A week ago today, Kansas was alone at the top of the Big 12 standings at 5-0. There had been multiple close calls, but it seemed like KU might be settling in on their way to another Big 12 title.
What a difference one week can make.
Since that time, Kansas took a rough overtime loss in Manhattan, a frustrating but understandable loss, on the road against a team that now sits atop the standings, followed by a less understandable loss in which TCU handed Kansas their 2nd worst beating at home since Bill Self took over. There's no rest for the weary, and just two days later, the Jayhawks are on the road playing a very tough Baylor squad.
Baylor enters the game ranked 17th in the AP Poll, with KenPom rating them 14th. Unlike a few of the conference’s tougher foes, Baylor does not try to win through suffocating defense. Kenpom currently ranks their offense 2nd nationally, while their defense sits at 93rd. For the year, Baylor is hitting 36.2% of their threes and 53.5% of their twos, good for the 37th best eFG% in the country. Unlike some other teams who shoot the three well but not particularly often, Scott Drew’s Bears have been more than willing to let it fly this year, with 44.9% of their field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc. Kansas will need to brace themselves for the possibility of a hot shooting night burying them, though similarly a night where the threes just won’t fall could put Baylor in a situation where they’re scrambling for some offensive efficiency. If we look at numbers in conference play only, Baylor has the top offense in the Big 12, with the lowest TO rate, the most offensive rebounds, and a knack for getting to the line. On the offensive side, this team is undeniably dangerous and will present a challenge for a Kansas team coming off a tough game in which TCU shot the ball incredibly well.
Defensively, it’s harder to find bright spots for this Baylor team. In conference play they’ve been dead last in opponent 2P%, at an abysmal 56% allowed. They lack rim protection, rarely force turnovers, and are just ok on the defensive glass. By Big 12 standards it’s a poor defense, but really it’s just kind of a mediocre one, in a league where just about every team is outstanding in at least one or two areas on that side of the court.
In terms of individual contributors, Adam Flagler is having an incredible season. The 6’3 senior is second on the team in scoring only to freshman phenom Keyonte George. Flager is hitting 45.4% of his threes and has made 80% of his free throws, though he hasn’t been an especially consistent scorer inside the arc. Flagler also generates quite a few steals, making him a player to watch on both ends of the court. That aforementioned George is also a player you’ll see plenty of tonight, as the 5 star, top 10 recruit in this year’s class has very much lived up to his billing. He had an offer from Kansas (as well as Kentucky, Texas, Arizona, and multiple others), but ultimately chose Waco and is likely headed straight to the NBA given what he’s done this year. He scores 17 per game while hitting 35.6% from three on 146 attempts. He’s taken 48 more shots than Flager, the next highest volume player on the team, so George will be looking to make things happen offensively as much, if not more than Flagler. Neither turns the ball over much, and Flagler and George will notch plenty of assists in addition to scoring. Think of them as Baylor’s version of K-State’s Norwell and Johnson.
Kansas was pushed to the brink in Manhattan and only barely lost in overtime, so it’s hard to look at that game, given what KSU has done recently, as some sort of abject failure. However, a 23 point home loss to TCU in which the Jayhawks couldn’t take care of the ball and turned it over about a quarter of the time, is less forgivable. Baylor doesn’t rely on forcing turnovers nearly as much as the Horned Frogs, but KU’s ballhandlers, specifically Dajuan Harris and Kevin McCullar, have had issues with this of late. While Baylor’s defense won’t be nearly as fierce as what KU has generally seen since league play began, there’s some cause for concern in terms of them getting out of their own way right now. On the defensive end, Kansas is still very good, but they haven’t been elite in any specific aspect of defense since Big 12 play began. Their numbers have been hurt by some poor defensive 3 point luck (conference opponents are hitting a league-high 37.4% against them), but they just haven’t looked like a lock down defense even inside the arc, so it’s hard to see exactly how KU is going to be successful in limiting Baylor’s offensive assault.
Bill Self hasn’t gone to the bench much lately, meaning KU’s starters have been logging big minutes, and now they’re playing on a two-day turnaround on the road. Throw in just how well Baylor has played offensively, and this looks like a recipe for disappointment. If Baylor fires away from three but has a poor shooting night, that would go a long way toward helping KU’s chances. But unless that happens, or Kansas really catches fire from outside to make up for their lackluster shooting in their last two games, it seems like Baylor will be primed to put up huge scoring numbers and leave Kansas scrambling to keep up. With Harris, McCullar, and Gradey Dick all in a slump, it’s going to take a lot of things coming together for KU to go get this one on the road. I don’t see anything to indicate that anything is coming together right now for the Jayhawks, and I think it will take strong 3 point shooting numbers both offensively and defensively to keep this close. That’s not a comfortable thing to rest one’s hopes upon. Odds are we’re talking about KU’s three game losing streak by the end of the night.
Baylor 86, Kansas 72