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: Baylor at No. 10 Kansas, 5 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse
Opponent’s record: 12-6
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 39
Point spread: KU by 9 1/2
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Offensive rebounding: The Big 12 has a lot of teams that crash the offensive glass, but Baylor has been the best in league play, grabbing 36 percent of its misses.
▪ Rim protection: Baylor leads the nation when it comes to limiting opponents’ shots at the rim. The Bears also are 29th nationally in two-point percentage defense and 31st in block rate.
▪ Foul avoidance: KU is in the bottom five nationally when it comes to getting free throws, while Baylor is in the top five when it comes to avoiding them defensively. Don’t expect more than 12-15 foul shots from the Jayhawks on Saturday.
▪ Shot selection: Baylor is king of the mid-range, which is statistically the least efficient shot in basketball. The Bears have attempted 43 percent of their shots from that in-between area, which is the fourth-highest mark nationally.
▪ Carelessness: A ball security problem for Baylor has gotten worse in conference play, as the Bears rank last in the Big 12 in offensive turnover percentage.
▪ Creating havoc: Coach Scott Drew’s teams are typically passive defensively, and this team fits that mold. The Bears are 305th in defensive turnover percentage, which means any turnovers the Jayhawks have Saturday are likelier to be self-inflicted than forced.
3 Players to Watch
5-foot-11 guard Manu Lecomte (No. 20)
Plus: Easily team’s most efficient offensive player
Plus: Great three-point shooter ... must stay with him on perimeter
Plus: Gets to line decent amount and is 90 percent shooter there
Plus: Synergy’s logs list him as “very good” defender
Minus: Almost never gets to the rim off the drive and shouldn’t be feared inside arc (don’t foul him there)
Minus: Assist rate is OK but down quite a bit from last season
7-foot forward Jo Lual-Acuil (No. 0)
Plus: Strong rebounder on both ends
Plus: Has been good but not elite shot-blocker this season
Plus: Great finisher on shots at the rim (82 percent)
Plus: Does decent job of getting to free-throw line
Minus: Takes way too many mid-range shots, which hurts his efficiency
Minus: Struggles to defend in space
6-foot-5 forward Mark Vital (No. 11)
Plus: Wing who has unique skillset
Plus: Strong passer
Plus: Has good offensive rebounding and block numbers for his size
Minus: Extremely turnover prone
Minus: Not a three-point shooter; is 1-for-8 this season
It’s a weird time to attempt a prediction for this KU team.
In past years, the Jayhawks being at home would likely make one more optimistic about their chances to not only win, but cover the spread. The last few weeks, though, has been opposite of that, with the Jayhawks losing to Arizona State and Texas Tech before pulling out close victories over Iowa State and Kansas State.
Is that enough of a sample size to be reliable? Probably not, though the way this team has had to lean heavily on its top players might make us believe that KU could be destined for more close home games ahead.
For this particular matchup, KU should have a chance to do well with first-shot defense. If the Jayhawks can keep Lecomte (and others) from attempting threes, the Bears are likely to push themselves toward inefficiency with mid-range shots. From there, KU will have to secure the defensive rebound — that’s been a problem this season — but the Jayhawks still shouldn’t have to be amazing in that area to limit Baylor’s offense.
Looking at KU offensively, Baylor is about average with transition defense and below average when it comes to allowing threes. And while the Bears have restricted opponents’ close shots, coach Bill Self always seems to have a lob play or two waiting for Baylor’s zone, which should give KU a few free points.
Add it all up, and I like KU to win and cover despite a troubling last few games at Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas 77, Baylor 64
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
Baylor appears to have the most problems guarding non-point-guards on the perimeter. The pick here, then, is Svi Mykhailiuk, who has made 53 percent of his threes in Big 12 play and 56 percent of those attempts at home.
Last game prediction: West Virginia 83, Kansas 82 (Actual: KU 71-66)
2017-18 record vs. spread: 9-8
Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 67-51-3