Denny Medley/USA Today Sports

Baylor hosts Kansas in a matchup of Big 12 heavyweights

The 22-4 Baylor Bears host the 23-3 Kansas Jayhawks. The Bears trail Kansas by 2-games in the Big 12 title race, but a victory Saturday would put them back in it.

The rematch is here.  Baylor vs. Kansas, this time in Waco, TX and away from Allen Field House, where Kansas is simply dominant. Baylor (22-4, 9-4) trails Kansas (23-3, 11-2) by two games in the Big 12, so a win in Waco is a necessity to get back into the Big 12 title race.  With another Baylor loss, the Jayhawks would have a 3-game lead on their nearest challenger with 5-games to go, pretty much securing their 14th straight Big 12 title. 

Baylor has been slipping of late however, losing three of their last five games.  The most recent loss, a 84-78 loss at Texas Tech, was the worst of the year, though Tech is an NCAA tournament caliber team.  In fact, all four of Baylor's losses this year (Kansas, West Virginia, Kansas State, and Texas Tech) are all to tournament caliber teams.  

The Bears are enjoying their best season in the Drew era, and quite possibly of all-time.  However, they still trail Kansas, who is doing what it does every year; winning at home (12-1, first loss in 50+ games) and not having any bad losses (worst loss is at home against Iowa State). It is the reason why they have won 13 straight Big 12 titles, with Baylor the only challenger able to stop a 14th.  Baylor has done this by being more like Kansas, than Kansas this year

With a defensive first approach, tremendous rim protection and an efficient offense, this Baylor team is unique in the Scott Drew era.  They look like what Bill Self normally produces.  The Jayhawks this year are also unique, as their defense is not up to the normally elite standard.  This is still a good defense, but the lack of depth and size in the paint, along scarcity of rim protection, has made Kansas more of an offensive focus. 

That will happen with two tremendous guards in Frank Mason and Devonte Graham carrying the load, along with Freshman stud Josh Jackson.  A true win at the NBA level, Jackson is having to play at the power forward spot, sliding down and giving KU more skill but less bulk down low.  Jackson is capable at that spot defensively, but he is an average rebounder and post-defender at this point of his career. Where he stars is out in space, guarding players on the perimeter and using his length and lateral ability to cut off driving lanes.  

With just one true post player off the bench, the recently suspended and still struggling Carlton Bragg, the Jayhawks also have little depth to rotate guys in and keep them fresh.  Senior center Landen Lucas is playing 25 minutes per game, and that would be higher if not for foul trouble (averages 3.4 fouls per game).  This is a team that can get in foul trouble, as Bragg is averaging a ridiculous 8.7 fouls per 40-minutes.  

Offensively, Kansas wants to push the ball and hit 3-pointers, with almost 32% of their points coming from behind the arc. They make 41.3% of their 3-pointers.  Where this team struggles is on long jump shots, making just 35.3% of their 2-point jumpers. Kansas wants a layup or a 3-pointer, with little in between. The Bears zone defense has been tremendous at limiting 3-pointers (31.2% allowed, 26th best in nation) but also controlling the paint due to a 13.8% block rate (24th in nation).  

Where do these Teams like to Shoot?

At Rim 2-point Jumper 3-point
Baylor 25.6% 40.5% 34.0%
Kansas 39.6% 25.5% 34.8%

For the Bears offense, it will simply come down to getting the ball into the paint.  Baylor's offense is at its best when it is operating inside-out, either through the pass or the bounce.  A reason for the Bears slide in recent weeks can be directed at the lack of dribble penetration by the guards, thus leaving a single entry into the paint.  

With Al Freeman finishing a 3-game suspension, the hope will be his ability to get to the rim can help the Bears offensive flow.  When Freeman, Lindsey, Lecomte or any of the wings or guards can get the defense to collapse on them, it allows for kick out lanes to open shooters, or to dump off passes to well-positioned big men.  This is critical for the Baylor offense, and has been lacking at times and something that has been missing with Freeman struggling and then being suspended.  

Which Guards get to the rim?

Player % of Shots at Rim FG% at Rim
Manu Lecomte 11.4% 63.0%
Al Freeman 20.4% 60.6%
Jake Lindsey 23.3% 70.8%
King McClure 11.9% 90.0%

Freeman has attempted 33 shots at the rim, compared to 24 for Lindsey, 10 for McClure, and 27 for Lecomte. His ability to get to the rim and finish through contact is the best on the team from the guard spot.  His addition back to the lineup, coming off the bench behind McClure, should help the Bears as they look to attack the 5-11 Frank Mason and 6-2 Devonte Graham off the dribble. 

It might be hyperbole to say that this is the biggest game in the Scott Drew era.  Outside of the Big 12 tournament title games, I would probably agree. This is a massive game, and the only logical way for Baylor to continue towards their first Big 12 title.  

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