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


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)

Late run sparks Villanova past West Virginia, into Elite Eight

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BOSTON — It is always just a matter of time before the avalanche comes.

And when it does, you better hope that lead you have is big enough to withstand what’s coming.

For No. 5-seed West Virginia, it was not. With 11 minutes left on Friday night in Boston’s TD Garden, the Mountaineers led 60-54 and had seemingly wrestled control of the game from the No. 1-seed in the East Region. Less than five minutes later, after the Wildcats hit four of their next five threes, Villanova had taken a 76-66 lead by going on a 22-6 run, and West Virginia was never able to recover.

Jalen Brunson led the way for the top-seeded Wildcats with 27 points and four assists while Omari Spellman finished with 18 points, eight boards and three blocks and Mikal Bridges chipped in with 16 points despite playing relatively poorly — by his standards — on Friday.

With a 90-78 win, Villanova advanced to the Elite Eight and a date with the winner of tonight’s game No. 2 Purdue-No. 3 Texas Tech.

That’s the way that it works with this Villanova team. Armed with the most potent, high-volume three-point shooting attack in college basketball — maybe in the history of college basketball — fans of their opponents are just waiting for the inevitable.

On Friday night, Villanova shot 13-for-24 from three, which is damned-impressive and exactly what we expect at the same time, but the game was won during that five-minute surge when West Virginia just didn’t have an answer.

VIDEO: Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall with mammoth dunks for Villanova

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Villanova took the lead on West Virginia and turned the tide of momentum with a pair of emphatic dunks in transition.

It started with Omari Spellman, who had an unbelievable sequence, spiking a shot into the floor before throwing down a put-back dunk all over a defender:

A couple of possessions later, Eric Paschall finally did the impossible.

He dunked on Sagaba Konate:

I am having way too much fun at this game.

No. 1 Kansas into Elite Eight with win over No. 5 Clemson

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OMAHA, Neb. — Once Kansas found its stride, Clemson had little chance of keeping pace – even after a late stumble.

The No. 1 Jayhawks ran away from the No. 5 Tigers with a second-half flurry that powered them to a 80-76 victory Friday night at CenturyLink Center to put them in the Elite Eight on Sunday against either Duke or Syracuse.

Kansas moves on to the Midwest Region final on the back of a second-half offense that Clemson had nearly no success in slowing until the final minutes, when the Tigers turned a 20-point laugher into  a six-point nail-biter.

Malik Newman paced Kansas with 17 points while Devonte Graham 16 and Udoka Azubuike 14 and 11 rebounds.

Clemson got 31 points from senior Gabe DeVoe, but there just wasn’t enough help around him for the Tigers to keep things competitive after the Jayhawks hit them with three-consecutive 3s in the opening minutes of the second half to open up a 20-point lead.

Clemson was already hanging on by a threat after it shot just 35.7 percent from the floor and committed eight turnovers. DeVoe’s 12 first-half points kept the Tigers afloat, but they never enjoyed a lead before halftime.

The Jayhawks, meanwhile, had five players  score at least six points in the first half, including 10 from Azubuike, Their usual strengths – 3-point shooting (4 of 13) and Devonte Graham (1 of 7) – were absent in the first half, but Clemson was unable to take advantage as Kansas continued to get quality looks inside and stops on defense.

The Jayhawks previously played Syracuse in December, beating the Orange by 16 on a neutral floor in Miami. They haven’t faced the Blue Devils, though they have already shared a building with them once this year in the Champion’s Classic. Kansas topped Kentucky, 65-61, while Duke defeated Michigan State, 88-81, that November night in Chicago.

VIDEO: Mikal Bridges tries to dunk on Sagaba Konate, gets denied

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There really is nothing better in this world than seeing someone who is typically a great dunker take flight to try and dunk on Sagaba Konate of West Virginia, because it never, EVER ends well for the dunker.

See: Bridges, Mikal:

Auburn AD Greene gives Bruce Pearl a vote of confidence

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Speaking publicly for the first time about head coach Bruce Pearl, new Auburn athletic director gave his embattled head coach a vote of confidence.

Greene was on an in-house podcast produced with the voice of Auburn sports, and was asked about Pearl’s standing in a pod that lasted less than five minutes and felt more like a press release than anything else.

“He’s been a tremendous blessing for the Auburn family,” Greene said. “The FBI investigation is a long process. We’re going through that process to make sure that we, as a university, are doing what it is that we’re supposed to do to comply. Coach Pearl has been excellent in that regard and I look forward to continuing to work with him as we continue to do the very best to support he, his staff and the student athletes of Auburn University.”

This is the first time since former assistant coach Chuck Person was arrested that a member of the Auburn athletic department had spoken so positively about Pearl. In the fall, Auburn’s president Steven Leath lamented Pearl’s lack of cooperation in the investigation, but just last week released a statement saying Pearl is “working with university officials as part of our due diligence.” Pearl said after his team’s 84-53 loss to Clemson in the second round of the NCAA tournament that he would like to return.

There has been speculation that Pearl’s job was in jeopardy ever since Auburn was mixed up in the FBI’s complaint. Two players were forced to sit out this entire season after the FBI alleged they had received money funneled through Person from a runner for an agent and a financial advisor.

“One of the challenges that we have facing the industry is college basketball,” Greene said. “We want to make sure we work incredibly hard to clean up the game, to make it as pure as it can possibly be so that our student-athletes can enjoy the intercollegiate athletic experience. one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that the state of college basketball is not in a good place right now and I’m a little bit disappointed that auburn is involved in that, but that doesn’t take away from the excellent job that Coach Pearl has done.”