The no. 2 Baylor Bears face one of their biggest tests of the season on Saturday night when they visit the no. 17 Kansas Jayhawks at 8 pm EST. The Bears are 4.5-point favorites on the road, with the over/under set at 143.5 points.
Despite what is a down season by their standards, Kansas has cranked things up a notch in recent weeks. Before Tuesday’s overtime loss to Texas, the Jayhawks had won five straight games, firmly putting a mid-season slump behind them. At 17-8, Bill Self’s team is on track to land a high seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can avoid a late-season collapse.
As for the Bears, they are on the verge of locking up the Big 12 regular-season title after returning from an extended COVID-related hiatus. Baylor had five straight games postponed before a 77-72 win over last-place Iowa State on Tuesday. Nevertheless, the Bears are 18-0 on the season and have all but wrapped up a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament regardless of whether they finish the regular season unbeaten.
A Little Rust
The Bears were far from their best against Iowa State in their first game in 21 days. The Cyclones are winless in Big 12 play, so the fact that Baylor was still trailing with five minutes left is a sign of how much they struggled. The silver lining is that they didn’t hurt themselves with turnovers, nor did they get beat up on the boards. Rather, the Bears struggled shooting the ball, making just 32% of their three-point attempts despite shooting 43% as a team this season.
At their best, Baylor’s rotation has five players who shoot over 40% from the three-point range while four players average at least 10 points per game. Meanwhile, Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell both average more than five assists per game, meaning the Bears do a great job of keeping the ball in motion and finding the open player. But if Adam Flagler hadn’t come off the bench with 22 points, they likely would have lost to the worst team in the Big 12.
Down But Not Out
The Jayhawks have made some progress in recent weeks, becoming a more balanced and consistent team. They have five players who average at least 10 points per game, so there is no shortage of scoring options. The caveat is that there is a huge drop-off beyond those five players, and even among those core players, everyone is prone to an off night every now and then.
However, forwards David McCormack and Jalen Wilson have improved, helping fuel the team’s turnaround. McCormack has scored at least 12 points in nine of his last 12 games, becoming more reliable than he was earlier in the season. Likewise, Wilson has scored in double figures in nine straight games since going scoreless against TCU. He’s also averaging close to 15 points per game over his last seven games to give the Jayhawks a big lift.
Baylor’s close call against Iowa State is likely a one-time occurrence. That game should be enough to shake off the rust after their hiatus and get back on track. While Kansas has played better recently, the Jayhawks still aren’t on Baylor’s level. Bet on the Bears to win and cover.
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