Kansas Jayhawks (16-3 overall, 5-2 Big 12) vs. Baylor Bears (14-5 overall, 4-3 Big 12)
Team: 8 pm, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023
Location: Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas
TV: ESPN | Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network via Learfield
Keys for Kansas
1. It’s a pride thing now
After a tough loss in Manhattan last Tuesday night, the Jayhawks returned to Allen Fieldhouse for a game against another tough opponent and nearly everyone believed the battle with TCU would be one of those bounce-back games at home for Kansas.
Instead, the Jayhawks got bounced. Bad. And Bill Self’s squad was left a little dazed and wondering what went wrong so quickly to turn the Jayhawks from a rolling No. 1-seed type of team to a group searching for answers to their ailments in several key areas.
Both Self and Jalen Wilson spoke after the 83-60 loss to TCU about the fix being all about defense, more specifically, having pride in guarding your man.
It seems like this kind of moment happens every year for the Jayhawks, who, more times than not, find a way to respond in a way that Self can be proud of and one that produces a lot of victories the rest of the way.
At the core of doing that will be a simple process that Wilson summed up after Saturday’s loss to TCU — “get back to making teams play bad and playing our game.”
He’s done that in the past, of course. And so has point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. But the expectation — not to mention the understanding — is still fairly new for a lot of these guys. So, they, like many players before them, will have to figure it out on the fly, starting with showing up in this one.
The simplest way to get this done is by playing hard. That’s where it all starts and then playing smart, playing with confidence and playing with swagger all fall in line behind that.
But without a little pride and willingness to sellout to get stops at all costs, the rest usually does not come.
2. Someone besides J-Wil
Wilson has scored 68 points in his past two outings, going for 38 in a loss at K-State and 30 at home against TCU.
While that has left him leading the Big 12 at 21.3 points per game and 13th nationally in scoring, it also has left way too much of the scoring burden for Kansas on his shoulders.
There are plenty of options for Jayhawks who could step up — and have stepped up — to do more to help Wilson out. But the best way to do it might be through a collective approach.
Gradey Dick, Kevin McCullar Jr. and Harris don’t all have to explode for 20 points all of a sudden. But they do all have to score and be threats to score and look to shoot and score when they’re open.
That will help the balance and flow of the Kansas offense and that will allow Wilson to take a breath a time or two. Not that he requires that. Wilson has looked comfortable in the role of lead dog for the Jayhawks throughout the season and he certainly has the experience, confidence and skill to continue to fill that role.
What the past two games showed us, though, is, no matter how well he plays, Kansas needs others to play well along with him in order to win games in the monster that is Big 12 Conference play.
These guys know that, of course. And maybe there’s been a little of bit of standing around and watching Wilson do his thing of late. But that can’t continue. There’s plenty of talent on the roster and plenty of different ways and players who can put up points to help Kansas wind up victorious.
Sharing the ball plays a big role in that and it would be a surprise if the Jayhawks don’t look good in that department in this one. But players also just have to decide they’re going to step up and be assertive, and it remains to be seen whether that will be a part of this crucial road battle with Baylor.
3. Scouting report emphasis
Although he did not name names, Self did not hide his frustration with the way a couple of his players treat game prep and paying attention to each scouting report after the loss to TCU.
“Scouting report’s a big deal — a big deal — with a couple of our guys and that’s disappointing to me,” Self said.
It’s very likely that whoever Self was referencing to either knew it to begin with or has been talked to about it in detail since that comment was made. So, you should expect to see a group of Kansas players who are as turned up as they have been in a long time in this one.
Easy ways to spot that will include: Talk on defense, effort on the glass (Baylor ranks ninth nationally in offensive rebound percentage (37.2%), finding a way to do little things like take charges and cut off drives with proper positioning, taking care of the basketball against BU’s defense, which ranks 60th in turnover percentage (21%) and more.
It’s still early enough in the Big 12 season that it makes sense for some of KU’s younger guys to still be adjusting to the jump in competition — especially this year against a league this stacked.
But a big part of how well KU will navigate its way through the rest of the conference schedule will be tied to how much improvement those young guys can show in the areas of preparation.
