Kansas has been a tough team to predict this year. In non-con play, they strung together a bunch of close wins against lower level competition that had their rankings at the analytics sites dropping despite their record improving. Since Big 12 play started, they’ve had big wins where it looks like everything is coming together, only to be followed by road losses to teams with much worse rosters.
The past week is perhaps the best illustration of this, as Kansas became the only team to kick Houston’s ass, with Houston being ranked #1 nationally by virtually every computer in the country. Two days later, they blew an 11-point second half lead to Kansas State, a team unlikely to even be on the bubble come tournament time.
That brings us to today’s matchup with Baylor. Fortunately, this one is in the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse, where KU is 12-0 this year (they’re 2-4 in true road games). While Kansas is favored in this one, Baylor is a dangerous team, and the type of team no one can ever feel totally comfortable about playing. To get the scariest thing out of the way first, this is the best 3-point shooting team in the country. Baylor hits an absurd 41.2% from three as a team. Meanwhile, Kansas only has two individual players shooting above that number. However, Baylor has six players (albeit a couple of them with relatively few attempts) shooting better than 40% from behind the arc. Even if you know nothing else about a team, that’s an immediate indication that victory is no certainty.
With that said, there are a couple of caveats worth mentioning. First, since Big 12 play started, Baylor is only 7th in the league at 33.5% three point shooting. Opponent quality typically doesn’t have a lot of impact on outside shooting, so either Baylor rode a hot streak early that inflated their numbers, or they’ve just been in a shooting rut over the last month or so. Regardless of which is the case, we know they’re capable of going off from deep, which can quickly change the complexion of any game. The other thing worth mentioning is that while Baylor has fantastic 3-point shooting numbers on the year, they don’t rely heavily on that shooting. For the season they’re just 191st nationally 3PA rate, and in conference games they’ve taken just 36.5% of their shots from outside. So, while they have a number of players who can shoot it, this is not a team that just looks to rack up points with perimeter shooting.
Despite that, they haven’t been an elite 2-point shooting team. They’ve hit 50.2% from two in Big 12 play, good for 7th in the league. They have shot a better number, 53.2%, for the season, but 2-point shooting is more heavily influenced by competition, so the truth is probably that they’re just OK when it comes to making their shots inside the arc. In general, Baylor’s offensive splits between their full season stats and their Big 12 stats is pretty large. KenPom rates them as having the 4th best offense in the country overall, but just 5th in the Big 12 since league play began.
Despite some shooting woes, this team does do other things well on that side of the court. They’re 2nd in the conference in offensive rebounding, an area Kansas has uncharacteristically struggled to control this year. They also take good care of the ball, and with KU forcing very few turnovers, giving the ball away is unlikely to be something that hurts them today. While their 2-point shooting is nothing special, they’ve been very good at getting to the line, at the 2nd highest rate in the Big 12, and they’ve hit a respectable 72.4% of their free throws.
Defensively, Baylor does not impress the same way. KenPom rates their defense 8th in the league so far, and 75th nationally. This makes them an outlier in today’s Big 12, where tough pressure defenses are taking over the league. Teams have been hot from three against Baylor in Big 12 play, hitting 36.3%, but opponents have also had their way inside the arc, where Baylor’s 2-point defense ranks 11th in the league. They’ve done a respectable, but not amazing, job of keeping teams off the offensive glass, and they don’t send opponents to the line very often, which coincides with a pretty mediocre block rate. Fortunately for KU, they don’t force a lot of turnovers, something the Jayhawks have had issues with at times.
In terms of players to watch, Jalen Bridges is hitting 40.4% of his 99 three point attempts, while still hitting a respectable 51.3% of his twos and 86.1% of his free throws. Ja’Kobe Walter leads the team in shots attempted and points scored, having shot 109 twos and 119 threes, hitting 43.1% and 35.3% respectively. Despite launching more than half his shots from three, he will drive to the hoop and draw plenty of fouls, and can hurt you at the free throw line where’s hit 85 of 100 attempts.
Freshman 7-footer Yves Missi of Cameroon is also a player to keep an eye on. He’s been logging much heavier minutes lately, and is the team’s top shot blocker and an outstanding offensive rebounder. Hunter Dickinson will need to make sure he’s boxing Missi out, because he’s had 5 games this year with 5 or more offensive boards, and he’s capitalized well on putbacks, hitting 63.6% of his twos. He has yet to shoot a three, so he will be stationed in the post any time he’s in.
3-point shooting is a major wildcard with this Baylor team, but it’s tough to make a prediction relying on something that can be as varied as Baylor’s outside shooting has been this year. Looking at how Baylor has played since Big 12 play started, I see an opportunity for Kansas to get good looks at the rim through drives and cuts. Neither team has a distinct turnover advantage, so it seems unlikely that this will come into play. I have little concern about Kansas scoring points, but Baylor’s ability to be a deadly offensive team, combined with KU’s up and down defensive performances as the season goes on, does give me some concern about building and maintaining a lead, even at home.
Ultimately, this is a home game against a ranked team, coming off what should be a motivating loss, and just the type of game that Self almost never loses. I don’t think it will be comfortable, but I do think KU avoids consecutive losses and gets the job done in the end, in what may be a high scoring game.
Kansas 82, Baylor 77