Best Bets: Previewing Kansas-Baylor, the biggest game of the season

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Baylor vs. Kansas.

The No. 1 vs. No. 3 in the AP Poll. The No. 1 vs. No. 2 in KenPom. And the No. 1 team is not the same in both rankings.

The Bears have won a Big 12 record 23 straight games. Kansas has only lost once since Christmas, and that loss came the first time they faced off with Baylor this season.

This is, almost without a doubt, the biggest game of the college basketball season to date. The first time these two teams faced off, the Bears went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and knocked off a banged up Kansas team, 67-55, while landing the first win for Scott Drew in Lawrence in his 17-year tenure in Waco.

Saturday is the rematch.

Here’s the breakdown.

No. 3 KANSAS at No. 1 BAYLOR, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 64, Kansas 63
  • TORVIK: Baylor 64, Kansas 61
  • HASLAM: Kansas 64, Baylor 62

Bill Self is the king of adjustments, so I will be fascinated to see what he schemes up to try and create some space for Udoka Azubuike to operate. The first time these two teams squared off, Baylor fronted the post and helped all the way off whoever was in the corner of the floor, making sure that a lob pass over the top of the defense was not possible. The concept was simple, really: Make sure that Doke was going to have to beat two guys just to get a post touch, pressure the hell out of the Kansas ball-handlers and force them to beat a crop of elite defenders off the dribble and make kick-out threes.

It did not go well.

I expect much of the same from the Bears on Saturday. This was nothing more than a somewhat exaggerated version of the defense that they play on a nightly basis, and I can’t imagine that Scott Drew will switch up too much considering the fact that this defense has led him to three months worth of consecutive wins. So the question then becomes whether or not Bill Self, who has had four days to prepare and install a game-plan for Saturday, can figure out something to beat this Baylor defense.

As far as what he’ll do, I think that the Jayhawks will end up doing two things to try and beat this Baylor defense. The first is to get out and run in transition. As good as Devon Dotson has been, I still think that he is at his best when he is running at a defense before it gets set, and considering just how hard Baylor goes to the offensive glass, Dotson will get his opportunities in transition. I also expect that Kansas will play more four guard lineups and will run more ball-screen stuff. Baylor likes to switch 1-through-5, and if Kansas can create situations where either Dotson can turn the corner or force a switch, it will play into the KU advantage.

All that said, the truth might end up being this simple: This game will probably come down to whether or not Kansas can continue to make threes at the rate that they have made threes the last two games. They are a combined 23-for-49 the last two games. They shot 4-for-15 the first time they faced off with Baylor.

BEST BET: I know this game is going to be played in Waco, but I think the answer here is Kansas. If they’re getting points, I’ll be on the moneyline. I just think that you’re giving Bill Self too much time to prepare, and that the Jayhawks have been playing much better basketball of late. I also think that Kansas has figured things out defensively to the point that they are the nation’s best defensive team.

Personally, I’m hoping that the Jayhawks win, that we get to the Big 12 title game with neither team taking another loss and that battle gets played to determine the No. 1 overall seed. That would be fun.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This line is currently sitting at Kansas (+1.5) and the moneyline is (+104). I’m on the moneyline.

No. 2 GONZAGA at BYU, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 82, BYU 80
  • TORVIK: Gonzaga 82, BYU 80
  • HASLAM: Gonzaga 85, BYU 79

Gonzaga and BYU both rank in the top five nationally in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They both rank in the top three of effective field goal percentage. BYU leads the nation in three-point shooting at a crisp 41.9 percent. Gonzaga is third at 39.4 percent. These are two of the nation’s elite offenses. obviously, which is why you are seeing projections that are so high.

I’m going to assume that Killian Tillie is playing for the Zags because he played on Thursday night against San Francisco, and that ends up being a major difference maker. He’s the athletic four that can create all of the mismatch problems against a smaller team like the Cougars.

BEST BET: My favorite bet here is going to be Gonzaga (-2), and the biggest reason is that the way Gonzaga wants to play, they pound the ball into the post for Filip Petrusev and Drew Timme. BYU’s best player, Yoeli Childs, has committed four fouls in the last two, three of the last four and four of the last six games. I would also lean towards the over, especially if the total ends up somewhere south of 160.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This total opened for me at 158, shot up to 160 and has come back down to 158.5. I tend to lean towards the over here.

No. 14 OREGON AT No. 24 ARIZONA, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Arizona 74, Oregon 69
  • TORVIK: Arizona 73, Oregon 67
  • HASLAM: Arizona 71, Oregon 66

This has suddenly turned into a must-win spot for Oregon if they want to remain in the Pac-12 regular season title race. The Ducks lost on Thursday night at Arizona State while Arizona is coming off of an easy home win over Oregon State.

The first time these two teams played, Oregon erased a big second half deficit, eventually winning in overtime. I do think that the Oregon zone will cause some problems for Arizona, but there won’t be enough size inside to deal with Zeke Nnaji.

BEST BET: I think I lean Oregon here, especially if this line gets up past (+6). I do think the Ducks are the better team, because the metrics are way higher on Arizona than they should be.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: With the line currently sitting at Oregon (+4.5), I think I’m going to stay away. I would take Oregon if you forced me to pick.

No. 21 BUTLER at No. 13 CREIGHTON, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Creighton 73, Butler 68
  • TORVIK: Creighton 72, Butler 66
  • HASLAM: Creighton 72, Butler 65

The first time that these two teams played, Butler won fairly easily. But the Bulldogs were a different team then. They were 14-1 on the season. They were playing as well defensively as anyone in the country. Kamar Baldwin wasn’t having to put the team on his back as often. Since that game, these two teams have gone in entirely different directions. Creighton has won eight of their last nine games and, with three of their last four games at home and a date with Seton Hall in the season finale, they have a very real chance of winning the Big East regular season title. Butler, on the other have, has lost two straight, three of their last four and seven of their last 11. They are now just .500 in Big East play.

BEST BET: The Bluejays have covered four in a row and seven of their last eight games. They are playing at home, where they have won three straight by double-digits and lost just once this season. I’ll be on Creighton up to (-6.5).

MICHIGAN at PURDUE, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Purdue 67, Michigan 65
  • TORVIK: Purdue 65, Michigan 63
  • HASLAM: Purdue 66, Michigan 63

I know how good Purdue can be at home. But Michigan has turned a corner, and if Isaiah Livers is playing, than I want my money on the Wolverines. Michigan is 11-3 with a healthy Rivers. They are 6-6 when he sits out, and they just because the first team in college basketball this season to win at Rutgers, and they did that without Livers.

BEST BET: Michigan ML if and when we get word that Isaiah Livers will be healthy.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: The moneyline for the Wolverines here is (+143), but Livers is currently listed as a game-time decision. Keep an eye on that.

FLORIDA at No. 12 KENTUCKY, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kentucky 72, Florida 67
  • TORVIK: Kentucky 70, Florida 66
  • HASLAM: Kentucky 70, Florida 67

As this projection continues to creep towards Kentucky, it does feel like the value here is on Florida. The Gators are not going to have to worry about big wings taking advantage of their smaller guards, and while Nick Richards has been a monster this season, Kerry Blackshear ranks 16th nationally by drawing 6.9 fouls per 40 minutes. If Richards gets into foul trouble, Kentucky is going to be in trouble.

BEST BET: I lean Florida in this spot, but I’m going to hope that I can find the line at (+6) somewhere.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: With the line sitting at Florida (+4.5), I think I’ll be staying away.