Monday, January 16, 2012

Big Monday in the Big 12

After last week’s debacle of a selection (picking Duke to cover), it’s time to get back on the horse and get things rolling with my basketball selections. On the bright side, I got what I have to assume is my only loss of the season out of my system so we can all get back to doing what we do best – winning some cold hard cash. Not to mention, after Productive Sweatpants led you astray by backing Indiana to cover against his hated Buckeyes (The Ohio State University!) it falls to your humble correspondent to right the ship.

The Who, When, and Where:
Baylor Bears (17-0, 4-0 Big 12) vs. Kansas Jayhawks (14-3, 4-0 Big 12). Monday, January 16th, Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, KS, 9:30 ET on ESPN/ESPN3

Matchup Breakdown:
The nightcap of ESPN’s Martin Luther King Jr Big Monday lineup features two top 10 teams facing off when the undefeated Baylor Bears invade Lawrence to face the Kansas Jayhawks. Much like their counterparts on the football field, Baylor is led by a “third” – not Robert Griffin III, but rather Perry Jones III, who averages 13.8 points per game (ppg) and 7.7 rebounds per game (rpg). Teaming with Jones are Quincy Acy at 12 ppg and about 7 rpg and Pierre Jackson at 12.3 ppg and 5.1 assists per game (apg). As a team, Baylor scores about 78 points per game, good for 28th in the country, grabs 38.8 rpg (or about seven more per game than their opponent), hits almost half their field goal attempts, and drains three pointers at a 41.6% clip, while holding opponents to only 31.9% from long distance.
Kansas, is led by the two headed monster of Thomas Robinson, a potential player of the year candidate who averages 17.2 ppg and grabs 12.2 rpg and guard Tyshawn Taylor at 15.5 ppg and 5.2 apg. On the season, the Jayhawks are averaging just shy of 76 points (43rd in the country), grabbing about 39 boards per game (versus 31 for their opponents), and although they hit only about 35% of their three pointers, they are also stingy on the defensive end, holding opponents to just over 31% on threes.
In terms of common opponents, both teams beat Texas Tech on the road, with Kansas blowing out the Red Raiders 81-46 while Baylor notched a 73-60 victory. Both teams also dispatched Kansas State, with Kansas beating their intrastate rival 67-49 at home and Baylor going on the road to beat the Wildcats 75-73. Outside of common opponents, in their big 3 games, Kansas is 1-2, having beaten Ohio State and lost to both Duke and Kentucky while Baylor’s two biggest wins year to date are likely over Mississippi State and San Diego State, although they have also had nice wins over both West Virginia and BYU.

Irreverent (Irrelevant?) Considerations:
Baylor is coached by Scott Drew, son of former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew, which is my sister’s alma mater so that’s a plus for the Bears. But, it’s located in Waco which may best be known for being halfway between Dallas and Austin. And I think Baylor is a pretty religious school – and who goes to college to get religion? You know, unless you’re getting said religion one cold drink at a time. All that said, when someone says Waco, isn’t the whole David Koresh and Branch Davidian complex the first that pops into many people’s heads? While certainly tragic and unnecessary, unfortunately any mention of Waco inevitably means bringing up those horrific 50 days back in 1993.
With respect to Kansas, one of my favorite NCAA tournament memories was a couple years ago when I was stuck in a bar with a large contingent of KU fans cheering wildly, only to see their beloved Jayhawks fall in the second round to a scrappy Northern Iowa team led by some guy who had a shamrock tattoo on his upper arm. That was fun. Of course, the fieldhouse where the Jayhawks play is named after the guy who is known as the “Father of Basketball Coaching,” and who can forget Danny and the Miracles beating a heavily favored Oklahoma Sooners squad to win the title back in 1988. Although I could go on and on about Kansas, I think the last couple nuggets worth noting are that the state is the geographic center of the U.S., it’s the 15th largest in terms of square mileage (about the same size as Guyana), and is a prolific producer of sunflowers, wheat and everybody’s favorite…sorghum.

Vegas Baby, Vegas:
The line on this matchup of Big 12 foes is Kansas -5.5 which means that Vegas likes the home court advantage for the Jayhawks in this one, while the Over/Under is at 136. For the year, Baylor is 6-3-1 against the spread while Kansas is 9-7, with Kansas’ big blow being the loss to Davidson when they were favored by double digits (unless you had the Davidson money line, in which case – great call!)

SEC Guy’s Winning Call:
This primetime matchup features some great players, as previously mentioned, and while Phog Allen Fieldhouse is likely to give Kansas a boost, given that they haven’t measured up against premier competition this year (going just 1-2) I’m hesitant to say they can cover. On the flip side, I’m just not sure if Baylor can go into such a hostile atmosphere, in front of the bright lights on ESPN and keep the contest competitive. As a result, the best play here is to take the over, currently at 136. Both teams average north of 75 points per game and although they’ve both held their opponents to about 59 points per game, I think that was due more to inferior opponents early in the year and in this game, these two will get up and down and put points on the board.

That said, if you aren’t just interested in cheering for teams to score, I think that Baylor does have the talent and experience to keep it close (and it wouldn’t surprise me if they left Lawrence with a win) but for now I'm going with the home team in a tight game...Kansas knocks down a couple free throws late to seal it 81-77.

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