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KU's interior defense will be tested against Baylor

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Kansas center Jeff Withey defends as Baylor forward Cory Jefferson scoops a shot from behind the backboard during the first half on Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Jeff Withey defends as Baylor forward Cory Jefferson scoops a shot from behind the backboard during the first half on Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Team: Baylor
Record: 11-4
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 29

3 Strengths

Inside shooting: Baylor is most efficient offensively inside, where it's made 53.4 percent of its two-point attempts (25th nationally). Part of the reason for this high success is that the Bears almost never have their shots blocked; just 6.5 percent of their twos have been swatted (19th nationally). BU has lots of size at its two forward positions, ranking 43rd nationally in KenPom's "effective height" measure. This should be one of the biggest keys for both teams in Monday night's game, as KU enters with the top two-point percentage defense in the nation (37.1 percent).

Ball security: Much like Temple, Baylor rarely turns the ball over, giving it away on just 17.4 percent of its possessions (31st nationally). The Bears are helped in this aspect by having two players that are in the top seven nationally in turnover rate: guard Brady Heslip (No. 1, 5.5 percent of ended possessions) and Cory Jefferson (No. 7, 7.1 percent of ended possessions). Playing at an above-average pace, BU has turned it over just 12 times per game and hasn't given it away more than 14 times in any of its last eight contests.

Foul avoidance: Baylor has done a great job of keeping teams off the free throw line, as its defensive free throw rate ranks 36th nationally. Opponents have averaged just 10.2 made free throws per game against the Bears, with BU fouling just 15.5 times per game. Though KU has averaged 32 free throw attempts in its last two games and is playing at home, don't expect the Jayhawks to have as many opportunities at the line against Baylor on Monday night.

3 Weaknesses

Drawing fouls: Conversely, Baylor isn't a team that gets fouled often. The Bears' free throw rate ranks 222nd nationally, and only point guard Pierre Jackson (94) and Jefferson (64) have more than 40 free throw attempts. BU averages just 20 free throws per game and most likely won't get much help from an Allen Fieldhouse crew. KU, meanwhile, has done a nice job of avoiding fouls on the defensive end, ranking 60th nationally in defensive free throw rate.

• Defensive rebounding: Despite having good size, Baylor has struggled on the defensive glass this year, pulling own just 66.9 percent of opponents' misses (218th nationally). This has long been a weakness of coach Scott Drew's teams at BU, as the Bears have ranked in the top 100 of defensive rebounding percentage just once in his 10 seasons (93rd, 2010-11). KU has been poor on the offensive glass so far, though, bringing down just 32.1 percent of its misses (171st nationally).

Forcing turnovers: Baylor has been only an average team at taking the ball away, creating turnovers on 20.9 percent of its defensive possessions (165th nationally). Almost all of BU's steals come from the perimeter, as senior A.J. Walton (89th-best steal rate nationally) and Pierre Jackson lead the team with 30 and 29 steals, respectively. Pay close attention to KU guard Elijah Johnson, who will be going against those BU guards. The senior has been careless of late, turning it over 15 times in his last three games.

3 Players to Watch

Kansas guard Travis Releford wrestles on the floor for a loose ball with Baylor guard Pierre Jackson during the first half on Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Travis Releford wrestles on the floor for a loose ball with Baylor guard Pierre Jackson during the first half on Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Five-foot-10 point guard Pierre Jackson (No. 55) is Baylor's best player and a surefire All-Big 12 first-team selection provided he stays healthy. The senior takes on a huge scoring responsibility for the Bears, shooting 27.5 percent of his team's shots when he's in (225th nationally). He's good inside, where's he's made half of his twos, and capable outside, where he's a 36-percent three-point shooter. He's especially dangerous off the bounce, drawing 5.8 fouls per game (114th nationally) while racking up more than six free throws per contest. Jackson also is a gifted passer (34th nationally in assist rate) and a strong defender, coming away with steals on 3.4 percent of opponents' possessions (241st nationally). With the struggles KU has has had keeping opposing guards out of the lane, Jackson could be in for a huge offensive game. Is he too quick for Travis Releford to guard? I'm not sure KU has any good answers (short of playing zone) to counter Jackson's speed and driving ability.

Six-foot-9 forward Cory Jefferson (No. 34) continues to improve and is one of the nation's best scorers in the paint. Hoop-Math.com's latest numbers have Jefferson as an 86-percent shooter on dunks, layups and tipins, which has to be among the highest percentages in the nation in that category. The junior has made 64 percent of his twos (83 of 129) and also is a good free throw shooter, connecting on 49 of 64 shots there (76.6 percent). As mentioned before, Jefferson almost never turns it over, posting just 10 giveaways in 455 minutes. He's also BU's most consistent rebounder — ranking 237th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 246th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage — and is a defensive presence, blocking 7.1 percent of opponents' two-point attempts (103rd nationally).

Seven-foot-1 Isaiah Austin (No. 21 with goggles) is tall, but his numbers look more like that of a small forward than a center. The freshman, who is No. 6 in DraftExpress' latest 2013 NBA Mock Draft, actually is a good jump-shooter, making 57 percent of his twos (73 of 128) and 36 percent of his threes (13 of 36). Hoop-Math's numbers indicate he has a decent mid-range game, as he's made a team-high 44 percent of his two-point jumpshots (does not include shots at rim). Austin is not a threat to get to the free throw line, attempting just 39 freebies in 14 games. Austin is also BU's second-best rebounder behind Jefferson, but he's not much of a shot-blocker, rejecting just 3.3 percent of opponents' twos (420th nationally).

(• I'm only supposed to list three players to watch, but not mentioning 6-2 junior guard Brady Heslip [No. 5] would be a glaring omission. He's made just 35.7 percent of his threes (30 of 84) this year after making 45.5 percent (100 of 220) last season, but I'd still consider him as dangerous as they come as far as three-point shooting goes.)

Prediction

There's a lot to like about this Baylor team, especially with Jackson, who should cause all sorts of problems for KU defensively on the perimeter.

It's still hard for me to think the Bears will keep this one close.

BU just hasn't performed that well recently at Allen Fieldhouse. Add to it that this game — an important one in the Big 12 standings — is on ESPN's Big Monday, and this feels like a night where KU should be charged up, even during a four-game-in-nine-days stretch.

The Bears' strength offensively is inside, and if KU center Jeff Withey stays out of foul trouble like he has all season, that obviously provides a huge obstacle.

KU will have to find some way to score in transition, though. As mentioned above, Baylor doesn't turn it over much and also doesn't get many shots blocked, and those are the two main ways KU has started its fast breaks this year.

I think the Jayhawks will find a way, and after watching Baylor play at Allen Fieldhouse in previous years, I'm hesitant to pick a close score until the Bears prove that they're capable of producing one in Lawrence.

Kansas 73, Baylor 58

Hawk to Rock

After playing two games in a row where teams tried to pull him to the perimeter, Jeff Withey will be able to stay in the paint defensively against a team that will try to go big-on-big against him. The Jefferson-Withey battle should be a fun one to watch, but I think Withey will win it, registering a few blocks that will help lead to transition points for KU. Give me a double-double for Withey to go with a strong performance on the offensive glass.

Predictions tally
14-1 record, 196 points off (13.1 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Average: 3.9th in KUsports.com ratings

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