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The Day After: A barn-burner at Baylor

Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) puts up a floater against Baylor with time winding down during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) puts up a floater against Baylor with time winding down during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

Toughness can be defined in different ways and covers everything from physical strength to mental triumph.

During Wednesday's 56-55 road win at Baylor, I must have seen KU coach Bill Self scream down at his team at least half a dozen times — particularly during that intense second half — in a plea for his players to be tough.

Sure, Kansas was out-rebounded by eight — including 17-9 on the offensive glass — and, yeah, there were times when the bigger, badder Baylor bodies knocked KU players to the ground while going for loose balls or rebounds. Even still, the Jayhawks delivered.

Toughness is not letting the wheels fall off when you fall behind by six points in a game where a three-point lead felt large. Toughness is not feeling sorry for yourselves when the one guy who had been playing the best offensively fouled out. Toughness is making clutch free throws when they matter most.

The Jayhawks did all of those and more on Wednesday against a good Baylor team that had some notable advantages. And because of it, the Jayhawks jumped out to 1-0 in Big 12 play and will have a chance to make that 3-0 in the next six days.

Kansas players, from left, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason and Jamari Traylor watch a pair of free throws from Kelly Oubre with head coach Bill Self after a flagrant foul by Baylor during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas players, from left, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason and Jamari Traylor watch a pair of free throws from Kelly Oubre with head coach Bill Self after a flagrant foul by Baylor during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

Quick takeaway

For the fourth game in a row — and the ninth time in 14 games — sophomore point guard Frank Mason led Kansas in minutes. But unlike we've come to expect from Mason in recent weeks, not all of those minutes were stellar. Mason struggled offensively in the first half and really only had one stretch where he looked good on offense. But rather than that slightly off night from their leader spelling doom, other Jayhawks stepped up and made plays to pick up the slack. This team has talent and varying degrees of confidence. But Wednesday's effort may go down as one of the biggest they'll have all season because these guys now know they can win a tough game even when Mason does not play like a super hero.

Three reasons to smile

1 – KU's ball movement was pretty good throughout the game. A lot of times when teams struggle against a zone defense, it's because passes are scarce or guys try to play too much one-on-five basketball. That was not KU's problem against the Bears. Sure, BU's length and KU's own hesitation made things tough and limited the Jayhawks to just 18 first-half points, but it was not because the Jayhawks did not share the ball and keep it moving against the zone. That showed in the second half, when KU scored 38 points and started taking and making shots born from an attacking attitude.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) puts up a floater amidst the Baylor defense during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) puts up a floater amidst the Baylor defense during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

2 – How about Jamari Traylor? I've been hard on the guy for most of the season, but he was sensational against Baylor. He played under control, he played with purpose and he carried the KU offense when the Jayhawks were in desperate need of someone to step up. Traylor's game still has holes, but it was good to see him find success while playing under control. That should really benefit him the rest of the season and, if he can replicate it, should make him a legitimate option in the KU offense.

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (35) bowls over Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) on a dunk during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. The dunk was called back and Motley was whistled for an offensive foul on the play.

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (35) bowls over Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) on a dunk during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. The dunk was called back and Motley was whistled for an offensive foul on the play. by Nick Krug

3 – Forget the stats or the style points, several Jayhawks made winning plays in this game. And it's those kinds of plays that bring confidence and can draw a team together. Whether you're talking about Wayne Selden's seven straight points, all on tough shots, or Traylor taking a charge or Mason immediately answering a huge Baylor three with the only one he made all night, several different Jayhawks stepped up at just the right time to snag this victory. That's a good sign that guys are (a) becoming more understanding and accepting of their roles and (b) team chemistry is rock solid.

Three reasons to sigh

1 – The Jayhawks still have not figured out how to attack and/or score over length and a presence at the rim. No one is more guilty of this than Perry Ellis, who struggled all night and finished 2-of-8 from the floor with 4 points, 3 rebounds and 2 turnovers, but several Jayhawks saw their shot attempts in close swatted or altered, especially in that rough first half. I suspect this will be a season-long issue for Kansas, which will make three-point shooting perhaps more important than ever for the Jayhawks, both as a way to get some open looks and points and to open up things in the paint.

