Before every KU basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Tuesday’s game: No. 2 KU at No. 19 Baylor, 7 p.m. on ESPN2
Opponent record: 20-7
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 25
Point spread: KU by 2 1/2 .
All statistics from KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com. KenPom stats also only include Div. I competition.
▪ Offensive rebounding: Baylor is fourth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and first in Big 12 play in the same stat. Not surprisingly, the Bears are led by Rico Gathers, who is the top offensive rebounder in the nation.
▪ Pressure defense: Baylor ranks first in Big 12 play in steal percentage and is 78th nationally in defensive turnover percentage. Though the Bears don’t excel in many other areas defensively, this is their standout skill.
▪ Shooting: Baylor is a high-percentage shooting team from nearly every location. The Bears are second in Big 12 play in two-point percentage, third in free-throw percentage and fourth in three-point percentage while making 38 percent of their limited outside shots.
▪ First-shot defense: Baylor hasn’t contested shots well, as Big 12 opponents have made 52 percent of their twos and 40 percent of their threes. As mentioned earlier, the Bears’ best chance defensively is getting a steal before the opposition is able to shoot.
▪ Fouls: Though Baylor has improved its fouling in Big 12 play, it still is right about NCAA average when it comes to giving other teams free throws. KU might not take full advantage of this tendency, though, as the Jayhawks are a jumper-oriented team that doesn’t always create inside contact.
▪ Carelessness: The Bears are seventh in conference play in offensive turnover percentage, though again, this is a weakness KU doesn’t typically exploit while choosing sound positioning over gamble plays.
3 Players to Watch
Six-foot-9 forward Johnathan Motley (No. 5)
Plus: Reigning Big 12 play of the week after two 25-plus-point performances
Plus: Baylor’s most efficient offensive player in Big 12 play
Plus: Elite shooter at rim (75 percent) and in mid-range (54 percent)
Plus: Top 100 shot-blocker and offensive rebounder nationally
Minus: Below-average free-throw shooter
Minus: Sometimes struggles with fouling too often
Six-foot-8 forward Rico Gathers (No. 2)
Plus: Nation’s top offensive rebounder; grabs 20 percent of team’s misses when he’s in
Plus: One of conference’s top defensive rebounders as well
Plus: Gets to free throw line often
Minus: Only an average finisher at the rim
Minus: Free-throw percentage has dropped off in Big 12 play (59 percent)
Six-foot-8 forward Taurean Prince (No. 21)
Plus: Team’s go-to player offensively, though numbers say he probably should defer more
Plus: One of league’s best free-throw shooters (83 percent)
Plus: Above-average three-point shooter (36 percent) who shoots from there often
Minus: Falls in love with two-point jumpshots, though it’s an inefficient shot for him (36 percent)
Minus: Turns it over too often
The Jayhawks are only human, right?
If so, this seems like a tough game motivation-wise. KU followed up two huge victories over West Virginia and Baylor with a rivalry win over Kansas State, but being that good has surprisingly left KU little to play for in this matchup. The Jayhawks are two up in the league standings with four to go, meaning a pair of home victories would assure the team of a 12th straight ring.
The Ferrell Center is typically not a great atmosphere, and add to it that KU is traveling on a bit of short rest, and all the elements seem to be there for a potential KU letdown.
Of course, Baylor will need to turn KU over, which has been difficult for most teams not named West Virginia. And the Bears also will need to resist the urge to play their Amoeba zone, which KU has diced in the past.
Still, the Bears are likely to limit turnovers against the Jayhawks, they should get to the line often and they have a decent chance of keeping their shooting percentages up in a home game.
Add it up, and I actually like Baylor’s chances at a mini-upset.
Baylor 79, Kansas 75
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Baylor
Hawk to Rock
If there’s a big anchor in the middle on the opposing team, it’s automatically a good matchup for Landen Lucas. The KU forward, barring foul trouble, should have an intriguing battle underneath against Gathers, as the top rebounders in the Big 12 face off. I actually think Lucas will do just fine on the glass, and given Baylor’s leaky interior defense, it wouldn’t surprise me if he got to double-figure scoring as well.
Last game prediction: Kansas 69, Kansas State 67 (Actual KU 72-63)
2015-16 record vs. spread: 14-10
Last two seasons’ record vs. spread: 36-22-1