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No. 2 Baylor at No. 3 Kansas Preview: Do the Bears have a shot at getting the win?

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The matchup that we’ve all been waiting for in the Big 12 will happen tonight, as No. 2 Baylor makes the trek up to Lawrence to pay their visit to No. 3 Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

The Bears are currently sitting at 20-1 on the season and are tied with the Jayhawks for first in the conference regular season standings at 7-1, but given the way that they were smacked around by West Virginia and the fact that they just can’t quite seem to blow anyone in the conference out, there have been some questions about whether or not this Baylor team is “for real”.

(Hint: they are.)

But since it’s Baylor and since Baylor is coached by Scott Drew, the nation-at-large isn’t going to believe it until it’s proven to them. That’s not a knock on the program, that’s a fact of life. Bill Self has won 12 straight Big 12 regular season titles, Drew is the butt of every running ‘he can’t coach’ joke.

This is their chance to prove the doubters wrong, and while it is foolish for anyone to think that it will be easy to go into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and get a win, Baylor does matchup pretty well with the Jayhawks on paper.

It starts with that zone. Technically, what they play is probably classified as a 2-3 zone, but it morphs. Typically, they have a guard matching up with a player at the high post and the other guard matching up with the ball-handler, meaning that, often times, it looks more like a 1-1-3 or a 1-3-1 zone. This has two benefits:

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  1. It makes it more difficult to get the ball into the paint, either via penetration or by passing the ball into the high-post. We generally think of a zone as being a defense that’s easy to shoot over, but that’s only the case when the ball gets into the teeth of the defense and shooters are left open when the defense collapses. Baylor’s zone is designed to make that difficult to do, which, when combined with the length they have on their front line, is why they are 13th nationally in three-point percentage defense. This is probably where I should note that Kansas is fifth nationally in three-point shooting. Strength vs. strength.
  2. Baylor’s zone means that Josh Jackson won’t have quite as easy of a time taking advantage of mismatches by playing the four. Baylor is one of the few programs that still starts two natural big men, a true center in Jo Lual-Acuil and a Player of the Year candidate in power forward Johnathan Motley. Those two would not be able to chase around Jackson, who will be a top five pick as a small forward prospect despite playing the four in a small-ball lineup for the Jayhawks. He’s going to have to deal with those big bodies defensively, but they aren’t going to be chasing him around on the perimeter.

Kansas is coming off of a win at Kentucky on Saturday, and that win came as a direct result of Self’s decision to play zone in the second half. I would fully expect him to do the same thing on Wednesday. Baylor, like Kentucky, is not exactly a team built to beat a zone – they have one player shooting better than 40 percent from three while Motley is a guy that could easily get Landen Lucas, the only big man on the Kansas roster with Carlton Bragg Jr. dealing with an arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia, into early foul trouble.

Going zone would help protect Lucas. It would help protect Jackson, too, and I have a hard time imaging a situation where Self doesn’t recognize that.

What’s truly interesting here is what happens if the Bears are able to get this win.

It would put them a game in front of Kansas in the Big 12 standings with a home game against the Jayhawks still on the schedule. It’s stupid to predict that Kansas will not win the Big 12 title – We’ve been here over and over again in recent years; remember when the Jayhawks were 2-3 in the Big 12 last season? – but being a game up halfway through the conference slate with a home game left against Kansas is where you would want to be.

Conversely? I’m not sure if Baylor can win the outright regular season title if the Jayhawks pick them off.

So there’s a lot on the line here, and that’s before you consider the No. 1 seed implications this season.

So yes, this a really important matchup. Phog Allen will be rocking. Two of the top three teams in the country will be playing.

Buckle up.

PREDICTION: The line for this game opened at Kansas (-5.5) and has since moved to Kansas (-6.5). KenPom projects Kansas (-4). I would take Baylor (+6.5). Between the potential issues with front court foul trouble and the fact that the Bears should be able to take away the best Kansas matchups offensively, I think they’ll be able to keep this thing close.

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates with Frank Mason III #0 after making a three-pointer during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

VIDEO: Jay-Z’s nephew posterizes nation’s No. 1 recruit Marvin Bagley III

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Nahziah Carter is an unsigned 6-foot-6 wing in the Class of 2017.

He’s also Jay-Z’s nephew, and he just so happened to posterize Marvin Bagley III — the clearcut No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2018 — while Hova was in the stands watching him.

NCAA denies extra-year request by NC State guard Henderson

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The NCAA has denied North Carolina State guard Terry Henderson’s request for another year of eligibility.

Henderson announced the decision Friday in a statement issued by the school.

The Raleigh native played two seasons at West Virginia before transferring to N.C. State and redshirting in 2014-15. He played for only 7 minutes of the following season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

As a redshirt senior in 2016-17, he was the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game and made a team-best 78 3-pointers.

Henderson called it “an honor and privilege” to play in his hometown.

SMU gets transfer in Georgetown’s Akoy Agau

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SMU pulled in a frontcourt player in Georgetown transfer Akoy Agau, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Agau is immediately eligible for next season as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau started his career at Louisville before transferring to Georgetown after one season. Spending two seasons with the Hoyas, Agau was limited to 11 minutes in his first season due to injuries. He averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season.

Coming out of high school, Agau was a four-star prospect but he’s never lived up to that billing in-part because of injuries. Now, Agau gets one more chance to make a difference as he’s hoping to help replace some departed pieces like Ben Moore and Semi Ojeleye.

South Carolina loses big man Sedee Keita to transfer

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South Carolina big man Sedee Keita will transfer from the program, he announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-9 Keita was once regarded as a top-100 national prospect in the Class of 2016, but he never found consistent minutes with the Gamecocks for last season’s Final Four team.

Keita appeared in 29 games and averaged 1.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting 27 percent from the field.

A native of Philadelphia, Keita will have to sit out next season before getting three more seasons of eligibility.

Although Keita failed to make an impact during his only season at South Carolina, he’ll be a coveted transfer thanks to his size and upside.

Mississippi State losing two to transfer

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Mississippi State will lose two players to transfer as freshmen Mario Kegler and Eli Wright are leaving the program.

Both Kegler and Wright were four-star prospects coming out of high school as they were apart of a six-man recruiting class that is supposed to be a major foundation for Ben Howland’s future with the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-7 Kegler was Mississippi State’s third-leading scorer last season as he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Kegler should command some quality schools on the transfer market, especially since he’ll still have three more years of eligibility after sitting out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Kegler’s loss is also notable for Mississippi State because it is the second consecutive offseason that Howland lost a top-100, in-state product to transfer after only one season after Malik Newman left for Kansas.

Wright, a 6-foot-4 guard, was never able to find consistent minutes as he was already behind underclass perimeter options like Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Tyson Carter last season. With Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary’s four-star brother, also joining the Bulldogs next season, the writing was likely on the wall that Wright wasn’t going to earn significant playing time.