2 – It's time to start looking at KU's rotation and minutes. Self played nine guys in this one but Landen Lucas and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk played just four and three minutes, respectively. That means KU basically won this game with a seven-man rotation. That's doable for a little while, but it's hard to imagine it holding up for 18 games in a conference as rough and tough as the Big 12, especially when foul trouble enters the equation. Freshman point guard Devonte' Graham should be back in the next game or two, and that will help tremendously. But it'll take some time for Graham to get back into the flow of things. Self's never going to be a guy who plays nine guys on a regular basis, but it would be a big boost if he had nine guys he could play on any given night. Graham's return will help, but so would improved play and confidence from Mykhailiuk.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene defends Baylor forward Taurean Prince (21) under the bucket during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene defends Baylor forward Taurean Prince (21) under the bucket during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

3 – Baylor's attendance was a little hard to believe. I know the students are still on winter break and that probably contributed to some of it, but, still, you've got the 21st ranked team in the country playing host to a blueblood program ranked No. 12 and you can't even come close to filling the place? That makes no sense. Baylor listed the attendance at 7,088, but I'm guessing it wasn't even that high. Those who were there were loud and did their best to give the Bears a home-court advantage, but it's hard to believe there wasn't a better crowd. I know a lot of places don't do that well all year and then sellout when KU comes to town.

One for the road

The Jayhawks' wild, one-point win at Baylor...

• Made Kansas 12-2 or better for the second time in the past three seasons and the seventh time in Bill Self’s 12 seasons at KU.

• Marked the Jayhawks’ 24th-consecutive conference-opening victory, dating back to the 1991-92 season.

• Pushed KU’s advantage to 22-4 in the all-time series against the Bears, including 10-2 inside the Ferrell Center.

• Improved KU's season record to 5-2 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse and 2-1 in true road games.

• Made Self to 337-71 while at Kansas and 544-176 overall.

• Made KU 2,138-824 all-time.

Next up

The Jayhawks return to action at 2 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, where Texas Tech will be the opponent for KU's Big 12 home opener.

By the Numbers: Kansas wins 56-55 at Baylor

By the Numbers: Kansas wins 56-55 at Baylor

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Monday Rewind - Baylor: Bears did what Bears do; time to move on

Kansas linebacker Schyler Miles is slung out of bounds while trying to bring down Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013.

Kansas linebacker Schyler Miles is slung out of bounds while trying to bring down Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk during the first quarter on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. by Nick Krug

Typically, these Monday Rewinds are spent looking back at a certain aspect of KU's most recent game that either impacted the outcome, added to a trend or simply was eye-opening enough — good or bad — to merit further discussion.

And while last week's loss to Baylor certainly included a few of those things, I thought I'd take a break from examining the Jayhawks' struggling offense or trying to pinpoint how or why things unfolded the way they did against the Bears. The reason? I want to talk about the Bears themselves.

It's not every day you watch one of the best offenses in college football history. It's not every day that you think the team on the other side of the field might be the best in the country. It's not every day (even if it may be every year in the ultra-tough Big 12) that you walk away from a game thinking to yourself that you might have just watched the national champions play.

But I thought all of those things when I watched Baylor and, to be honest, I'll quietly be rooting for it to happen. The Bears are a great story and are a team full of confident and talented individuals who come together to create one heck of a unit. Sure, running back Lache Seastrunk may be a little outspoken and may have caught people off guard when he said last summer that he was going after the Heisman Trophy. But I like it. And can you blame him? He can clearly back it up. The only problem with Seastrunk's bid to win the Heisman is that Baylor has been up so big so often this entire season that he hasn't logged enough snaps to put up truly ridiculous numbers. If that weren't the case, and if the Bears needed him for four quarters each night, I think he'd have a great shot.

Another guy who should have a great shot but isn't getting talked about much in the conversation is quarterback Bryce Petty. I'm not sure what more you want a guy to do to warrant Heisman chatter. He's deadly accurate, throws for a ton of yards and touchdowns and even can run it a little bit himself. Heck, his 12 incompletions vs. Kansas over the weekend were a season high and even with that his completion percentage still hovered around 65%.

It's not like Baylor isn't getting respect nationally. The Bears are ranked 6th in the latest BCS standings and are finding their way onto all kinds of highlight shows for their insanely entertaining offensive performances week in and week out. But because they've played most of their games at home and have yet to do what they do against a ranked opponent, they're not getting the same kind of love as the Florida States, Oregons and Alabamas.

They should be. And I know that now after seeing them at Memorial Stadium with my own eyes.

The reason for saying all of that — aside from sharing my enormous respect for Baylor's program? I think it's important to remember exactly who Kansas faced last weekend when talking about the Jayhawks and their continued quest toward improvement and that elusive conference victory.

