Kansas State has a shot at redemption tonight when the Baylor Bears come to visit Manhattan for a 6 p.m. Central tipoff with a first place tie in the Big 12 on the line. Sitting at 8-3 in conference play, K-State lost control of sole possession after falling to Kansas on Monday. KU, also at 8-3, has an easier matchup when Texas (11-13, 3-8) visits Lawrence. Oklahoma State, the third member of the three-way tie, has an exciting game against Oklahoma (16-7, 7-4) on tap. However, all eyes should be on the first of two K-State-Baylor games this year.
K-State’s defense took a major blow when it ceded 82 points to the Jayhawks. The Wildcats were the league’s leader in scoring margin before that game, but slipped all the way to fourth at +4.0. They were supplanted by Baylor, who now leads the Big 12 with a +9.5 point scoring margin. This is boosted by the Bears’ top-rated defense, allowing only 60.7 points per conference game.
However, the Bears aren’t just successful because of their defense – Baylor sports an offense capable of going off against anyone. They are averaging 32.3 percent of their three point attempts and are ranked 30th in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings. They’re led by the not-so-imposing guard Pierre Jackson, who stands at only 5’10” but leads the team with 18.9 points/game.
So how does K-State match up against a team that, at least statistically, looks to be the best in the conference? First, expect the Wildcats to be out for blood from the opening tipoff. Possibly the most hyped game in the nation this week was a 21-point dud of a loss, and Bruce Weber will have his team ready to fire on all cylinders in the friendly confines of Bramlage Coliseum. This is a team that won four in row before Monday as Rodney McGruder has really taken off once becoming comfortable with Weber’s new offensive system. Angel Rodriguez, who was maddeningly inconsistent as a freshman, has grown into his own. It’s hard to be too high on the level of energy he brings on defense, and his willingness to attack the rim with the decision-making ability to decide whether to shoot or pass to an open teammate makes him a Rajon Rondo that can hit threes. Will Spradling is ever-ready to knock down the three should Rodriguez kick it out, and the decision to start Jordan Henriquez with limited minutes while bringing Thomas Gipson off the bench has been working well.
Henriquez and Gipson will need to step up their game again this afternoon, as Baylor sports a tremendous 7-footer in 7’1″ freshman Isaiah Austin. Austin ranks tenth in the conference with 12.8 points/game, and has actually hit 10 three pointers on the season. He’s also second in rebouding (10.0 average) and blocks (2.0). K-State’s guard play has never been in question, but if the team is able to limit Austin’s scoring opportunities and wear him down on defense, it will demonstrate this team is able to take on opponents of any skill set.