The Saturday night game on ESPN features a battle in the Big 12 between two teams ranked in the Associated Press’s top-twenty.
Baylor ranks second in the Associated Press poll with an 18-0 record. They returned to the court for the first time since February 2nd after a COVID shutdown with a 77-72 victory against Iowa State as a 24-point favorite on Tuesday.
The Bears were rusty from the three-week hiatus as they fell behind by 17 points in the first half. Jared Butler scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half to help lead his team to the comeback victory. The junior guard is the team’s leading scorer with a 17.1 points-per-game average. Adam Flagler led the team with 22 points coming off the bench. The sophomore is averaging 10.4 points-per-game and is one of six players that score at least 7.8 points-per-game for the Bears. Head coach Scott Drew has a deep rotation with nine players averaging over 13 minutes per game. Drew had six players return from the rotation that finished 26-4 last year.
Baylor has high-profile victories against Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. They are in first place in the Big 12 with a 10-0 record.
Baylor has the fourth-best offense in adjusted offensive efficiency according to the numbers at kenpom. They lead the nation with a 43.2% shooting percentage from 3-point land. The Bears rank fifth by rebounding 37.7% of their missed shots. Drew’s team is also the tenth-best in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency at kenpom. They force turnovers in 25.9% of their opponent’s possessions, ranking fifth.
If there was a weakness to this team, it might start with their defensive rebounding. Baylor allows their opponents to rebound 29.7% of their missed shots, 251st in the nation. The Bears do not get as many freebies on the charity stripe given a free throw rate that is 274th.
Kansas had their five-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday in a 75-72 loss in overtime at Texas as a 3-point underdog. Ochai Agbaji scored 17 points to improve his team-leading 13.8 points-per-game scoring average. David McCormack poured in another 12 points with the 6’10 junior averaging 13.0 points-per-game and 6.0 rebounds-per-game. Jalen Wilson contributed 16 points with 13 rebounds. The freshman is scoring 12.8 points-per-game and leads the team with an 8.2 rebounds-per-game mark.
The Jayhawks’ improved play stems from a change in defensive tactics by Bill Self. After losing five of seven games, Self instructing his players to be more aggressive in their ball screen coverage. Kansas held their five opponents during their recent winning streak to just 0.81 points-per-possession, which would be the stingiest in the nation if extended to the entire season. The Longhorns scored at a 0.95 points-per-possession clip on Tuesday, which was well below their season average.
Kansas can struggle to score baskets. Their 48.7% shooting percentage inside the arc this season is 216th in the nation. The kenpom adjusted offensive efficiency numbers still rank the Jayhawks 55th in the nation. They pull down 31.3% of their misses, 77th in the country. They rank 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency, with their interior defense leading the way. Kansas leads the Big 12 by holding their opponents to just 44.9% shooting inside the arc.
The Jayhawks have climbed to 17th in the nation in the Associated Press poll with a 17-8 record. Their 11-6 conference record puts them in third place in the rugged Big 12. Kansas has quality victories against Creighton, West Virginia, Texas Tech (twice), Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. Their five conference losses are against Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas (twice). The Jayhawks have also lost to Gonzaga and Tennessee in non-conference action.
Baylor won the first meeting between these two teams on January 18th in a 77-69 victory at home in Waco as a 10.5-point favorite. BetAnySports
lists the Bears as a 3.5-point road favorite with the total set at 142.
Computer Prediction: Baylor 73 Kansas 70