jayhawks then followed it up with an impressive win in Ames without Ochai Agbaji, who will probably be the player of the year.
Kansas sits atop the Big 12, 7-1 in conference play, and a half game ahead of Baylor. Kansas only has three losses on the year. A buzzer beater loss to Dayton (wut), a loss on the road to Texas Tech, and the aforementioned clapping by Kentucky last weekend.
Here’s what to expect from the Jayhawks.
Kansas Eye Test
Before we dive into specifics I want everyone to know where I stand on this game after watching some tape. I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen. I keep going back and forth thinking either team could win this by double digits, or it could be close, shootout or defensive slugfest, who knows? But one thing I do know, Kansas is talented and Phog Allen is a painful place to play.
We’ve all been here before so you’re familiar with my approach to forming expert overreactions. I have watched highlights from games that interested me on the Kansas schedule against a few Top 50 KenPom opponents. Here’s what I see from Kansas after watching tape from five of their games; two against Texas Tech, two against Iowa State, and the clash with Kentucky.
Let’s start by being very honest, Kansas is elite at pretty much everything. Bill Self schemes this offense extremely well to take advantage of what the Jayhawks do best, and minimize places they struggle. In layman’s terms, Bill Self is a good coach.
Kansas is 20th in the country in scoring at 80 PPG, and 32nd in assists at 16.3 APG. The Jayhawk offense runs primarily through two guys, Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun. Agbaji and Braun are the only two Kansas players who average double digits. So Self has gotten extremely creative to play to their strengths.
The first thing that jumps out to me when watching Kansas’ offense is how great they pass the ball. Kansas passes the ball quickly, finding players almost immediately after they come off screens. This is often the case for Agbaji and Braun. The Jayhawks take advantage of skip passes to flip the court and find open men for corner threes.
Kansas is elite in finishing at the rim. On any given possession, any of Kansas’ players can score efficiently inside. The Jayhawks have a talented big in David McCormack who is as strong of a finisher in the post as you’ll see in the country. The Kansas guards get to the paint and finish at the rim in traffic at a high level.
Kansas does a great job getting defenders off balance. The Jayhawks use an astronomical amount of ball fakes. Either on a pass or a shot you can count on Kansas pumping, so for goodness sake we need the Bears to close out and defend under control.
Kansas will always turn down a good shot for a great one. Basically no matter what their opponent runs, the Jayhawks have the potential to decimate defenses with jumpers and layups. Sweet, off to a good start.
The Jayhawks defense is not elite. Kansas is in the middle of the road in points allowed per game and opponent field goal percentage. The reality is that Kansas doesn’t have to be some defensive juggernaut because the offense is so good.
But, there are moments where Kansas’ defense can be flat out stifling. An example of this was when the Jayhawks held the Red Raiders scoreless in the last three minutes of their double overtime win at home against Texas Tech. Now this is a small sample size, but the fact of the matter is that Kansas defends their butts off when it matters most.
The Jayhawks will switch almost every ball screen, with the exception of when McCormack’s man is the screener. This has a similar effect that we see from Baylor’s defense, Kansas’ switching makes it extremely difficult for ball handlers to create space. Kansas defends the ball with high energy and does so while limiting fouls.
Kansas’ off ball defenders chase their man all around the court and don’t give up any easy passes. The Jayhawks play defense with their hands up to eliminate or jump passing lanes. The downside of the aggressive off ball defense for the Jayhawks is that opponents can often beat them on back door cuts.
Kansas isn’t a great defensive rebounding team, again really just middle of the road. A place that Kansas’ opponents can try to take advantage of the Jayhawks is on the offensive glass. In Kansas’ three losses, they lost the rebounding battle.
Kansas Players to Watch
#30 Ochai Agbaji – Guard
Ochai Agbaji is a 6’ 5” Senior guard, and like we mentioned, probably the best player in the country. Agbaji is averaging 20.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, and 1.5 APG on 51.5% shooting. Agbaji can score the basketball from anywhere on the floor, especially from deep, he shoots 46.4% from three.
Agbaji can do it all for the Jayhawks, it’s not really a question of stopping him offensively. The Bears probably need to enter the game knowing that Agbaji will get his, the best case scenario is limiting his production.
Agbaji is a solid defender. He has filled out his build in his four years at Kansas and his length causes all sorts of issues for whoever he is matched up on.
The really odd thing with Agbaji is he isn’t a great free throw shooter, 69.6% from the stripe. This is something to keep an eye on down the stretch if the game is close.
