After rolling off four straight wins against teams that either have been ranked or are currently ranked, including two teams ranked in the AP top 10, KU faces their fifth such opponent in as many games as the Baylor Bears enter Allen Fieldhouse ranked No. 24 The recent stretch that has put KU at 4-0 in Big 12 play and in the driver’s seat for a 10th straight conference championship has also started to change the national opinion of the team. That is extremely evident in their No. 8 ranking in the AP poll this week.
Expectations were never higher than after KU beat Duke in the early season, but a brutal schedule got KU lost in the shuffle. No more. KU is now the Vegas favorite to win the National Championship, got a healthy bump in the national rankings and enters their second Big Monday a 10-point favorite over the ranked Bears. If Kansas can continue this streak with a win tonight, they will move to 5-0 in the league and will emerge from their brutal seven game start no worse than 5-2 with a quick rematch against Iowa State looming. Before the stretch I said KU fans should be satisfied with 5-2, but 4-3 wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Needless to say 6-1 or 7-0 should leave KU fans ecstatic.
As usual, Baylor is no pushover. The Bears are loaded with talent and athleticism year in and year out. This is also a team that is desperate for a conference win. The Bears have started Big 12 play 1-3, Their lone conference win is against TCU which doesn’t really count. The have losses at Texas Tech and Iowa State and a home loss to Oklahoma. Baylor is usually a team that starts the conference slate off strong and then sputters to mediocrity later in the season. I’m not sure what is wrong with their team at this moment, but KU can’t sleep on this team. Talent and athleticism despite coaching can always present problems if you don’t come ready to play. It is not as likely in Allen Fieldhouse, but you never know. Here are some things to watch for:
1. Pace of the game. Baylor is about as efficient with their offensive possessions as KU is which is saying something given that KU is shooting the ball at a better clip than anybody in America. Baylor’s efficiency rating is actually better than KU’s (117.8 vs. 113.5), and their effective field goal percentage is just 1 percent lower. They also average more points per possession, probably because they gather a larger percentage of their points from three point attempts. But Baylor is averaging fewer points per gamer. Why? Because Baylor likes to play slower. They average only 66 possessions per game to KU’s 74. I am interested to see what these numbers look like after this game. In two of their losses, Baylor has allowed the other team to speed up the game.
2. Turnovers. Baylor likes to cough the ball up to. KU turned it over at an alarming rate against Oklahoma State in the second half. If I were Baylor, I would go right to the same 2-2-1 press OSU employed to get KU out of sorts, especially with their length. On the year BU is averaging 13 turnovers per game. KU is averaging 14. Baylor gives the ball over on 19 percent of their possessions, KU on 20 percent. After that debacle of a second half against the Cowboys I would feel better if KU can escape from this one with a relatively clean slate. This feels like a game where KU can speed Baylor up and force them into turnovers.
3. Defensive rebounding. As usual, Baylor is long and athletic. They are always a good rebounding team, mostly for that reason. Where they can really hurt you is on the offensive glass. They rank second in the conference in rebounding while KU is fourth. They also rank second in rebounds given up to their opponent. Again, KU is fourth. Baylor rebounds 44 percent of their misses and average 14.4 offensive rebounds per game to KU’s 11.1. However, KU is the better defensive rebounding team. If they can limit Baylor to one shot per trip, given the pace Baylor likes to play at, I think that KU will be in great shape.