This is the game that feels like the true kick off to the conference season for Kansas. Yes we played Kansas State and Iowa State put up a good fight, but if you had to circle a game that really has that feel of a marquee matchup in 2012 it has to be Baylor.
The no. 4 Bears come to Allen Fieldhouse tonight boasting an undefeated record through 17 games and there's a good chance that by the tipoff they will be ranked no. 3. The Bears are popping up on a lot of 'Bracketology' type prognostications as a top seed and during a few of the major media outlet mid year reviews, Baylor is getting some Final Four hype.
It all started last year when Perry Jones III elected to return to Waco after a disappointing year for Scott Drew and the Bears. With his return, Baylor has one of the more talented big men in the league. Combine that with 'the Quincy's (senior Acy and freshman Miller) and Baylor has a long, lean and athletic front court that can produce. Sure Coach Drew takes some heat for having fallen short of expectations in the past, but it's hard to argue against the talent he has put together on the court.
As for this matchup, the best thing going for Kansas is that this is a home game. Allen Fieldhouse is a tough environment to win in and that's why Scott Drew will likely walk his team off the floor during introductions to avoid the wow factor that pregame in the Phog can produce.
Another positive for Kansas is that Baylor comes along at a time when Kansas was just forced to battle through a tough home game where their best player wasn't necessarily on point. The Jayhawks have been fortunate to have other players stepping up to the plate of late and Tyshawn Taylor, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey have all been productive when called upon at various points.
What will make this one interesting is the challenge on the interior. Withey and Robinson will be tested. Robinson is probably the one more equipped to play with the athleticism of Baylor, but a strong performance by Withey could go a long way toward making this game a more manageable win. If he struggles, hopefully Self will look to Kevin Young for a little more in the way of mobility.
One last positive for Kansas before we jump more into Baylor. Kansas leads the series with Baylor 16-2, including a 9-0 record in Lawrence and 8-0 mark in Allen Fieldhouse. That feels like a significant mental edge for the Jayhawks, but everyone breaks through at some point and Baylor is favored.
Now on to Baylor. As a team the Bears are very balanced from an offensive perspective. Jones leads BU with 13.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while senior forward Acy and junior guard Pierre Jackson are next in scoring at 12.3 points per contest. Acy is second the team with a 6.9 rebounding average and he also leads BU with 40 blocked shots. Jackson actually comes off the bench and leads Baylor with 87 assists and 33 steals this season.
Freshman forward Quincy Miller is a starter scoring 11.7 points per game and is third on the team with 5.3 rebounds per contest in 2011-12. Rounding out the BU starters is sophomore guard Brady Heslip (10.5 ppg, a team-leading 50 three-pointers) and junior guard A.J. Walton (4.2 ppg, 64 assists and 27 steals).
Senior forward Anthony Jones (5.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and sophomore forward Cory Jefferson (5.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg) have
made starts this season but, like Jackson, have come off the bench in Big 12 action in 2012. Sophomore guard
Gary Franklin (3.6 ppg) is another Baylor regular this season.
As a whole, these two teams are almost mirror images of eachother from a production standpoint. The biggest difference is depth and honestly Kansas does do a better job at some of the more fundamental elements of the game. That's not a huge surprise when you look at the coaching perceptions of these two teams, Monday night will just be a question as to whether or not those points of emphasis are executed and if they can overcome what might be perceived as a talent edge to Baylor.
However you want to slice and dice this one the fun part is that this game is the first big step for either side when it comes to winning the league. After this one, someone has an early advantage and the other team is chasing. Obviously there will be other losses, but it's always fun to play from ahead and with Kansas being the home team in this one it needs to happen.