Go back a few months to the first week of the college basketball season and #17 Baylor traveling to Manhattan to take on #3 Kansas State looked like one of the Big 12’s marquee matchups. Both teams have had thoroughly disappointing seasons thus far and have dropped out of the rankings, but tonight’s game is still a big one.
Both teams have enough games left against currently-ranked teams, and games left in general, that losing tonight doesn’t totally take them out of the NCAA picture. But Kansas State may find themselves in too deep a hole should they lose this game an fall to 1-5 in conference. The schedule certainly softens up for the Wildcats but not before a trip to Lawrence next Saturday. If the Wildcats don’t win tonight they would be in all likelihood be staring at a 1-6 conference record.
The outlook for Baylor is not nearly as bad as it would seem. It is true that the Bears have no non-conference wins to fall back on (best win: Arizona State) but they are sitting at 3-2 in conference play and have a favorable schedule coming up. The Bears have beaten Texas Tech, OU and Ok-State thus far and can continue to get fat off of those teams as they play them each once more. Baylor also gets home games against Nebraska and Colorado and four cracks at marquees wins against Texas and Texas A&M.
At this point it looks to me like the Big 12 will realistically be a 5-bid league, with the final bid coming from either K-State, Baylor or Colorado. I’d put my money on the Bears to get that final bid but that could easily change and thus both teams have a lot riding on this game.
What to watch for:
How Kansas State deals with Baylor’s zone. Curtis Kelly had an efficient game for the Wildcats against A&M, scoring 15 points on 6-8 shooting (he did go 2-7 at the free throw line however). This was especially encouraging considering the Wildcats season-long search for consistent offense outside of Jacob Pullen. Kelly, however, will probably have a tough time following that up tonight since Baylor will pack the middle with their long, athletic big men. Baylor probably won’t mind daring the Wildcats (outside of Pullen) to shoot the three after their 5-20 performance in College Station. Just like Kelly did on Saturday, someone will have to step up and knock down some outside shots for Kansas State.
Whether K-State’s physical play bites them. Kansas State’s physical defense took them to the Elite Eight last season. But too many fouls on the block could hurt them this evening. Antony Jones (6-7) and Perry Jones (10-12) were great from the free throw line Saturday against Ok-State. For Anthony (82 % on the season) this has been the norm but and although Perry has only shot 64% for the year, he has been considerably better in conference play.
What the game could devolve into. Kelly and P. Jones both had big offensive games for their respective teams Saturday. But I just can’t help but think this game could very well turn into a “anything-you-can-do-I-can-better” match between Pullen and LaceDarius Dunn. Bob Knight surely wouldn’t like it but it would be fun to watch two of the conference’s best players go back and forth.
Prediction: Frank Martin said that his team is progressing, even if it didn’t produce a win against A&M. I think that will continue tonight and either Will Spradling or Rodney McGruder will come up big against the Baylor zone. It won’t be easy though as Perry Jones has scored 20 or more in four out five conference games. K-State’s front line, however, did a good job against A&M’s front line and I’ll go with the home team to win a close one, 59-55.