If you asked just about any KU fans a week ago to describe their thoughts about the upcoming rematch with the Baylor Bears, “worried” would not have been a very common adjective. The Bears went into a tail-spin in the first half of the Big 12 season and found themselves as the losers of six straight and seven of eight league games with their lone win coming at home against TCU. They were the polar opposite of KU which hit their stride at the beginning of the conference season and rattled off seven straight wins.
However, things changed some last week. Baylor inexplicably went on the road to Stillwater and beat OSU. KU, on the other hand, ventured to Austin and got whooped by a hungrier Texas Longhorn team that is now emerging as the favorite to challenge the Jayhawks for the league title. Baylor looked like the team that we thought they could be all year. That is the story with Baylor almost every year, though. They have the talent to beat anybody in America, but coaching holds them back. What makes them dangerous is that they can sneak up on teams, especially at home. They go and lose seven of eight games and you forget about them and then they catch you on a night where Scott Drew gets out of his team’s way and they beat you. In some way KU is lucky that Baylor played the way they did against OSU. Had the Bears gone into Stillwater and been trounced, KU could very well be overlooking this squad. As it is, they should have KU’s undivided attention Tuesday night. Here are some things to watch for:
1. Making Heslip uncomfortable on offense. I truly believe that if Baylor has a real shot to beat KU tonight, their sharp shooter will have to have himself a night. He almost single handedly kept Baylor in the game in Allen Fieldhouse earlier this year making 6 of 9 three point attempts. KU let him get comfortable early, and you can’t to that against this kind of player. Tharpe and Mason are likely to draw the majority of the responsibility for stopping him, and they need to have superior defensive performances. I think if you take him out of the game, you kill Baylor’s best chance at a win. They must do better than they did against him in round one.
2. Handling Baylor’s interior size. Baylor out rebounded KU in their loss in Lawrence 31-29 and had 20 offensive rebounding for an offensive rebounding percentage of 48%. Baylor didn’t capitalize on their second chances enough to win, but the story could be different at home. KU has do be fundamentally sound and rebound the basketball. Getting out rebounded is emerging as a scary trend for the Jayhawks who seem to struggle in general with teams that can match their size inside. That was true in the loses to San Diego State and Texas and to a certain extent it was true of the win at home against Baylor.
3. Can KU recover from the loss at Texas and put Baylor away early? I have spoken at length about KU’s brutal non-conference slate and how it prepared them to win in tough road environments like at Iowa State and to win in games where the team is not at its best such as the first meeting with Baylor. Another aspect of the hardening process is learning to compete with great energy and win after a disappointing performance and loss. We haven’t seen this team bounce back from a loss in a while because they have been winning so darn much recently. I am interested to see how KU comes out and competes early in this one. Is there a hangover from the loss just three days ago? Or is it back to business for KU? A decisive victory that is never in question should put KU fans at ease that Texas was nothing more than a bad game, and that is going to happen from time to time. What KU can ill afford right now is to develop some sort of slump where they lose 2 of 3 or 3 of 4.