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: No. 7 Kansas at Baylor, 3 p.m., Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas
Opponent’s record: 9-5
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 53
Point spread: Kansas by 3 1/2.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Rim protection: Baylor, which plays about two-thirds man defense and one-third zone, ranks fifth nationally in reducing opponent shots at the rim and also sixth in defensive block rate.
▪ Offensive rebounding: Despite having a shorter team than many years past, Baylor’s best offensive skill set is the crashing glass, as it ranks 16th in O-board percentage.
▪ Creating havoc: The Bears are 66th in defensive turnover percentage and 79th in steal rate.
▪ Three-point shooting: Baylor attempts threes at an NCAA average rate, yet it ranks 327th in accuracy at 29 percent.
▪ Transition offense: The Bears aren’t shy about running offensively, but their shooting percentage in those situations ranks 303rd.
▪ Carelessness: Baylor is 257th in offensive turnover percentage despite playing a below-average schedule to this point.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-1 guard Makai Mason (No. 10)
Plus: Efficient offensive player
Plus: Gets fouled often and is excellent free throw shooter
Plus: Decent passer
Plus: Does great job creating and making two-pointers for himself
Minus: Below-average three-point shooter this season
Minus: Struggles in transition situations
6-foot-9 forward Tristan Clark (No. 25)
Plus: Has Udoka-like accuracy inside (76 percent on twos)
Plus: Team’s best shot-blocker
Plus: Gets fouled often
Plus: Synergy’s logs list him as “excellent” defender
Minus: Not a three-point threat (1-for-4 on year)
Minus: Doesn’t defensive rebound as well as you’d expect
6-foot-5 guard/forward Mark Vital (No. 11)
Plus: One of nation’s best offensive rebounders
Plus: Does great job of creating contact and getting to line
Minus: Horrible free throw shooter (42 percent)
Minus: Turnover prone, which often comes after he gets offensive rebounds
Before getting to my pick, there might be reason to advocate for an “under” bet (137 points) in this one.
For whatever reason ... a KU-Baylor game in Waco tends to be played at an extremely slow tempo. Consider this: KU’s road game at Baylor last year was its fifth-slowest from a pace standpoint, and each of the three seasons before that, the Jayhawks’ lowest-possession game of the season was its contest played at Ferrell Center.
The two teams this year could default to that style as well. Baylor and KU have both struggled in transition, though the Jayhawks are more likely to want to push the pace. The Bears also could have an opening for offensive rebounds (which extends possessions), especially with KU center Udoka Azubuike no longer available.
In any case ... KU doesn’t appear to have many good paths to score here against a sound Baylor defense. Offensive rebounds and getting fouled are probably the best ways, meaning KU might do well with a gameplan of simply trying to avoid turnovers to win the possession battle.
Defensively, however, KU could see success if it’s able to rebound. Baylor hasn’t consistently been able to score in two of the most efficient basketball ways (transition and three-pointers), and the Jayhawks have been solid defensively this year in the half-court, even when they’ve had to play a smaller lineup.
The low-possession trend scares me a little when it comes to a KU cover — fewer scoring opportunities would make a closer game more likely — but I still can’t get the thought out of my head that the Jayhawks should get a small bump soon from positive shooting regression.
KU isn’t a great outside shooting team, but it should be better than the 5-for-21 performance it had against TCU (24 percent) and also the combined 29 of 111 it has shot from long range the last five games combined (26 percent).
Though Baylor does a decent job of limiting threes, KU could still be 6-9 points better simply by shooting like an average NCAA team.
Give me the Jayhawks for the win and cover in a low-scoring affair.
Kansas 66, Baylor 59
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
After playing just one minute against TCU, David McCormack could be in for a much bigger role against Baylor. KU coach Bill Self loves having big men in against zones who can finish lobs and dunks on set plays, and McCormack also is a better defensive matchup against the talented Clark than Dedric Lawson will be. Expect solid numbers from McCormack on Saturday.
Last game prediction: Kansas 77, TCU 67 (Actual: KU 77-68)
2018-19 record vs. spread: 8-7
Last five seasons’ record vs. spread: 85-69-3