#2 Christian Braun – Guard
Slight rant incoming. Christian Braun is a 6’ 6” Junior guard, and easily my least favorite and the most annoying player Jayhawk. I have already come to grips with the fact that I will be shouting at my television Saturday because of Christian Braun. Also he pronounces his name ‘Brown’ how dumb is that. Hooked on Phonics, ever heard of it Christian? Total slap.
Back to basketball, Braun is the second option for the Jayhawks offensively and is a well rounded combo guard. He averages 15.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 3.2 APG. Braun is second on the team in steals at 1.2 SPG and somehow leads the Jayhawks in blocks with 1.1 BPG.
Braun is incredibly talented and if he was in your team’s jersey you would love everything about him. But, because he isn’t in the green and gold he is increasingly irritating to play against.
Braun cuts with purpose, gets to and finishes at the rim, and is an incredible passer. He makes some of the most difficult passes look routine. Braun does however sometimes force the issue offensively and leads Kansas with 2.2 turnovers per game.
#33 David McCormack – Forward
David McCormack is a 6’ 10” Senior forward and is one of the best big men in the country. McCormack averages 9.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 1.0 BPG. McCormack is a force on both ends of the floor.
Offensively McCormack sets great screens, freeing up the talented Kansas guards. He rolls and pops off screens at a high level. McCormack isn’t a deep threat, but you have to respect him as a shooter in the midrange. McCormack is ultra efficient, and is fresh off of a 14 point and 14 rebound game against Iowa State. By the way in that game he shot 100% from the field, pretty good.
On defense McCormack is a beast inside. He does a great job of taking up space down low and eliminating looks to the basket. McCormack is in great shape, moves his feet well, and can match up with any other post player in the country.
#3 Dajuan Harris Jr. – Guard
Dajuan Harris Jr. is a 6’ 1” Sophomore guard. Harris is the primary point guard for the Jayhawks. He played in 30 of Kansas’ games last year as a Freshman, and has stepped into a starting role as a Sophomore. Harris leads the Jayhawks in assists with 3.9 APG and steals with 1.5 SPG to go with 5.6 PPG.
Harris sees the floor very well, and creates for his teammates on almost every possession. He is probably the best passer on the Jayhawks and is relied upon to set up the offensive sets for Agbaji and Braun.
Harris doesn’t pose a huge threat from three, and does most of his scoring inside the arc. In each of Kansas’ games I’ve watched Harris has gone to his signature drive where he starts left, cuts across the paint to his right hand, and throws up this high finger roll of the glass. If he does this Saturday, I told you so.
#10 Jalen Wilson – Forward
Jalen Wilson is a 6’ 8” Sophomore forward. Wilson is a great athlete and is a true ‘slasher’ forward. He catches the ball and immediately looks to get downhill. If we can enter the trust tree, Wilson plays with the aggression I wish we saw from Kendall Brown, but I digress.
Wilson leads the Jayhawks in rebounding with 6.8 RPG; and is one of the Jayhawks more consistent offensive threats, third on the team in scoring at 9.1 PPG. Wilson is a great transition player and gets out running in a hurry off of a defensive stop.
Defensively, Wilson is a headache for whoever he is guarding. His athleticism and size give matchup issues all over the court. Wilson effectively switches and can guard all five positions.
#11 Remy Martin – Guard
Remi Martin is a 6’ 0” fifth year Senior guard, but this is his first year at Kansas. Martin spent his first four college seasons at Arizona State. He has been a solid contributor serving in the backup point guard role for the Jayhawks this year.
Martin averages 8.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 2.9 APG. He is an efficient three point shooter, making the most of his opportunities off the bench, Martin shoots 36.4% from deep.
#55 Jalen Coleman-Lands – Guard
Jalen Coleman-Lands is a 6’ 4” Senior guard, and is really only mentioned here because he is their best three point shooter off the bench. I thought about not mentioning him, but if he torches us I want all of you to know who he is.
He only plays about 10 minutes per game, but if for some reason he hits like 5 threes in 10 minutes don’t blame me for not showing him respect.
#44 Mitch Lightfoot – Forward
Mitch Lightfoot is a 6’ 8” Senior forward, and everyone should know and recognize this dude. Lightfoot has been at Kansas for like 8 years, and is on the Perry Ellis program. I am fully confident that Mitch will find a way to play at Kansas next year.
Lightfoot isn’t a big contributor for the Jayhawks, playing only 12 minutes per game. But he makes the most of his minutes, averaging 5.0 PPG and 3.2 RPG in limited action.
Kansas has a great coach, great players, great fans, anything else? This is going to be a really difficult game, against a Final Four level opponent. The bottom line is this, Kansas will give us everything they’ve got.
