Both teams were pegged as No. 1 seeds when the NCAA basketball committee offered a midseason reveal earlier this month. Nothing either Baylor or Kansas has done since then would suggest things have changed. Both teams entered the weekend with 10 Quadrant 1 victories. No one else in Division I has more.
Baylor can effectively secure the top seed in the Big 12 tournament with a home victory over the Jayhawks. It wouldn’t clinch it for sure, but a two-game lead plus a tiebreaker with four games to go will probably hold up for the Bears. At least, it should. Baylor does finish its conference schedule at Texas Tech and at home against West Virginia.
It is, at minimum, the game of the month. To be sure, fans of Kansas, which would like to reclaim its Big 12 regular season supremacy after getting knocked all the way to third last season, and Baylor, which is enjoying arguably its best season ever, should and undoubtedly will savor this game.
But does it command national attention? Hard to say. If it doesn’t, maybe it’s because these teams have already met once, and could very well meet again in the Big 12 tournament next month. Maybe it’s because Saturday’s tussle won’t dramatically alter the postseason trajectory of either team. Maybe a matchup of this quality isn’t enough on its own to lift a regular season marked by a dearth of loaded teams.
That would be a shame, for a variety of reasons.
It would overlook the brilliance of Kansas sophomore guard Devon Dotson, the Jayhawks’ table-setter, and junior Marcus Garrett, an ace defender for the nation’s second-most efficient defense, per KenPom.com.
It would overlook Baylor’s Freddie Gillespie, who is in the running for the best individual story of the season. The 6-foot-9 senior began his career at Division III Carleton College in Minnesota, walked on with the Bears and is now one of the most ferocious offensive rebounders in the country.
It would overlook the shot-swatting brilliance of Kansas senior Udoka Azubuike, whose season-ending injury early in league play last season helped short-circuit the Jayhawks’ bigger dreams months early. Azubuike hasn’t been hurt this season, and he re-emerged as possibly the best center in the country.
It would overlook how much sophomore Jared Butler has blossomed for Baylor after landing on the Big 12’s all-freshman team a year ago. He’s averaging 15.6 points and also has 40 steals for the third-most efficient defense in the land.
It would overlook how both teams lost key pieces to suspensions and figured out how to thrive. Baylor lost a far more productive player when Mario Kegler was suspended in the fall and left the team, but the timing also gave Coach Scott Drew and the Bears a chance to sort out how to play in the preseason.
Kansas wasn’t so fortunate when Silvio De Sousa played a prominent role in a melee that spilled into the stands at the end of a Jan. 21 game against Kansas State. The junior has four games left in his Big 12-issued 12-game suspension, but so far the Jayhawks haven’t lost without the frontcourt reserve.
Maybe best of all, neither team has looked particularly vulnerable of late. Baylor handled West Virginia by 11 at home last weekend, then dusted off Oklahoma, 65-54, in a road game against a team fighting to earn its way into the NCAA tournament. Kansas held West Virginia to 49 points in its last road game, then drubbed Oklahoma and Iowa State by a combined 37 points in its last two outings.
Perhaps neither team is a juggernaut. But they’re both still plenty strong, and that’s worth paying attention to when they meet Saturday for the second (and quite possibly not final) time this season.