Big 12’s Best Clash as #3 Kansas faces #11 Baylor in Quarterfinal Action

It’s starting to get good folks. Really, really good. As the 2012 NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments head into quarterfinal and semifinal round action on Friday, one of the best match-ups of the weekend gets underway this Friday, as the #3 Kansas Jayhawks (27-5, 16-2 Big Ten) tip-off against the #12 Baylor Bears (26-6, 12-6 Big 12 ) at 7:30 PM ET from Kansas City, Missouri.

This match-up, despite featuring two quality Top 25 teams, becomes all the more intriguing considering Kansas’ 7-game winning streak in Big 12 tournament action, and Baylor’s position as the last team to hand the Jayhawks a loss in tournament play. There’s no question Kansas is comfortable in this tournament, winning the last 3 straight Big 12 titles, and they certainly showed that they are gearing up for yet another conference championship appearance after handily beating Texas A&M yesterday, 83-66. However, Kansas will look to take the intensity level up a notch higher against a much better competitor tonight in Baylor, who comes off a solid victory over Frank Martin’s tournament-savvy Kansas State Wildcats. Getting an 82-74 win on a big offensive night from Perry Jones III (13.7 points, 7.6 rebounds/game) who contributed a career-high 31 points to lead 5 Bears players in double figures, Baylor has to continue to push the ball tonight and get a high shooting percentage against Kansas, who have owned the Bears in two Jayhawks wins this season by an average of 16 points.

For Kansas, there’s little question who this team is built around, as Thomas Robinson (18.0 ppg, 11.8 rpg) and Tyshawn Taylor (17.2 ppg, 4.9 apg) clearly run the show for head coach Bill Self. As the only two Jayhawks players in double figures this season, Robinson and Taylor will be the key focus of the Baylor defense, who have let the two Kansas stars run all over them in two match-ups this year. Taylor averaged 23.5 points in the two meetings with Baylor this year, while Robinson averaged 21 points and 12.5 rebounds in the two games as well. Simply put, if both Taylor and Robinson are allowed to have similar output in a tournament atmosphere tonight, Kansas will walk away with another easy win against the Bears. Adding to Baylor’s defensive troubles tonight will again be the 7-foot center Jeff Withey, who had an enormous game against the Bears in the last meeting on Feb. 8th, scoring 25 points on 8-10 shooting against the Bears’ zone defense. Withey created a huge problem for Perry Jones III and the pair of Quincy’s Acy (12 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Miller (11.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg), as he and Thomas Robinson combined for 40 of Kansas’ 68 points. With Robinson such a huge presence in the paint, Baylor will likely continue to try and double team the Jayhawks’ leading scorer, which could once again allow Withey lots of open room against smaller defenders in the paint. While Thomas Robinson is without a doubt the best player on Kansas’ roster, Withey may once again end up being the top scorer if Baylor can’t find a better defensive solution to handle both of Kansas’ tallest assets.

These two teams are extremely evenly matched in terms of their scoring ability, with each team averaging right around 75 points per game and shooting around 48 percent from the floor, but it’s been consistency of play that has set the two programs apart despite both of them being ranked amongst the Top 10 in the nation for most of the year. Baylor dropped 6 of their last 14 games heading into the conference tournament this season, struggling to find consistent shooting form, but at least showed good signs of improvement yesterday, shooting an impressive 56.9 percent from the floor. Kansas on the other hand has now won 9 straight since their last victory against Baylor, getting wins in close games, both high and low-scoring. For Baylor to have success tonight, they have to avoid getting in an all-out shooting war against Kansas, and focus on preventing good looks for Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey specifically. Here’s an interesting look into the last meeting between the two teams; Jeff Withey, Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson combined to shoot 20-for-32 (62.5 percent) from the floor. The rest of the Jayhawks? 3-for-13 (23 percent). While you can’t expect Baylor to stop them all, it’s imperative that at least one of the two big men is held to a lower shooting percentage, and making sure that Tyshawn Taylor doesn’t get open looks all night will be equally critical. Baylor guards Pierre Jackson (13.5 ppg, 5.6 apg) and Brady Heslip (9.3 ppg) have a big task ahead tonight, but with confidence growing after a solid showing yesterday, expect the Bears to fully understand their big task ahead, and play much better defense against Kansas in this Big 12 semifinal match-up.

Betting Lines for #3 Kansas vs. #11 Baylor at Betonline Sportsbook

On the money line for today’s marquee Big 12 match-up, the Kansas Jayhawks come in as -280 favorites to win straight up, while the Baylor Bears are the underdogs at +235 odds.

Against the spread, 6 1/2 points separate the two teams at Betonline, with Kansas needing to cover and Baylor getting a decent cushion to play with for spread pickers. Though Baylor has been thoroughly handled by Kansas in the two meetings this season, this could be a great pick-up for Bears’ backers tonight, as Baylor comes in confident and with a chip on their shoulder against a Kansas team that has owned them all year long.

The over/under total points on tonight’s match-up stands at 141 points. Again, with a better defensive effort crucial to Baylor’s hopes of winning this game, expect a slower paced first half to weigh down the odds of breaking over the total points, giving under pickers a good shot at picking up a victory in what should be a tough game to call outright.

Our Prediction:

Baylor has a lot to prove tonight, especially on the defensive side of the basketball. Kansas has been able to shoot north of 50 percent from the floor in both meetings against the Bears this season, and if that happens again here tonight, it’s going to be another no-contest for the Jayhawks en route to their 4th straight Big 12 championship appearance. While I fully expect the Bears to keep this game close, and even stand out with a lead during the course of the game, Kansas is simply a better-coached and more aggressive team than Baylor is, which will be able to respond to any defensive pressure the Bears throw at them. Also factoring into this match-up has to be the relative home-court advantage for Kansas, as they’re playing just 40 miles down the I-70 from Kansas City tonight. That gives them a boost to get them past Baylor this evening, where the Jayhawks walk away from the contest with their 3rd straight win over the Bears, their 8th straight in conference tournament play, and ready for their 4th straight Big 12 title, winning 70-66 tonight.

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