Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Wednesday’s game: No. 2 Baylor at No. 3 Kansas, 8 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse (ESPN2)
Opponent’s record: 20-1
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 7
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Point spread: Kansas by 6 1/2
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Limiting close shots: Baylor gets back well in transition, has long defenders and often sets up in a difficult-to-penetrate zone. Because of that, only 19.5 percent of opponents’ shots have come at the rim — the second-best mark of any team in the nation.
▪ Offensive rebounding: The Bears are 10th nationally in O-board percentage and actually have improved since Big 12 play began, as they lead the league while pulling down 42 percent of their misses.
▪ Foul avoidance: Baylor’s zone typically helps the team avoid unnecessary whistles, as the team ranks 24th nationally in defensive free-throw rate.
▪ Turnovers — both ends: This has been Baylor’s biggest issue, as it has been last in the Big 12 in offensive turnover rate and ninth in defensive turnover rate since league play began.
▪ Three-point shooting: The Bears are almost identical to Kentucky in this aspect, as they are right at NCAA average on three-point percentage (35 percent) while not shooting outside attempts often. Baylor also lacks a proven third three-point shooter (unless King McClure can regain last year’s form), so KU’s Triangle-and-2 defense could be in play with Frank Mason and Devonté Graham guarding three-point threats Manu Lecomte and Al Freeman.
▪ Defensive rebounding: This is something you might expect from a team that zones a lot. Baylor is just below the national average in defensive rebounding percentage, meaning there could be some openings inside for KU following missed shots.
3 Players to Watch
Six-foot-10 forward Johnathan Motley (No. 5)
Plus: Ranks fifth in KenPom’s player of the year ranking and is unquestioned go-to guy offensively
Plus: Strong rebounder on both ends
Plus: Creates contact often and is 71 percent at line
Plus: Above average both at rim and in mid-range
Minus: Not a three-point shooter (5-for-17)
5-foot-11 guard Manu Lecomte (No. 20)
Plus: Team’s best and most frequent three-point shooter
Plus: Gets to line a decent amount and shoots 82 percent there
Plus: Baylor’s best passer
Plus: Synergy’s logs rank him as “very good” overall defender
Minus: Is often turnover prone
Minus: Doesn’t attempt many shots at the rim, likely because of his size
Seven-foot forward Jo Lual-Acuil (No. 0)
Plus: One of nation’s top shot-blockers
Plus: Makes 87(!) percent of shots at the rim
Plus: Good offensive and defensive rebounder
Plus: Rarely turns it over
Minus: Poor free-throw shooter
Minus: Mostly a role player offensively
Here’s the big question: How much do you believe history should be taken into account when predicting this game?
KU coach Bill Self is 216-9 at Allen Fieldhouse. Baylor coach Scott Drew is 0-9. While Drew has had some success against KU at home and in the Big 12 Tournament, his team hasn’t fared well in Lawrence.
Then again, these teams are different than past years. Baylor is seventh in KenPom’s rankings, while KU is eighth. The Bears, with their size inside and ability to protect the rim, actually look more like a typical KU team than Kansas does in this particular season.
KenPom has KU by four. But Vegas has the Jayhawks by 6 1/2. It’s the Self factor.
And I’m not sure I disagree with it.
Self always has seemed to create a few easy baskets against Baylor’s zone, which included last year, when the Jayhawks drew up some plays on a hotel ballroom floor. The Bears discourage shots at the rim almost as well as anyone, but will that hold up in Allen Fieldhouse? The same question can be asked for Baylor’s transition defense, which could struggle a bit more in a frantic environment.
I think the line is almost exactly right, given all the circumstances. If I’m picking a side for the cover, though, I’ll go with KU.
Kansas 76, Baylor 68
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
Baylor will allow three-point attempts, but the important thing is for players to trust themselves that they’re taking a good shot against the zone. No one on KU’s roster has more confidence in these situations than Devonté Graham, so there’s potential here for a 20-point game.
Last game prediction: Kentucky 86, Kansas 76, (Actual: KU 79-73)
2016-17 record vs. spread: 9-10
Last three seasons’ record vs. spread: 50-37-2