There certainly are areas of this KU team that can and should be criticized, and we've covered those plenty so far throughout this season. But if you're looking to pile on because of the Baylor game, I think you're misguided.

I have no doubts that the Jayhawks worked their butts off all week to get ready and entered Saturday with a solid game plan. Sometimes, the other team is just that good. I mean, did you see the socks that Seastrunk wore? They had lightning on them! And, hey, Baylor's done this to everybody, and likely will continue to do it to everybody the rest of the way.

Rather than dwell on it and use it as more fire for the anti-KU football movement that's out there, I think it's best to burn the film, leave it in the past and move on to the next challenge.

Vegas had the Bears as 35-point favors for a reason, and, outside of KU's locker room, where I'm sure they truly believed they had a shot, last Saturday's outcome was not a huge surprise to anybody.

But I think it's more because Baylor's that good, not because KU is that bad.

With five games remaining in 2013 and a schedule that softens just a little, we'll find out.

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Monday Rewind: Baylor, with a look at who people are most excited about for 2013

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis heads off the field as the Baylor student section sings their Alma Mater following the Jayhawks' 41-14 loss to the Bears, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis heads off the field as the Baylor student section sings their Alma Mater following the Jayhawks' 41-14 loss to the Bears, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

With three games remaining in the season and few questions — other than will the Jayhawks win again — left to be answered, it makes sense to look ahead a little for this week’s Monday Rewind.

I’ve been asked for weeks now if KU will win another game this season and my answer always has been yes. It still is, but time is certainly running out.

I once thought both Texas Tech and West Virginia were unwinnable games, but with Tech falling to UT this past weekend and WVU falling apart, I’m not so sure any more. KU certainly will be heavy underdogs in both games, and if the offense can’t find a way to score some more points, the Jayhawks will have no shot. But both teams look a lot less invincible today than they did a couple of weeks ago.

That leaves Iowa State at home as KU’s other chance at victory, and this is one many Jayhawk fans have called KU’s best chance for weeks. It probably is, but Iowa State may be the best of the three remaining teams on the schedule. They’re certainly the toughest.

Enough about that, though. For this week’s Rewind, I’m taking you back to halftime of the Baylor game, when a 45-minute lightning delay forced us to wait on the outcome and inspired me to have a little fun on Twitter. In addition to answering dozens of questions thrown at me by a bunch of informed and engaged KU fans, I tossed one out to them: Which current KU player are you most excited about for next season?

I must have received nearly 100 responses, and while most went to one or two players, eight different guys were mentioned, which led me — and hopefully many of you — to the realization that even though things have been rough this season and the team’s record of 1-8 overall and 0-6 in Big 12 play is certainly worse than fans had hoped for, there’s still plenty to be excited about when looking to the immediate and far-off future.

Here’s a quick look at who garnered mention in this impromptu Twitter exercise, listed in order of the player people picked the most:

1. Jake Heaps — Heaps was, by far, the most mentioned player, and with good reason. KU’s quarterback play has been bad this year and it’s not getting any better. Heaps, who I was told was the best QB on KU’s roster entering this season, represents hope for the future. The fact that he has the shiny five-star label and the Div. I experience only makes him a more attractive option at the game’s most important position.

2. James Sims — While most who named Sims said they couldn’t wait to see what he would do for an encore, some even mentioned their concern about whether Sims would still be here in 2013. Sims certainly has an NFL future, but coming back for his senior season and playing another year under Charlie Weis while backing up what he’s done this year would significantly increase his stock.

3. Justin McCay — People started missing McCay before he even put on a uniform. Thanks to the NCAA’s poor decision not to grant the Oklahoma transfer immediate eligibility this season, the WR from Bishop Miege has spent the season sitting out. He has big-time potential, though, and we’ve been told he and Heaps have developed a solid bond.

4. Jake Love — Love has been one of the surprise stars of the KU defense this season and it seems only natural for many to wonder what the young linebacker who plays more like a moving vehicle will be able to do in the future. He’s physical, ferocious and not afraid to get physical.

5. Ben Heeney — Heeney came less out of nowhere than Love this season, but what he’s done at middle linebacker has been no less impressive. He’s among the Big 12 leaders in total tackles and has taken that wild and reckless style that made him a force on special teams to defense, where he looks to have a very bright future.

