It's that time of year again, where Kansas faces familiar foes in an attempt to hold onto what has been rightfully theirs for the last 11 years straight: the Big XII regular season championship. To help get us ready, I reached out to David Fankhauser (aka dfank_BU) from Our Daily Bears, the SB Nation site covering the Baylor Bears. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
RCT: When the casual fan last really paid attention, Baylor was giving up 13 straight points to be upset by UAB in a tournament full of Big 12 early flameouts. After that heartbreaking ending to last season, what were the general expectations for this team this season?
ODB: Expectations were high but a bit guarded after we lost Kenny Chery and Royce O'Neale from last year's 24 win team. I expected that our guard play would struggle at times and that we would need to lean on guys like Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince to give us offense. The Bears have been better than I expected offensively thus far due to the emergence of guys like Al Freeman, Ish Wainright and freshman Jake Lindsay, but they still turn the ball over too much. This has been a big reason why Baylor has looked pretty suspect in two non-conference road games against Oregon and Texas A&M. If they are taking care of the basketball, this team has the potential to be pretty dangerous.
RCT: With Prince and Gathers returning, this team has a strong core to make a push in the Big 12 this year. But the conference as a whole is full of experienced teams that are all going to be fighting for the privilege of knocking Kansas off their perch this season. Where do you see the Bears in the scheme of the conference?
ODB: I think the Bears are firmly entrenched in tier 2 with teams like West Virginia and Texas. Baylor will probably be a tough out at home in the Ferrell Center but road Baylor appears to be extremely vulnerable this year. I would expect that we'll end up right around .500 in the Big 12 this season, which should be plenty good enough to get to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year, but I don't expect that they have the potential to make a deep run in 2016. Although it is an even numbered year and those have been pretty kind to Baylor since 2010...
RCT: Are you more excited or nervous about being the first conference team to face the Jayhawks this season?
ODB: When the schedule came out, I thought it would be a great time to play KU. There is never a "great" time to play at Allen Fieldhouse but I figured that catching the Jayhawks in the first conference game might work in the Bears' favor. And I do think it's worth pointing out that KU could get caught looking ahead to the potential #1 vs #2 matchup against OU on Monday night. But given how poorly Baylor has played on the road in an admittedly small sample size, I'm pretty nervous that this might get ugly for Baylor if they don't get off to a strong start.
RCT: Let's stray a bit from the game and these teams for a minute. What are your thoughts on the rule changes for the game this season? Is there anything in the changes that stood out for one reason or another?
ODB: I'm a fan of up tempo, free flowing sports in general (Baylor football has ruined me) so I LOVE THE NEW RULES SO MUCH. I'll be interested to see how the officiating adjusts as we move into the conference schedule when the play tends to get quite a bit more physical as teams know each others' tendencies. I thought that the shorter shot clock would create an uptick in overall scoring but I wasn't necessarily expecting that the national average would increase from 63 points/game to 75. It makes the game more exciting to watch and that can only be a good thing.
RCT: What do you see being the key matchup of the game, and how do you see the game going overall?
ODB: From a Baylor perspective, I think it hinges all on how Taurean Prince plays. This team has gone as its star has gone in Baylor's higher profile non-conference games and I think he'll need to have a huge game for Baylor to have a chance in this game. Prince is the only Baylor player who can consistently create his own shot off the bounce so he will need to be effective in getting into the paint and creating for himself as well as getting teammates open looks. I think Baylor may hang in the first half but KU is just too strong at home and pulls away in the final 20 minutes. Kansas 78 Baylor 64.
RCT: Bonus - Star Wars or Star Trek?
ODB: I've never seen Star Trek so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
A special thank to David for taking some time to answer a few questions for us today.