The inside matchup between Kansas' Perry Ellis and Baylor's heralded bigs is enticing, but Jayhawks coach Bill Self points to his backcourt as a postseason key - both now and in the future.
Two point guards lifted top-ranked Kansas to its 12th straight win in the Big 12 quarterfinals and could help eliminate No. 22 Baylor from the semis for a second consecutive season when they meet Friday night in Kansas City.
Top seed Kansas (28-4) seeks its eighth straight win over the fifth-seeded Bears (22-10), a streak that includes two victories this season and another at the same level of the Big 12 tourney last March.
The Jayhawks beat Baylor 62-52 on March 13, one step before falling to Iowa State in last season's championship. The conference run was followed by a disappointing second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament, though Self thinks this season's team has a similar quality to some of his past successful groups.
Self used a two point guard lineup in previous coaching gigs with Tulsa and Illinois, and his 2012 national runner-up Kansas team started Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson. After moving away from it the last two seasons - which Self said was due to star power elsewhere like Ellis, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid - the Jayhawks have thrived with Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham in the starting lineup.
Their first postseason start together was no different.
While Ellis did his thing inside to the tune of a team-high 21 points, Mason and Graham combined for 27 on 11-of-18 shooting with 15 assists in Thursday's 85-63 rout of Kansas State.
Mason has averaged 15 points and 4.8 assists on 64 percent from the field the last six games, including a 57.9 clip from 3-point range. Graham has posted 13.3 points and 4 assists the last three while shooting 55.6 percent.
"Moving forward, recruiting-wise, we want to play two point guards," Self told Kansas' official website. "I'd play three if we could, as long as one of them was big enough to defend a three. ... when Devonte' and Frank play well, they drive us more than anybody else."
Still, an intriguing matchup comes inside with Ellis against Baylor's front line of Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley. The Bears ranked second in the Big 12 in rebounds per game differential in the regular season at 8.2, just shy of West Virginia's 8.9 and far ahead of Kansas' third-best 4.9.
Ellis has only averaged 4.2 rebounds the last nine games after posting 7.5 the previous 10. Self also pointed to the 10 boards that the Wildcats' Justin Edwards grabbed on Thursday.
The rebounding differential in this matchup was plus-2 in Baylor's favor in the regular season, but Kansas shot 52.2 percent while the Bears finished at 37.5 as the Jayhawks won 102-74 on Jan. 2 and 66-60 on Feb. 23.
Ellis averaged 16 points between the two wins, while Mason contributed 15 and Graham had 13 and 5.5 assists.
Wayne Selden Jr. totaled 44 points in his previous two games against Baylor before finishing with six last month.
"I think we're going to come out with a different intensity, because we can't lose to them three times," Motley told Baylor's official website.
The Bears limped into the tournament with losses in three of four games but used their stiff 2-3 zone defense for Thursday's 75-61 win over No. 23 Texas. They held the Longhorns to 38.3 percent shooting.
Prince had 24 points and 13 rebounds, and Gathers added 13 points. Gathers has dealt with an illness late in the season but said he's close to being in shape.
''Trying to get myself back into the groove of things,'' he said.