With the rest of the Big 12 being more than a step behind Kansas and Baylor this season, it seems likely Saturday’s tilt in Waco will decide the regular season Big 12 title, and with the teams being ranked 1-2 in Torvik and KenPom, it’s likely this will be the game of the season.
Baylor comes in to this matchup undefeated in Big 12 play and excelling on both ends of the ball. They have been the shot volume kings of the Big 12, ranking 2nd in turnover rate and offensive rebound rate. They also rank 5th nationally in offensive rebounding, pulling down 36.6 percent of their misses.
They’re surprisingly inefficient shooting-wise, ranking 6th in the Big 12 in 3-point shooting and 7th in 2-point shooting, so the number of second chances they get figures to be one of the key deciders in this one, along with whether they’re able to make a higher percentage of threes than normal. In the prior matchup, Kansas held the Bears to around a 20 percent offensive rebound rate, but Baylor combated that by shooting 8-19 from three, roughly 10 percent higher than their conference season average.
Frankly, I don’t think Kansas needs to do much different defensively tomorrow. They could certainly stand to force more turnovers, which would help the Jayhawks get some easy baskets as well, but other than that it’s mostly hoping Baylor shoots a more normal percentage from three.
On the other side, Kansas has some major adjustments to make from last meeting. Baylor and Kansas have spent a lot of the conference season flip flopping as to who is the best defense in the Big 12. It is somewhat fair to say Baylor has gotten a bit lucky on that end, with opponents shooting under 30 percent from three against them, but that probably does not give their switching defense the credit it deserves. In particular, the Bears did a great job swarming Kansas in the last meeting, forcing KU to turn it over on 22.6 percent of its possessions while allowing few clean looks.
A couple caveats are worth pointing out: first, Devon Dotson got hurt early in that game, and while he was able to come back in the 2nd half, he was clearly hobbled the entire afternoon. That’s not to say Kansas would have won the game, but certainly the offense would have looked better. Marcus Garrett was also hobbled in that one, and with how little Baylor guarded him that day, and with how Garrett has improved offensively (and health wise), that made a huge difference as well.
If Baylor is going to sag off Garrett that much again, the Jayhawks need to get him the ball as often as possible and let him either shoot the open three or drive into the soft spot of the defense and make a decision as to whether to attack the basket or pass to an open shooter (or Azubuike).
Players to Watch
Jared Butler, 6-3 sophomore guard
One of the three main contenders for Big 12 player of the year, Butler is shooting 46 percent on twos and 38 percent on threes. He also is one of the better perimeter defenders in the Big 12. Two pieces of good news: If Baylor has Butler guard Dotson, a healthy Dotson will no doubt make Butler work much harder on that end than he had to in the first matchup, which hopefully will tire him out offensively.
Secondly, a healthy Marcus Garrett will be available to guard Butler, which will certainly make things harder on him offensively than it was in the prior meeting. Still, he’s probably the key to the game. If Kansas can shut him down (as best you can with a player as good as him anyway) they should win. If not, it might be a season sweep for the Bears.
Freddie Gillespie, 6-9 senior forward
Gillespie had a nice game in the first matchup, with 13 points and 4 rebounds. He effectively spotted up in the short corner area and was able to make seemingly jumper after jumper against the Jayhawks. He’s really effective at those shots, so it’s no surprise he did so well at them against the Jayhawks in the first meeting. I suspect a big part of Kansas’s game plan will be attacking him on the other end whenever possible, similar to how they did against Iowa State’s Solomon Young, because Gillespie is Baylor’s most effective big man by a wide margin, and can be prone to foul trouble.
MaCio Teague, 6-3 junior guard
Teague didn’t play Tuesday against Oklahoma, but all signs point to a return on Saturday. He is a nearly 42 percent career 3-point shooter, is shooting around 48 percent on twos, was 3-5 from three in the first matchup, and led Baylor in offensive rebounds in the first matchup.
Every so often Kansas has had a game like this: a mid or late season road game that looks like it will decide the Big 12 title. In 2009, Sherron Collins outdueled Willie Warren to win in Norman. In 2013 Kansas took down Oklahoma State in Stillwater in double OT in the backflip revenge game. In 2015, it was a February 13 win at Oklahoma. And in 2018 Devonte Graham stole the show in Lubbock to clinch the conference title. I don’t put a ton of stock in stuff like that usually, but Bill Self always wins these games.
Furthermore, if you look at the previous matchup, a lot had to go right for Baylor to win: they shot the high percentage from three, they had two of KU’s three best players hobbled with injuries, and they got to play a large stretch of the game without one of those three even on the floor. Since going to the 4-guard offense, Kansas has done a lot better on that end of the floor without the defense suffering too much.
However, because of that four guard lineup, Baylor likely will do much better on the offensive glass on Saturday. They also effectively attacked Christian Braun and Isaiah Moss on the defensive side of the ball last matchup, something that is likely to continue.
Still, I keep coming back to KU’s performances over the years in these games. They also have the best player in the game, at least a wash at point guard, and a perimeter defender who has shown the ability to remove the man he is guarding from the game completely. Baylor is a horrible matchup for the Jayhawks because of their guards as a whole and what they can do on the offensive glass, but this is one of those games that I think will show that Kansas should be considered the national championship favorite. Give me the Jayhawks, 65-62.
2020 Record ATS: 15-10