University of Kansas

Quick scout: Will a four-year trend continue in this KU-Baylor game?

KU coach Bill Self previews Baylor game and talks about Udoka Azubuike’s surgery

KU coach Bill Self previews the Kansas-Baylor game and talks about Udoka Azubuike's surgery. The Jayhawks will travel to Waco to take on the Bears at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.
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KU coach Bill Self previews the Kansas-Baylor game and talks about Udoka Azubuike's surgery. The Jayhawks will travel to Waco to take on the Bears at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.

Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.

Saturday’s game: No. 7 Kansas at Baylor, 3 p.m., Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas

TV: ESPN

Opponent’s record: 9-5

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 53

Point spread: Kansas by 3 1/2.

All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.

3 Strengths

Rim protection: Baylor, which plays about two-thirds man defense and one-third zone, ranks fifth nationally in reducing opponent shots at the rim and also sixth in defensive block rate.

Offensive rebounding: Despite having a shorter team than many years past, Baylor’s best offensive skill set is the crashing glass, as it ranks 16th in O-board percentage.

Creating havoc: The Bears are 66th in defensive turnover percentage and 79th in steal rate.

3 Weaknesses

Three-point shooting: Baylor attempts threes at an NCAA average rate, yet it ranks 327th in accuracy at 29 percent.

Transition offense: The Bears aren’t shy about running offensively, but their shooting percentage in those situations ranks 303rd.

Carelessness: Baylor is 257th in offensive turnover percentage despite playing a below-average schedule to this point.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-1 guard Makai Mason (No. 10)

BU_MBB_Mason_Makai_18_19_Headshot.jpg

Plus: Efficient offensive player

Plus: Gets fouled often and is excellent free throw shooter

Plus: Decent passer

Plus: Does great job creating and making two-pointers for himself

Minus: Below-average three-point shooter this season

Minus: Struggles in transition situations

6-foot-9 forward Tristan Clark (No. 25)

BU_MBB_Clark_Tristan_18_19_Headshot.jpg

Plus: Has Udoka-like accuracy inside (76 percent on twos)

Plus: Team’s best shot-blocker

Plus: Gets fouled often

Plus: Synergy’s logs list him as “excellent” defender

Minus: Not a three-point threat (1-for-4 on year)

Minus: Doesn’t defensive rebound as well as you’d expect

6-foot-5 guard/forward Mark Vital (No. 11)

BU_MBB_Vital_Mark_18_19_Headshot.jpg

Plus: One of nation’s best offensive rebounders

Plus: Does great job of creating contact and getting to line

Minus: Horrible free throw shooter (42 percent)

Minus: Turnover prone, which often comes after he gets offensive rebounds

Prediction

Before getting to my pick, there might be reason to advocate for an “under” bet (137 points) in this one.

For whatever reason ... a KU-Baylor game in Waco tends to be played at an extremely slow tempo. Consider this: KU’s road game at Baylor last year was its fifth-slowest from a pace standpoint, and each of the three seasons before that, the Jayhawks’ lowest-possession game of the season was its contest played at Ferrell Center.

The two teams this year could default to that style as well. Baylor and KU have both struggled in transition, though the Jayhawks are more likely to want to push the pace. The Bears also could have an opening for offensive rebounds (which extends possessions), especially with KU center Udoka Azubuike no longer available.

In any case ... KU doesn’t appear to have many good paths to score here against a sound Baylor defense. Offensive rebounds and getting fouled are probably the best ways, meaning KU might do well with a gameplan of simply trying to avoid turnovers to win the possession battle.

Defensively, however, KU could see success if it’s able to rebound. Baylor hasn’t consistently been able to score in two of the most efficient basketball ways (transition and three-pointers), and the Jayhawks have been solid defensively this year in the half-court, even when they’ve had to play a smaller lineup.

The low-possession trend scares me a little when it comes to a KU cover — fewer scoring opportunities would make a closer game more likely — but I still can’t get the thought out of my head that the Jayhawks should get a small bump soon from positive shooting regression.

KU isn’t a great outside shooting team, but it should be better than the 5-for-21 performance it had against TCU (24 percent) and also the combined 29 of 111 it has shot from long range the last five games combined (26 percent).

Though Baylor does a decent job of limiting threes, KU could still be 6-9 points better simply by shooting like an average NCAA team.

Give me the Jayhawks for the win and cover in a low-scoring affair.

Kansas 66, Baylor 59

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

After playing just one minute against TCU, David McCormack could be in for a much bigger role against Baylor. KU coach Bill Self loves having big men in against zones who can finish lobs and dunks on set plays, and McCormack also is a better defensive matchup against the talented Clark than Dedric Lawson will be. Expect solid numbers from McCormack on Saturday.

Last game prediction: Kansas 77, TCU 67 (Actual: KU 77-68)

2018-19 record vs. spread: 8-7

Last five seasons’ record vs. spread: 85-69-3

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.


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