No. 10 Kansas Jayhawks (15-3 overall, 5-1 Big 12) vs. Baylor Bears (12-6 overall, 2-4 Big 12)
Time: 5 p.m. | Location: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kan.
TV: ESPN | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
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Keys for Kansas
1. Avoid the big win letdown
The last time the Kansas basketball team was on the court, it used every ounce of energy and physical and emotional toughness it had to come back from 16 down in a road victory over West Virginia on Big Monday.
The win was huge and the aftermath was even bigger, with analysts and fans nationwide proclaiming that the Kansas that everybody knew and loved and that had won 13 Big 12 titles in a row was back and that they were foolish for ever having doubted the Jayhawks.
Be that as it may, don't expect that kind of talk to have been commonplace inside the KU locker room this week. The Jayhawks, though pleased to have some time off to recover from the emotional win, have not been thinking too much about what just happened and, instead, have been focusing on the future and what they need to do to get better.
That kind of attitude is huge, but the time to recover has been, as well.
“I think the best thing about Big Monday games, if you're successful in them, it gives you five days to catch your breath,” KU coach Bill Self said this week. “So we took Tuesday off, obviously. We didn't get back until about 4. Then we went light (Wednesday), didn't go up and down, just half-court stuff, and then we (got into it Thursday). So basically they probably had the equivalent of a day and a half off or whatever and, you know, we're getting ready to start the toughest stretch of everyone's season, February, so we're getting ready to start that and hopefully our minds and bodies will be as fresh as they can be.”
2. Zone busters
Although the Bears have played more man-to-man defense than usual this year — BU coach Scott Drew said it was “just something we do; some games our man works better” — Self said the area in which game plans for Baylor always begin is with the Bears' zone.
A year ago, KU freshman Josh Jackson carved up the BU zone, getting to the high post and making plays, both for himself and others, with his athleticism and ability to score in a variety of ways.
This team does not have Jackson, but it's not hard to envision Lagerald Vick doing some of those same things.
Vick has been in a bit of a funk of late, so whether he's up for the tall order remains to be seen. But given his experience against the Washington zone — which is different, but can be attacked with a similar philosophy — he could be a key player in this one, both in terms of getting points in the paint and creating plays to open up KU's 3-point shooters, who are more than capable of busting Baylor's zone by themselves if they get hot.
3. Build on strong defense vs. WVU
Although they were far from flawless, the Jayhawks played one of their best defensive games of the season during their last outing, largely because of how hard they battled.
“We haven't played great,” Self said of his team of late. “But we've competed hard, and that's something that I think is more important than playing well. I thought our half-court defense was a little better vs. K-State and a lot better vs. West Virginia. We're still not guarding the ball like we're capable of, but we also rebounded better in both of those outings.”
Using the momentum from frustrating the Mountaineers into 37.5 percent shooting in the second half of Monday's comeback could go a long way in turning this KU team not only into a better defensive team but also one that looks more like Self's defensive squads of the past.
In order to have defensive success in this one, the Jayhawks first and foremost will have to find a way to handle Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte.
Lecomte, a senior who exploded onto the scene a season ago, leads the Bears in scoring (16.9 points per game), 3-point percentage (.409) and free-throw percentage (.900), and, more importantly, has the ability to control an entire game and get the Bears into exactly what they want to run every trip down the floor.
“The biggest thing is you've got to be able to control their point guard and give them one or less shots each possession,” Self said. “And they're really good at not letting you do that.”
What the Bears are not so good at is scoring. Although Baylor registers 77.6 points per game, it ranks last in the Big 12 in offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and 2-point percentage, which positions the Jayhawks well to turn in another solid defensive game and, perhaps, a relatively easy victory if they do.
KU's transition offense vs. Baylor defense
Asked what made the Jayhawks so tough and consistent year after year, Drew pointed first to Self and his ability to recruit elite athletes.
He then followed up with an on-the-court answer that could be crucial in this one.
“The common denominator is they're always efficient in transition,” Drew said. “They're an elite team in the country for a reason and that is great players, great coaching and you have to beat them. They don't beat themselves.”
KU's transition offense has been hot and cold this year, with the Jayhawks on fire to start the season and cooling off as the competition has increased and Big 12 play has heated up.
In terms of tempo, Kansas, as things currently stand, is in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 in the analytics that measure pace of play, and Baylor checks in as one of the slowest tempo teams in the country — all the more reason the Jayhawks should look to push the ball in this one.
Self talked on Thursday about one of the biggest reasons his team has struggled to get out and run and that has been the makeup of its lineups on the floor.
“If you don't rebound the ball, it's hard to get in transition,” Self said.
And with four guards out there most of the time, the Jayhawks are asking two or three players, on a regular basis, to do something that does not necessarily fit their skill set. That's why Kansas has been outrebounded so often this season. But, clearly, there's more to rebounding than just getting the ball away from the opponent.
Hitting the glass in this one should help KU's transition opportunities. And when the Jayhawks get out and run in Allen Fieldhouse, they're awfully tough to beat.
With a wild week that saw KU win at West Virginia and the three other teams that were tied with Kansas atop the Big 12 standings all lose, the Jayhawks find themselves back in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 a third of the way through the conference schedule.
Despite a bit of good fortune falling their way this week, the Jayhawks are far from comfortable, and they know that things could turn the other way just as quickly as they fell in their favor this week.
“The difference between us and a 3-3 team is just one week, and we know that,” Self said. “It's going to be a monster all the way through it.”
In years past, one of the biggest reasons the Jayhawks have survived and won the Big 12 for 13 consecutive seasons has been their ability to play well at Allen Fieldhouse. But with two home losses already this season — including one in league play — and a 3-0 mark on the road in the Big 12, the Jayhawks are still in search of a way to find that Allen Fieldhouse magic.
Asked why his team has seemed to play better on the road, Self spoke to the idea of fewer distractions.
“I think our focus has been better on the road than at home,” Self admitted. “We talked about that. But, you know, in basketball or in sport, you know, one- or two-possession games obviously can go the other way just as easy, and we've been fortunate in some close games on the road.”
With their point differential in Big 12 home games thus far sitting at -6 and KU registering a +15 mark on the road, the Jayhawks have reached a point where figuring out a way to play better at home is now probably the most crucial part of their quest to make it 14 straight Big 12 titles a little more than a month from now.
No. 10 Kansas
G – Devonte’ Graham, 6-2, 185, Sr.
G – Malik Newman, 6-3, 190, Soph.
G – Svi Mykhailiuk, 6-8, 205, Sr.
G – Lagerald Vick, 6-5, 175, Jr.
C – Udoka Azubuike, 7-0, 280, Soph.
G – Manu Lecomte, 5-11, 175, Sr.
G – King McLure, 6-3, 215, Jr.
F – Nuni Omot, 6-9, 205, Sr.
F – Tristan Clark, 6-9, 240, Fr.
C – Jo Lual-Acuil, 7-0, 225, Sr.