The question is, how will the Bears respond? If we don’t show up ready to play they may very well run us out of the gym. If we do come out with energy, effort, and execution, I think this will be one of the best games of the year.
Everything inside me wants the boys to get it done, let’s discuss how they might do just that.
How Baylor Wins
You’ll notice I changed the title of this section from ‘Why Baylor Wins’ to ‘How Baylor Wins’ and it pained me to do so. I am fully confident that we can win in Lawrence; but unfortunately it isn’t a question of why we get it done, it is a question of how we get it done.
This is what we will need from our boys.
#0 Flo Thamba – @Flo_T3
Flo had an efficient 12 minutes against West Virginia on Monday, posting 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist. I can often fall into the camp of “Flo only had X, Y, and Z stats,” but if we look at his numbers over 40 minutes he has been playing really well. We will need Flo to have a similarly efficient game in whatever minutes Drew plays him against Kansas.
The Bears will need Flo to be a defensive backbone when he is on the floor against Kansas. It will be important for Flo to be a strong rebounder, solid screener, and to limit McCormack’s impact. It will be huge for Baylor if Flo can give us a solid 15-20 minutes on both ends of the floor.
#1 Jeremy Sochan – @SochanJeremy
We still cannot speak highly enough of the things that Jeremy Sochan does for this Baylor team. I stand by my take that Sochan may be the most college ready complete player that Drew has coached.
Against West Virginia, Sochan has 13 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Literally mr. do it all and a drip king while we’re at it. We will need this production against Kansas, especially if Cryer and Flagler can’t go. We will probably need the drip too.
Sochan can uniquely impact this game against Kansas. On offense, Sochan will need to be smart with the ball. It will be key for all of Baylor’s players to make the right play on each possession, and that includes deferring when necessary. Sochan will need to crash the offensive glass to create extra possessions for Baylor.
There is a good chance Sochan is often matched up on Agbaji defensively. Like I said, there is not much to do to completely eliminate Agbaji. If Sochan draws the assignment, he will need to try and contain Agbaji while staying out of foul trouble.
#2 Kendall Brown – @TheeKbrown
Kendall Brown continues to impress, his raw talent and high ceiling makes him one of the most intriguing players on the roster. Brown has been reliable all year, and the only ask is that maybe he just asserts himself a little bit more.
It feels like Brown is due for a breakout game, let’s go ahead and say it will be Saturday in Lawrence. The narrative would be incredible, on the biggest stage of the year and Brown goes absolutely bonkers, propelling himself back into the lottery conversation.
Tangibly, I think this is really possible. If Brown is confident and plays with the mentality that he can get to the rim whenever he wants, he will set up crazy matchup issues with the Kansas lineup. The only guy on Kansas I don’t think Brown can completely dominate matchup wise is Agbaji. But, if anyone else is on Brown I want to see him go into sicko mode.
Brown should be able to take advantage of the aggressive off ball defense and cut to the basket at will. Look for some easy buckets off lobs on baseline and back door cuts.
For Baylor to win, Brown will need to be aggressive and borderline dominant. Let’s see him play like a diaper dandy.
#3 Dale Bonner – @dalebonne
Dale Bonner got his first division one start on Monday against West Virginia, and I am officially all aboard the SS Bonner. In the series of injuries that Baylor has been facing, Bonner has stepped up and filled a huge role. Drew has relied on Bonner to give the team consistent minutes and he’s done just that.
If Cryer or Flagler or both can’t play against Kansas, the Bears will need another solid performance from Bonner. I think Bonner can give us what we need to beat the Jayhawks. Bonner’s effort on both ends of the floor gives Baylor an instant lift.
To beat Kansas we will need Bonner to play hard, physical, active defense. Bonner’s wingspan will make an impact by disrupting the flow of Kansas’ offense. Kansas relies heavily on quick passing, Bonner should be able slow down the primary ball handler or tip passes.
Dale has shown he is a capable scorer and passer. He has been able to continue to run Baylor’s offense and help create for others. If Bonner can maintain this consistent level of play I think the Bears have a chance.
#4 LJ Cryer – @LjCryer
LJ Cryer was on the sidelines against West Virginia in a walking boot on Monday. I have yet to see news on if he will play. Obviously, his offense would be a huge boost for the Bears and I feel much better about this game if he plays.
Cryer creates a ton of space whenever he is on the floor because of his efficient three point shooting. This will be key for the Bears if he is able to go. Kansas’ defense can be taken advantage of on the drive and kick, and there are no players I trust more spotting up than LJ Cryer.
