It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen this Baylor team get pasted by the Jayhawks in the conference opener in Lawrence, and they are completely different, tied for second just two games behind Kansas in the standings. To help us get ready for tonight’s rematch, I reached out to David Fankhauser over at Our Daily Bears the SB Nation site covering the Baylor Bears. He was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for us today.
RCT: To an outsider, Baylor can best be described as inconsistent. Yet, at 9-5 in the conference, this team is only 2 games out of first. Has Baylor really been that up and down this year, or is that just life in the Big 12 this year?
ODB: There has certainly been some ups and downs over the course of the season, but on the whole I think this team is right about what expectations were coming into this season. We knew what we had with Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince but beyond that, there was a lot of unknown coming into the year. Could Lester Medford handle being the #1 guy at point guard? Would guys like Al Freeman, Ish Wainright and Johnathan Motley step into bigger roles to fill voids left behind by Kenny Chery and Royce O'Neale? For the most part, the new guys have responded well. This Baylor team has clear limitations, namely that this is as pedestrian of a defensive team that Scott Drew has had since the days of Aaron Bruce and Curtis Jerrells. But this group has found a way more often than not. Baylor does not have a loss this season against a team outside the RPI top 30 and although they've been spanked by some good teams, they've held their own at times as well. As you mentioned, the Big 12 is absolute insanity this year so I am very pleased that the Bears have gotten to this point at 9-5. Baylor is playing for NCAA Tournament seeding, not just to make the field, and that's always a good feeling to have in late February.
RCT: Baylor has probably the toughest remaining schedule of all the title contenders, with Kansas tonight and Oklahoma and West Virginia looming to end the season. What Texas Tech charging hard and Texas and Iowa State right behind, do you think there is a realistic chance that this Baylor team might not get a bye in the Big 12 tournament?
ODB: Considering that Baylor will hold any tiebreaker with Iowa State, I doubt that would be the case unless we just crater the next 4 games (there is a TCU game mixed in there as well). The Bears split with Texas and Texas Tech and have opportunities to pick up a quality win or two in this final stretch. If I was a betting man right now, I'd expect Baylor to split the final 4 games and end up with the 4 or 5 seed. And finishing 11-7 in this year's Big 12 would be a great accomplishment in my book.
RCT: Speaking of tournaments, how are you feeling about the prospects for this Scott Drew team this year? It seems that his teams either flame out really early, or last a lot longer than anyone thought possible. Which one is more likely this season?
ODB: I tend to see last year's Georgia State fiasco as more of the exception than the rule. In the 3 prior tournament appearances under Drew, Baylor reached the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet 16 the other time. And in both of the Elite Eights, the team that knocked out Baylor went on to win the national championship. I'm honestly not sure what to expect this year because we could still end up anywhere between like a 4 and a 9 seed. There are no great teams in college basketball this season but there's a lot of very good teams that are pretty closely matched. As is usually the case, it really will depend on the matchups. One advantage that the Bears have in tournament play is that teams are not necessarily as familiar with the type of zone defense that Baylor plays as opposed to Big 12 opponents who see it twice a year.
RCT: Kansas is slightly favored in this game, and it seems that the development of Landen Lucas down low could directly threaten the one advantage that Baylor always seems to have going into these matchups - offensive rebounding. What should the Bears' do to attack the Jayhawks tonight?
ODB: Baylor has been ranked in the top 15 in terms of offensive efficiency for most of the season, but I think Scott Drew has unleashed the Johnathan Motley cheat code that has taken the offense to another level in the last few games. Having Motley start in place of Rico Gathers, which Drew confirmed yesterday will happen again tonight, has resulted in better spacing which has allowed for better dribble penetration and more easy buckets. The Kansas guards are obviously more adept at stopping penetration in man-to-man, but Motley has shown capable of scoring on the low block and also from the 12-15 foot range. Having this lineup on the court has resulted in much less in the way of offensive rebounds, but the ball is also going in the basket more often. If Lucas or Ellis can slow down Motley 1 on 1, that will allow the KU guards to stay out on Baylor's shooters. And Baylor does tend to shoot better in the Ferrell Center from 3, hitting 40.1% from the outside against Power 5 opponents at home.
RCT: It's prediction time! Does Kansas live up to their Top 2 billing, or does Baylor do everyone a favor and chop the Big 12 lead in half?
ODB: Both Kansas and Baylor are playing good basketball right now so this should be a great game. Certainly one that is much closer than the nut kicking that KU gave Baylor in Lawrence 2 months ago. But at the end of the day, I always like the team that can consistently get stops at the end of the game when they need one. And that describes Kansas much more than it does Baylor. So I'll say Kansas 81 Baylor 78.
RCT: Bonus - Pizza or Lasagna?
ODB: Gotta go with pizza here. Pizza is just so much more versatile. Lasagna is what it is but you can go so many different directions with a pizza.
A big thanks to David for helping us out today. Don’t forget to check out my answers to his questions too.