The Kansas Jayhawks (13-4, 4-0) have to play a desperate team tonight in Allen Fieldhouse, and desperate teams are usually very dangerous. The Baylor Bears (13-4, 1-3), who were ranked 12th in the country last week (but will surely fall when the polls come out today), are very talented but they have struggled in Big 12 play, losing 3 or their first 4 match ups.
If Baylor should lose tonight, it would all but eliminate them from the Big 12 regular season race. They would be four full games behind the Jayhawks, and that might prove very difficult, if not impossible to overcome, especially since they would have to jump over eight other schools to accomplish the feat.
The Bears are too talented of a team to have struggled this much this early, as victories over Colorado and Kentucky prove. Their only loss coming into conference play was to the school presently undefeated and ranked second in the country – Syracuse.
Since the beginning of Big 12 play though, the Bears have not performed well. They opened conference by getting thumped on the road by Iowa State. They beat TCU at home before losing again on the road to Texas Tech, and then at home, where they had a 13-game winning streak, to Oklahoma.
Cory Jefferson is one of the big honchos for the Bears. The 6’9″ senior forward leads the team in scoring with 13.1 points a game, and rebounding with 8.4. He is second on the team with 26 blocks. Kenny Chery averages 11.9 points and tops the Bears with 5.1 assists an outing.
The two other players for the Bears that average in double figures are 3-point specialist Brad Heslip, who pours in 10.8 points, and the extremely athletic Isaiah Austin, who nets 10.4 points, 5.7, rebounds, and 2.8 blocks.
Baylor is extremely deep as they have 9 players who see more than 12 minutes a game, 8 of which play more than 17 minutes per contest. The Bears won’t run out of bodies.
The Jayhawks of course, have now played 11 games against opponents who are either presently ranked in the top 25, of have been ranked at some point this season, including the last 5. Baylor will be the 12th team to fall into this category.
The Jayhawks don’t always win pretty, but they have been winning. They turn the ball over entirely too much, 14.1 a game, and they don’t play as good defensively as most Bill Self coached teams do, but they shoot the ball extremely well (50.3%, 4th best in the nation).
In Big 12 play, Kansas’s defense has improved significantly but it still has a long way to be before it is dominant.
In recent outings, the Jayhawks are also playing harder, and with much more intensity. Sometimes, play deteriorates into silly chippiness, especially where Joel Embiid is concerned, but the overall results are much improved. There is a lot more fire and desire with the Jayhawks right now, and it is translating into better, tougher play, and better yet, wins.
Kansas is led by freshman Andrew Wiggins, who scores 15.1 points per game, followed by Perry Ellis with 12.9. Embiid, 11.0, and Wayne Selden, Jr., with 10.0, also average in double figures. A fifth Jayhawk, Naadir Tharpe is just uder the double digit average with 9.8.
Embiid tops the team in rebounds with 7.6, and blocked shots with 49 total. Tharpe is the assist leader with 5.3 per contest. Selden, Tharpe, Embiid, and Wiggins all average at least 2 turnovers a game.
Because of their extreme youth, individual Jayhawks are inconsistent game-to-game. On Saturday, neither Wiggins or Ellis showed up to play, but Tharpe and Embiid were there to pick up the slack. Kansas has enough talent that a couple of keys players can have off games, and they can still win.
Baylor’s strength inside with Jefferson, Austin, and Rico Gathers plays well toward Kansas’ strengths as well. The Jayhawks have incredible front line depth and can basically throw 25 fouls at the Bears from their big guys.
It will be interesting to see if Embiid will match up against Jefferson or Austin. Austin is the taller but less physical of the two, so it would not be surprising to see Ellis draw that assignment, and allow Jefferson and Embiid go at it in the paint.
The Bears will be in trouble if they lose this game. Just because they are in a bit of a playing slump does not mean they won’t be ready to go in this one. They are a talented team that cannot afford to lose another conference game right now. Kansas will need to be on their game if they hope to hold off the Bears in Allen Fieldhouse tonight.