#10 Adam Flagler – @adamflagler
Adam Flagler was sidelined against West Virginia with knee soreness. Similar to Cryer, there has yet to be any news on his availability against Kansas. Stating the obvious again, I also feel better about Baylor’s chances if Flagler plays.
Flagler gives the Baylor offense an immediate jumpstart. Flagler’s unique skill set to attack off the dribble, and knock down pull up jump shots is something the Bears really miss when he is out. This would be a huge lift against Kansas and would take a huge load off of Akinjo, Mayer, Brown, and Sochan’s shoulders.
Also for the Our Time fans out there, Flagler is Pre-Med and wants to be a Pediatrician, how dope is that?
#11 James Akinjo – @akinjojames3 (Insta no Twitter for our boy)
Welcome back to the roller coaster of emotions. I am all the way back in again on James Akinjo. When healthy I actually think that Akinjo is a top five point guard in the country. His passing is incredible, and his ability to make big shots is unmatched.
Let me remind you of Akinjo’s stat line against West Virginia. With Baylor down Cryer and Flagler, Akinjo played 39 minutes, scored 25 points, dished out 4 assists, grabbed 2 rebounds, and snagged 1 steal. It appears his buttocks is healed.
I am not saying we need this level of production to win in Lawrence, but my goodness would it help.
I am a bit worried about Akinjo on the defensive end against Kansas. The Jayhawks are lethal offensively, and I am concerned that Akinjo may get into foul trouble early. This would put a strain on the rotation, especially if Cryer and Flagler can’t go.
Akinjo can absolutely lead us to a victory on Saturday. If Akinjo drives through the Jayhawk defense, and looks to score at the rim or kick the ball out to shooters, Baylor’s offense will be difficult to stop. When Akinjo looks to drive first it also frees him up for cleaner three point looks as the game progresses.
#23 Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (Everyday Jon aka EJ) – @JonathanTchamwa
EJ is his preferred nickname so let’s drop the JTT and respect this man for the stud he is. EJ continues to just do absolutely everything right for Baylor. Against West Virginia, until the last few minutes there was literally nothing going Baylor’s way. EJ was a consistent piece that kept the Bears in the game.
We are going to need an elite EJ on Saturday. EJ brings energy, confidence, stability, and embodies the Culture of JOY when games get tough. There is a very good chance that the game in Lawrence is brutal at points. We need EJ’s leadership.
Because Kansas is just an average rebounding team, EJ should be able to eat on the boards. If EJ can extend offensive possessions with offensive rebounds I feel great about Baylor’s chances. EJ is quicker than McCormack and should be able to get McCormack off balance and hopefully in foul trouble.
This team goes as Everyday Jon goes.
#24 Matthew Mayer – @MatthewMayer24
Until the 3:29 mark in the second half, Mayer was probably having the worst offensive game of his Baylor career. It didn’t stop Mayer’s effort. His leadership continues to shine despite offensive slumps.
But what happened at the 3:29 mark? Oh let me tell you. 3:29 will forever be Matthew Mayer time. With 3:29 left in the game, Mayer scored his first basket giving the Bears a 68-66 lead; and they never gave it back. Mayer went on to score 9 points in 3 minutes and 29 seconds and showed the elite offensive talent he has.
We need 30+ minutes of that 3:29 Matthew Mayer against Kansas. Mayer’s potential is through the roof and we need to see flashes of it Saturday. Look for Mayer to drive to the paint, and take advantage of some spotty parts of the Kansas defense.
I am completely in on Saturday being start to finish Matthew Mayer time and I cannot wait.
Well here we go folks…
(this is all assuming no Cryer and no Flagler)
The Jayhawks will come out firing on all cylinders. They will open up a quick lead, forcing Drew to use a timeout early. The Bears will struggle to get going offensively and the game plan will have to shift to be almost solely defensive minded.
The Bears will pivot their approach and look to eliminate good looks for every Jayhawk except Agbaji. This will be one of those games where the star player goes for like 40, but the rest of his team has 25.
The first half will end with Baylor going on a little run, nothing crazy, like a 10-4 run to get the game a little closer. I expect the Bears to be trailing at halftime by single digits.
The second half will get started, and Baylor will build on the momentum. The Bears will knock down a few threes early in the second half, and sprinkle in a lob or two. This will force Bill Self to yell at the refs (shocker) and call a timeout.
Baylor will have cut the game to a 4 point deficit, and at this point it will be deadlocked and a nerve wracking slug fest until the final minutes.
Ultimately, I think Agbaji has a huge last three minutes, and the Jayhawks pull away in a close one at home.
Baylor 64 – Kansas 68