Monday night’s tightly contested battle between Iowa State and Oklahoma State was the quintessential example of why the Big 12 is the best conference in the country this season in college basketball. In what arguably was the best game of the season in the Big 12, these two evenly matched opponents battled each other through three back-and-forth overtime sessions before Iowa State walked away with a quality road win by a single point, 98-97, over the No. 19 Cowboys of Oklahoma State.
Just when you ask, how can it get any better? Tuesday’s Big 12 schedule offers up another big game involving league-leading Kansas. The Jayhawks ran into a buzz saw at Texas on Saturday. On Tuesday, the No. 8 Jayhawks (16-5, 7-1) will face another tough test on the road at Baylor, which is coming off a huge and sorely needed road win at Oklahoma State.
Baylor (14-7, 2-6) lost at Kansas, 78-68, on Jan, 20, but the two teams are tied, with two wins apiece, in the last four meetings. Both Baylor wins during that span were at home at the Ferrell Center, where Baylor was 13-0 before losing its last three outings at home. The Bears are 13-72 all-time against teams ranked in the top 10 in the Associate Press poll and only 7-23 at home when playing a team in the top 10.
The Bears started off the season at 13-1 and were ranked as high as No. 7 in the AP poll early in January. They split their first two conference games, but then went into a five-game tailspin, sending their conference record plummeting to 1-6 before rebounding for a long-absent victory against OSU.
Kansas leads the all-time series with Baylor 20-4, but three of those wins have come in the last three years. The Bears are the only Big 12 team that has beaten the Jayhawks in each of the past three seasons.
The Jayhawks are shooting better than 50 percent for the season, but shot only 39 percent from the field on Saturday, which was a major factor in their going down to defeat at Texas. Baylor is at the other end of the scale when it comes to field-goal efficiency. The Bears have plenty of offensive weapons, both in close to the basket with their great length and also from three-point range. But with only 41-percent accuracy in conference games, Baylor has had difficulty finishing games against the better shooting teams in the conference, of which their presently are eight teams shooting the ball better than the guys in green and yellow.
Freshman point guard Kenny Chery did not play Saturday at Oklahoma State. The Bears won without him on Saturday, but they will need his ball distribution and penetration skills against a much better Kansas defense. Chery has averaged a two-to-one assist to turnover ratio in 14 of the 15 games in which he has played this season.
Kansas is one of the better defensive teams in the Big 12, holding conference opponents to an average of 73 points a game. The Bears cannot afford to have an average shooting night against the Jayhawks. Baylor has the talent and the depth to give Kansas a solid challenge, but the Bears are going to have to bring to bring their “A” game Tuesday night – as most every team in the Big 12 that goes up agjainst Kansas must – if they want to make it four straight seasons with a win over the Jayhawks.
Baylor has four starters averaging in double figures in scoring, led by senior Cory Jefferson at 12.5 points per game. The Jayhawks are led in scoring by freshman Andrew Wiggins, averaging right at 16 points per game. He gets a lot of help on the offensive end from fellow freshmen Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden as well as sophomore power forward Perry Ellis. Both teams go deep into their bench. Over the last 10 games, nine different players have averaged at least 12 minutes per game.
Three Things To Watch For In This Game
- The matchup inside between KU’s seven-footer Joel Embiid and the other Kansas bigs and Baylor’s 7-1 Isaiah Austin, 6-9 Cory Jefferson and 6-8 Rico Gathers, who has been a beast on the offensive glass in recent games for the Bears. These are two of the best rebounding and shot-blocking reams in the Big 12. The winner of this battle is likely to find itself on the winning side.
- Kansas is a very good free-throw-shooting team; Baylor is not (lowest team percentage in the conference at 64 percent). This could become important if the score is close at the end.
- Kansas has had difficulty protecting the ball and avoiding turnovers this season. The good or bad news, as it were, is that Baylor has been just a bad. Both teams are minus 3 in turnover margin.
My pick: Kansas 84, Baylor 74 – Kansas just doesn’t lose many back-to-back games (although the Jayhawks lost three in a row last season). The Jayhawks are too talented and too athletic, and they will be coming into this game with a giant chip on their shoulder after the way they played at Texas. Baylor has some momentum, but the Bears’ body of work in their first pass through the conference schedule will tell the story in this one.
Other Midweek Big 12 Picks
Texas 78 @ TCU 63 – TCU is playing better every game, but this won’t be the game where they record their first big conference win. Trust me, it’s coming, but not against the hottest team in the Big 12 right now.
Oklahoma 81 @ West Virginia 76 – This will be a very challenging game for the 21st-ranked Sooners (17-5, 6-3), especially after coming off a tough-fought loss at Iowa State. West Virginia (13-9, 5-4) has been playing very well, and the game is in Morgantown, a long way from Norman. OU is 7-3 away from home this season, the best record in the Big 12, and have the ninth highest- scoring ofense in the country (83.5 ppg). That should be enough to get them by in this one.