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. 10 Kansas at Baylor, 1 p.m., Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas
Opponent’s record: 14-10
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KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 39
Point spread: KU by 1 1/2.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Interior defense: Baylor — with a tall front line — has the Big 12’s top two-point percentage defense in league play while also ranking 42nd nationally in block rate.
▪ Offensive rebounding: This is one of the Bears’ few positive offensive qualities, as they rank 25th nationally in O-board percentage and second in that stat during Big 12 play.
▪ Foul avoidance: It’s often difficult to block shots without fouling, but Baylor has managed to do that. The Bears are 60th in defensive free-throw rate, so KU’s guards shouldn’t expect wild drives in the lane to be rewarded with two shots.
▪ Carelessness: Baylor’s biggest offensive issue has been giveaways, as the Bears are last in the Big 12 in turnover percentage since conference play began.
▪ Three-point shooting: The Bears’ season accuracy from the perimeter has been OK (35 percent), but they do not rely on those shots much. Baylor ranks 298th nationally in three-point rate, and a split like that typically means a team is taking too many mid-range shots.
▪ Creating havoc: Baylor is a mostly passive team defensively, ranking 291st in defensive turnover percentage and 274th in steal rate.
3 Players to Watch
5-foot-11 guard Manu Lecomte (No. 20)
Plus: Team’s best offensive player
Plus: Strong three-point shooter who has taken 39 percent of team’s perimeter attempts this season
Plus: Can get to line and is 89 percent shooter there
Plus: Decent passer
Minus: Inside game is limited; almost never shoots at the rim (9 percent of attempts are there)
Minus: Can struggle to get out to perimeter shooters
7-foot forward Jo Lual-Acuil (No. 0)
Plus: Strong rebounder, both ends
Plus: Good shot-blocker
Plus: Synergy’s logs list him as “excellent” post defender
Plus: Great finisher at the rim
Minus: Synergy lists his overall defense as “below average,” as he struggles to guard perimeter shooters and also in isolation situations
Minus: Above-average shooter, but he takes too many mid-range attempts, which hurts his efficiency
6-foot-9 forward Nuni Omot (No. 21)
Plus: Scored 14 points in 23 minutes during previous matchup against KU
Plus: Good outside shooter
Plus: Draws contact often and has made 84 percent at line
Plus: Strong finisher at the rim
Minus: Probably isn’t aggressive often enough offensively considering his efficiency
Minus: Well-below-average shooter in mid-range
The last time these two teams played, they both seemed to play against their tendencies.
Baylor, which has allowed an above-average number of outside shots this year, went primarily to a man defense and had success running the Jayhawks off the three-point line in the second half. That led to inefficient KU offense and a late Baylor lead before the Jayhawks ended the game on a 9-0 run.
The Bears, meanwhile, did not have as much success on the offensive glass as you’d expect against an undersized opponent like KU. That’s likely to be different Saturday, when Baylor will have another chance to display its offensive strength.
KU’s hope here has to be threes and transition. Malik Newman saved the Jayhawks in the last Baylor matchup with a couple nice driving layups on fast breaks, but the fact remains that the Jayhawks do not want to make this a half-court game. If that happens, and Baylor denies threes again, it forces KU to its worst offense, which is predicated on guards driving and attempting to finish at the rim — something that is not the strength of this particular backcourt.
Defensively, KU should be better, though. Baylor made 13 of 19 twos in the second half, with the team getting numerous shots at the rim against a KU defense that struggled to stop Lecomte late. KU’s Udoka Azubuike was an improved rim-protector against TCU on Tuesday, though, and if he avoids foul trouble, it’s not unreasonable to think that it’ll be tougher for Baylor to get easy shots this time around.
I think the Vegas line is about right with this one. With an expected slow pace, though, I’ll say the short-rotation Jayhawks finish a close game strong — much like they did last year in Waco.
Kansas 69, Baylor 66
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
Devonté Graham played well as the Hawk to Rock against TCU, and I’ll stick with him for this game too. KU’s point guard should get opportunities in transition, and it’s likely that coach Bill Self will try to get him in ball-screen situations with Lual-Acuil in an attempt to exploit a defensive weakness. Graham has been great all year at finding the open teammate when teams give him too much attention on the perimeter, so look for him to have an impressive assist total, even if this is a low-possession game.
2017-18 record vs. spread: 13-10
Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 71-53-3