No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks (12-2 overall, 2-0 Big 12) vs. No. 4 Baylor Bears (12-1 overall, 2-0 Big 12)
Time: noon Saturday | Location: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas
TV: CBS | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
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1. Execute and run sets on offense
Coaches oftentimes set up opportunities in future games by dabbling with a new lineup, set or defense in the game or two leading up to a particularly big matchup.
And Saturday's top 5 showdown is definitely a monster matchup for both teams.
Could it be then that KU coach Bill Self’s decision to run more set plays against Iowa State on Wednesday night — more than he can remember running in a while, Self said after that win — was to get his players used to the idea heading into this clash with Baylor?
The reason that would make sense is the strength of the Bears’ defense, which ranks ninth nationally in scoring defense (58.4 points per game allowed) and is eighth nationally in KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings.
“They don’t let you run your stuff,” Self said matter-of-factly when breaking down this game on Friday. “A lot of times, from a shooting percentage standpoint, (you see teams) guard your actions and make other guys, the right guy, shoot it, or that kind of stuff. (Not Baylor). They just guard.”
West Virginia did the same thing, so the in-your-face style is not one that will be totally new to the Jayhawks. But just because they’ve seen it before does not make it any easier to handle.
And that could be why Self ran a bunch of set plays at Iowa State and what he’s planning to do in this one against the Bears.
If they do, look for most of those set plays to come with two KU big men on the floor.
“I think that we’re better running plays when we have two bigs in the game,” Self explained. “I do. Because then you can space them a certain way where they’re away from each other.”
The tendency of starting bigs David McCormack and Udoka Azubuike to play too close together, therein clogging up the paint and taking away driving lanes from teammates Devon Dotson and Marcus Garrett, was a big story early in the season. And Self combatted it by going to smaller, four-guard lineups more often.
Now, whether he does it on a regular basis or intermittently throughout the rest of the season, Self and his coaching staff appear to have identified another way to keep their bigger lineups from being a problem.
2. Get on the glass
It might not look exactly the same in terms of personnel and style of play, but the test presented by Baylor will be awfully similar to the one Kansas just passed against West Virginia.
Baylor brings to Allen Fieldhouse a big, physical front line that has dominated opponents on the glass so far this season, and the Jayhawks will have to be ready to compete — read: fight, scrap and claw — like they did in the second half of their win over West Virginia in order to survive it.
The Bears are outrebounding opponents by an average of seven boards per game. That number includes a four-rebound advantage on average on the offensive glass.
That’s where the Mountaineers did most of their damage and where Kansas fared well in Wednesday’s win over Iowa State.
Overall, KU’s 38.4% offensive rebounding percentage ranks fifth in the country and KU, at 101st in the country, has surrendered an offensive rebound 26.3% of the time.
The more recent numbers, however, show why this is such a key stat in this game. In their last two outings, the Bears have grabbed an offensive rebound on a whopping 46.8% of their misses. Meanwhile, KU’s defense has given up an offensive board on 40.2% of opponents misses in its past two games.
Azubuike and McCormack will have to be at their best in order to keep the Bears’ advantage in this department to a minimum. But it goes far beyond those two players. McCormack had seven boards against Iowa State but was held to just three against WVU. Azubuike has grabbed 18 rebounds in his past two games.
“We’re going to need a big game out of him, obviously,” Self said of his 7-foot center. “But we’re going to need a big game out of everybody to keep Baylor off the glass.”
3. Don’t forget the zone
It’s quite evident that Baylor coach Scott Drew, who has been known for playing zone defense almost exclusively during several of his seasons at BU, has gone away from zone for much of the 2019-20 season thus far.
After watching and scouting a few of Baylor’s games, Self said he believed it was personnel that dictated the move to more man-to-man defense.
“(Their zone) doesn’t have the same length,” Self said of the physical makeup of the players on the floor for Baylor this season. “And I’m sure that’s the reason they haven’t done it as much.”
But not “as much” does not mean never. And Self cautioned against overlooking the stifling matchup zone defense that has become a staple of Drew’s program and given Kansas and other teams fits for years.
