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Kansas at Baylor Basketball Preview: Can KU Get Right Against the Bears' Defense?

The Jayhawks look to bounce back against the worst statistical defense in the Big 12.
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Kansas is in a slump, having lost two in a row with the most recent being an offensive headache at home against TCU. Now the Jayhawks have to hit the road on a short turnaround to face a Baylor team that has had its own struggles this season after lofty expectations.

Opponent Overview

Team: Baylor

Record: 14-5

KenPom: 14

Line: Baylor -2.5

Team Form

The preseason top-10 pick to win the Big 12 has struggled to live up to the hype. Baylor picked up two early losses in November, but both were against solid teams. The Bears lost by seven to Virginia but got run out of the building (96-70) by a solid Marquette squad two weeks later.

Conference play couldn’t have started out worse. Baylor lost its first three games, including opening with a 77-62 road beat down by Iowa State. The next two could have gone either way, losing to TCU and K-State by a combined three points.

The schedule got easier and the wins picked up. The Bears have now won four in a row against West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma. Three of those were by seven points or less, but that is to be expected in this league.

Players to Watch

Baylor saw a fairly massive overhaul in roster this offseason, losing James Akinjo, Kendall Brown, and Jeremy Sochan to the professional leagues and Matthew Mayer to Illinois.

Senior Adam Flagler and junior LJ Cryer are still in Waco holding down the backcourt. Flagler is averaging 16 points and 5.3 assists while shooting a career-best 45% from three. Cryer (13.7 ppg) is also a major threat from deep, but is also finishing inside the arc at a 52% clip.

But Baylor’s best player is top-10 recruit Keyonte George. George is averaging a team-high 17.4 points with 4.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. George is taking 7.7 threes per game and hitting 35% of them, but is only shooting 44% from two-point range on 5.6 attempts per game.

Flo Thamba is back for a fifth season at Baylor as the five man and he’s now joined in the frontcourt by West Virginia transfer Jalen Bridges. Bridges started the year out strong but then struggled mightily in late November and December. He’s playing more minutes in conference play and has responded by scoring in double figures in his last five games and in six of seven Big 12 games.

Matchups to Watch

Offense has not been a problem for Baylor this year. The Bears have the second-best offensive efficiency nationally, according to KenPom, and are in the top 70 in three-point and two-point efficiency while taking threes on 44% of their shots. Baylor is also elite at grabbing offensive rebounds (succeeding on 37.2% of its misses) and is great at getting to the free-throw line. Along with having the No. 1 offensive efficiency in Big 12 play, Baylor has also been the best in the conference at limiting turnovers, only giving it away 17% of the time.

The defensive end of the floor has been where Baylor struggles. The Bears have the worst defensive efficiency in Big 12 play and is 92nd nationally at KenPom. Opponents are shooting 50% from inside the arc on the season and 56% in conference play. Baylor also has not been able to turn teams over in the Big 12. Despite turning teams over 21% of the time for the season as a whole, that number drops to 15.4% in league play.


The timing of a quick turnaround after an embarrassing home loss might be a good thing. You hope your team has the mentality that they can’t wait to get back out there and prove themselves, and the Jayhawks won’t have to wait long to get that chance.

Everyone not named Jalen Wilson is slumping at the moment. Gradey Dick is struggling from three. Kevin McCullar is turning down jump shots because of what I would guess is a confidence dip. Dajuan Harris has not been himself since that hard fall in Manhattan. And KJ Adams couldn’t buy a basket against TCU. This is the type of defense you want to face to get out of a slump. Oklahoma hit 21 of 36 from inside the arc against Baylor on Saturday, but just 5-21 from 3 and lost by two.

The question is can KU play better defense than it has of late? Teams have been able to get clear cuts to the basket and good looks from three, and Baylor will burn you in both areas if you let it.

I’m going to say that the energy is much better from the Jayhawks on Monday and someone steps up to help Wilson on offense to get back on track.

Kansas 74, Baylor 71

Prediction record

10-8-1 ATS

Last game – Prediction: 77-70 KU | Actual: 83-60 TCU