Baylor Heads to Lawrence in Hopes of Snapping a Funk

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2014

With two weeks of Big 12 play already in the rearview mirror, there’s been a good bit of chaos. Oklahoma State already has two losses; Iowa State and Baylor are in the league’s lower half; West Virginia is a mess (again); and Kansas State hasn’t regressed as far as many thought they would (at least not yet). It seems like the only steadying Big 12 force has been Kansas, leading the pack once again. The Jayhawks are the only undefeated team in conference play, and as it tends to be the case with the Jayhawks in the Bill Self era, they’re getting better with each passing game. With a win at home tonight, Kansas can tighten its grip on the rest of the league, while Baylor is in desperate need of a victory to keep its prospects of a top-three finish alive.

Look for the play of Isaiah Austin to determine Baylor's fate tonight in Lawrence.

Look for the inside play of Isaiah Austin to determine Baylor’s fate tonight in Lawrence.

That will be a tall order for Scott Drew’s team, which has never won in Allen Fieldhouse under his watch. He’s tried virtually everything, even going so far as to usher his team into the tunnel before a game so as not to be fazed by Kansas’ notoriously intense pregame introductions. But it hasn’t worked. If Baylor is to buck the trend tonight, it will need to succeed in the following four key areas:

  1. Tighten the zone. Baylor is giving up 1.10 points per possession in league play, good for eighth in the Big 12. That mark is way too low for any team, much less one with Baylor’s size and athleticism. To Drew’s credit, the Bears’ defense was effective against Oklahoma’s offense on Saturday, but it will need to be even better tonight in the unfriendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks have been uncharacteristically turnover-prone in their last two games, so tonight would be a good opportunity for the Bears to apply more pressure than they previously have. Even if they can’t force turnovers, though…
  2. …Baylor’s guards need to close out on Kansas’ shooters. Earlier in the season, Kansas’ spotty three-point shooting led opposing defenses to zone the Jayhawks, with some teams enjoying more success than others. Since league play started, however, it’s been a different story. The Jayhawks now lead the conference in three-point shooting with a 41.1 percent mark in league play. Naadir Tharpe, Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins have been much more consistent of late, and reserves Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp can help stretch defenses as well. Kenny Chery, Gary Franklin and Royce O’Neale will need to be on high alert in those situations.
  3. Isaiah Austin must be effective inside. The Baylor center has made more of an effort to operate down low, having attempted just 10 three-pointers in 15 games after attempting 90 triples in 35 contests last season.  But his production in the post can come and go. Embiid presents a daunting challenge for Austin, but as we’ve seen over Kansas’ last three conference games, the talented freshman can sometimes let his emotions get the best of him. If Austin and the rest of the Bears can get Embiid into foul trouble, Baylor should have a much easier time scoring over Perry Ellis and Tarik Black.
  4. Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers need to do the dirty work on defense. The Jayhawks have thrived on the glass in conference play, but it’s worth pointing out that they had a very distinct size advantage in games against Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Baylor is one of the few Big 12 teams that can challenge the Jayhawks with its size and limit second-chance opportunities. That won’t happen if Jefferson is absent on the boards, though, as he was in last week’s upset at Texas Tech. Baylor is the third-best offensive rebounding team in the country, but the Bears will have to do a better job on the other end if they want to leave Lawrence with a scalp.
Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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