“It is unique to see,” Self said of the Bears playing mostly man-to-man defense. “But (the zone is) still something you have to prepare for.”
Case in point: With the game on the line against Texas Tech on Tuesday night, Baylor played a ton of zone during the final few minutes of what wound up being a 57-52 Baylor road win in Lubbock, Texas.
And with Baylor sitting at 0-17 all-time inside Allen Fieldhouse there’s little doubting that Drew will pull out whatever he can if he thinks it will increase his team’s chance of finally breaking that winless streak on KU’s home floor.
KU guards vs. Baylor guards
Baylor’s guards are fast and physical, confident and carefree and willing to face any challenge thrown their way.
That mindset has helped the Bears a great deal during their four Top 25 victories so far this season — Villanova, Arizona, Butler and Texas Tech — and should serve them well in this showdown with Kansas.
“That’ll be the best group of guards, collectively, that we’ve played against this year,” Self said Friday. “Regardless of who we play or when we play them, I don’t think we’ll go against a quartet of guards better than (Baylor’s) that can all get their own off the bounce and can all score the ball.”
Garrett wholeheartedly agreed with his head coach and said BU’s talent on the perimeter jumped out at him while scouting and watching film on the fourth-ranked Bears this week.
“They got some great guards over there,” Garrett said. “We know how good their guards are with (Davion) Mitchell, (MaCio) Teague, Jared Butler and then they have (Devonte) Bandoo coming off the bench. We know all of them can create, all of them can shoot the ball, get to the rim. So it’s going to be a competitive game from the guards’ standpoint.”
Of his injured his left ankle that forced him to miss time during the Iowa State game on Wednesday, Garrett said: “It’s getting better. I’ll be ready.”
There’s no way around the fact that this one, though still early in Big 12 Conference play, is a monster game for both Baylor and Kansas.
If the Bears win, they’ll jump out to a one-game lead over KU in the Big 12 race and already will have two wins in two of the toughest road environments the conference has to offer.
If KU wins, it’s the Jayhawks who will grab early control of the race while also picking up a big victory for their psyche.
So far this season, the Jayhawks are 0-2 against two of the highest-ranked teams they’ve faced — then-No. 4 Duke in the Champions Classic and then-No. 18 Villanova.
KenPom.com has this as a 8-point Kansas victory, with the Jayhawks holding a 78% chance of winning the game. History certainly backs that stance.
Kansas, which leads the all-time series with Baylor, 32-5, including a 17-0 mark in games played in Lawrence, has won two in a row over the Bears and 13 of the last 14 matchups.
The Jayhawks also have won nine consecutive games against top 5 foes in Allen Fieldhouse, with eight of them coming under Self.
In order to extend that to 10, Self believes his team is going to have to play its best game of the season against arguably the most complete team the Jayhawks have faced.
“They’re good,” Self said. “(And) they’re playing without a 100% healthy (6-10, 245-pound junior Tristan) Clark right now. He’s starting to play more and he’s obviously getting his health back, but he’s good. He was arguably as good a big as we had in our league last year when he got hurt. But I'm a fan of their personnel ... and the guard out front from Auburn (Mitchell) has certainly made it different for them from a defensive standpoint. I think he’s probably the personality of the team defensively for them every bit as much as Marcus is for us.”
No. 3 Kansas
G – Devon Dotson, 6-2, 185, Soph.
G – Ochai Agbaji, 6-5, 210, Soph.
G – Marcus Garrett, 6-5, 195, Jr.
F – David McCormack, 6-10, 265, Soph.
C – Udoka Azubuike, 7-0, 265, Sr.
No. 4 Baylor
G – Davion Mitchell, 6-2, 195, RS-Soph.
G – MaCio Teague, 6-3, 195, RS-Jr.
G – Jared Butler, 6-3, 190, Soph.
F – Freddie Gillespie, 6-9, 245, RS-Sr.
F – Mark Vital, 6-5, 230, RS-Jr.