Self and his assistant coaches have been doing this for a long time and they know the recipe that works to at least get teams ready and give them a chance to go out and execute and win. It’s up to the players to tap into that and then to get the job done on game nights.
That’s not to let the coaches off the hook completely. Self, himself, said that this team’s improvement starts within each individual associated with it, starting with him. So while the onus falls on the players to find a way to be better, so, too, does it fall on the coaches to make sure they’re doing everything they can to get through to these guys — especially the younger group — just how important those little details can be.
KU’s 3-point shooting vs. Baylor’s 3-point shooting
Outside of Jalen Wilson’s 7-for-19 showing (36.8%) from 3-point range during the past two games, the rest of the Kansas lineup has been in a serious slump.
Non-Wilson Jayhawks shot just 5-of-28 from 3-point range (17.9%) in losses to Kansas State and TCU. That includes a 3-of-16 clip by freshman Gradey Dick and point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. hitting just one of seven attempts in those two games.
Needless to say, the Jayhawks need to start seeing the ball go in the basket from the outside again if they hope to find better balance in their offense and better morale on their roster.
The Bears rank 146th in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot right near the national average of 33.8% from downtown. So, this could be a game that affords Kansas the opportunity to get back on track from the outside.
Whether they do or don’t themselves, they’ll need to be up for defending the 3-point shot if they want to get out of Waco with a victory.
Baylor is shooting 36.2% from 3-point range this season — good for 67th nationally — and roughly 45% of the Bears’ field goal attempts come from behind the 3-point line.
Self talked briefly about the need to play better at Baylor after KU’s loss to TCU. And he mentioned BU’s 3-point shooting while doing so, which should tell you all you need to know about where at least some of the emphasis will land in KU’s scouting report against the Bears.
“There are some things that we can do to tighten some things up that I think would put us in a better position to play better on Monday,” Self said. “But you can go to Baylor and play bet-ter and those three cats (Baylor guards Keyonte George, Ad-am Flagler and LJ Cryer) can make 15 3s or 12 3s or whatever it be. So, a lot of it is, we’ve got to be energized. We didn’t play with much energy (vs. TCU).”
KU’s nightmare stretch continues with a trip to Waco, Texas, which hasn’t been all that friendly to the Jayhawks over the past several years.
Scott Drew’s team enters this one on a four-game winning streak after opening Big 12 play with three consecutive losses to teams that we now know are pretty damn good — TCU, Iowa State and Kansas State.
After falling out of the Top 25 for a bit, the Bears are firmly back in the AP poll and they’re looking to add another signature win to a summary that already includes victories over UCLA and Gonzaga.
BU has won the last two meetings between these two in Waco and three of the last six games in the series overall. Kansas still leads the series 35-8 and has won 16 of the last 20 matchups. But the more recent battles paint a much tighter picture.
Nine of the last 14 games between these two have been decided by eight points or fewer, with six of those featuring the winner prevailing by five points or less.
KenPom has Baylor pegged as a 2-point favorite in this one, with the home-court advantage likely playing a large role in that. He currently gives KU a 5-point edge in the matchup in Lawrence in mid-February.
The Jayhawks, of course, are trying to avoid a loss that would lead to a three-game losing streak. Although you might not expect that it would have happened so recently, KU last lost three in a row in conference play during the 2020-21 season — at Oklahoma State, at Baylor and at Oklahoma.
After Baylor, Kansas travels to Kentucky this weekend and then will host Kansas State on Jan. 31, for a rematch of their one-point overtime loss to the Wildcats last week, and then play at Iowa State on Feb. 4 before facing Texas for the first time on Feb. 6.
G – Dajuan Harris Jr., 6-1, 175, Jr.
G – Kevin McCullar Jr., 6-6, 210, Mr.
G – Gradey Dick, 6-8, 205, Fr.
F – Jalen Wilson, 6-8, 225, Soph.
F – KJ Adams, 6-7, 225, Soph.
G – Adam Flagler, 6-3, 185, Mr.
G – LJ Cryer, 6-1, 190, Jr.
G – Keyonte George, 6-4, 185, Fr.
F – Jalen Bridges, 6-7, 225, Jr.
F – Flo Thamba, 6-10, 250, Mr.