6. Tony Pierson — Pierson was the man at tailback during the season’s first three games. But an injury and the return of James Sims have slowed him down a little these past few weeks. That’s a shame but it shouldn’t do anything to change Pierson’s long-range outlook. The guy’s a weapon and once he gets his confidence back and if the Jayhawks get a passing game to complement him, he has the chance to reemerge as one of the most dangerous one-play weapons in the conference.

7. Josh Ford — Ford has done well on special teams this season but he’s been a non-factor at wide receiver. The fact that he was mentioned in this poll speaks to the team’s desperate situation at wide receiver. I talked to Ford a week or so ago and the junior still has his head screwed on tight and believes he will be a factor in the passing game here before he leaves.

8. Eric Kahn — Weis said this Spring Hill, Kan., native and Mid-America Nazarene transfer could be a weapon on kickoffs. I’ve taken a look at him in practice and he certainly has that look. He’s long, tall and his legs look spring-loaded.

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Three & Out with Baylor…

• Kansas Jayhawks (1-7 overall, 0-5 Big 12) vs. Baylor Bears (3-4 overall, 0-4 Big 12) •
— 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, Floyd Casey Stadium, Waco, Texas —

Opening Las Vegas Line: BU -17
Current Las Vegas Line: BU -17
Television: FSN

Three and out, with Baylor...

First down
By now, you surely have heard that Baylor quarterback Nick Florence — a 10-game starter in 2009 and back-up to Robert Griffin III in 2010 and 2011 — leads the nation in passing (378.9 yards per game), total offense (414.4 yards per game), is third in points responsible for per game (22.3) and sixth in pass efficiency with a QB rating of 166.6.

But here are a few things about Florence that you might not know, facts that are equally as impressive.

• In seven career road starts, Florence has posted five of the eight top passing yardage totals in Baylor history.
• Florence has thrown for 300 or more yards in six of seven games this season.
• This season alone, Florence has completed 16 passes of 40 yards or longer and seven passes of 50 yards or longer — 10 of those 23 bombs have gone for touchdowns.
• Florence was named a Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist and a Campbell Trophy (known as the “Academic Heisman”) finalist.

Second down
Now that you’ve seen all the gaudy statistics put up by the Bears’ offense this season, let’s look at a couple more.

Baylor has scored a whopping 14 touchdowns this season on drives that took a minute or less. The total balloons to 23 TDs when talking about drives that lasted two minutes or less. Although the Bears’ have been incredibly explosive on offense, there has been a chink in the armor and it didn’t take KU coach Charlie Weis long to discover it.

“They’re scoring 44 points a game and I don’t know how that could play to anyone’s advantage,” Weis said. “Scoring points is not the problem. The only reason they’ve lost games is turnovers. They won the first three games scoring a bunch of points, and then they lost the last four games. The two games that they only scored 21, they turned it over six times in one and four times in the other. So realistically, it wasn’t because anyone’s really shut them down, it’s because they’ve turned it over. If we’re going to have chance to win, we’re going to need turnovers.”

Baylor coach Art Briles is well aware of that make-or-break statistic and, so far, he’s been at a loss to figure it out.

“If I knew the answer, we’d certainly stop it,” Briles said. “I think it’s something our players are aware of. Sometimes you get caught in situations trying to extend the play and you get a little risky with the football. I think it’s just all situational and awareness.”

Third down
Although the Jayhawks have won just once this season and have not won a Big 12 game in their last 17 tries, Briles is not about to look at this week’s match-up as a gimme.

For starters, he remembers how this team had his Robert Griffin III-led squad on the ropes in the fourth quarter a year ago. Even more to the point, Briles has seen vast improvement in the Jayhawks this season.

“They’re a Big 12 football team, they’re a good football team,” he said. “They’ve got good people, good coaches, good schemes and they’re certainly capable of beating anybody on any day just like anybody else in this league.”

Punt
Baylor leads the all-time series between these two, 7-4, including a 5-0 mark in games played in Waco.

Baylor has won two straight games in the series, albeit in very different manners. Two years ago in Waco, the Bears rolled over the Jayhawks, 55-7, and the game was basically over by the time the second quarter ended.

A year ago, in Lawrence, Kansas led Baylor by 21 points late in the game but fell in overtime, as Baylor ripped off four straight touchdowns, including the first in overtime, and then held off KU’s attempt at a game-winning two-point conversion.

KU’s last win in the series came in 2007, when the Jayhawks drubbed the Bears, 58-10, in Lawrence.

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