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No. 4 Kansas vs. Baylor: Breakdown and Prediction

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No. 4 Kansas vs. Baylor: Breakdown and Prediction

Kansas Jayhawks Basketball
Denny Medley-USA Today Sports

In Saturday’s BIG 12 matchup, the Kansas Jayhawks will try to build on their seven-game winning streak when they take on the Baylor Bears.

In the second meeting between the two teams there are two great positional matchups to watch. Preseason BIG 12 Player of the Year and conference-scoring leader Pierre Jackson will face off against Elijah Johnson. In the frontcourt, the center matchup features two NBA draft prospects. Jeff Wthey, the No. 4 shot blocker in the nation, will go up against Isaiah Austin, the wiry 7-footer with the skills of a guard.

This season, Baylor and Kansas have been on opposite trajectories.

Kansas has been on a roll lately, and has been playing its best basketball of the season over the past month. After losing three straight games, the Jayhawks have reeled off seven wins in a row, and will wrap up their ninth consecutive BIG 12 regular season title.

Pegged as one of the top teams in the conference coming into the season, Baylor is currently 8-9 in BIG 12 play, and has struggled to find consistent scoring all year.

While Baylor is already knocked out of contention for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas still has a lot to play for. According to Joe Lunardi of ESPN, the Jayhawks are currently projected as a No. 1 seed in the tourney. If Kansas continues its recent hot streak, it will be able to solidify its resume, and build momentum heading into the Big Dance.

Check out the breakdown of each team, and the major themes that will decide this game:

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No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks (26-4, 14-3 BIG 12)

Kansas Jayhawks Basketball
Peter Aiken-USA Today Sports

After losing three straight games at the start of February (which included a loss to then 9-12 TCU), Kansas has bounced back to win its last seven games by an average of 21.2 points. Since entering BIG 12 Conference play, the Jayhawks have continued to establish their reputation as one of the premier defensive teams in the nation. In BIG 12 play, KU is leading the conference in blocks, steals, rebounds, and scoring margin.

KU's biggest weakness has been its performance on the road. The Jayhawks are 16-2 at Rupp Arena with an average scoring margin of 19.8 points. However, in true road games, Kansas is 7-2 with an average scoring margin of just 4 points. With their seven-game winning streak, the Jayhawks are streaking at the right time, and can continue to build momentum going into the BIG 12 Tournament.

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Star Player: SG Ben McLemore

Kansas Jayhawks Guard Ben McLemore
John Rieger-USA Today Sports

Stat Line: 32.1 MPH, 16.5 PPG, 50.2 FG%, 42.5 3P%, 5.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.2 SPG

McLemore used his redshirt year in 2011-2012 to develop into one of the most electric scorers in college basketball. After refining his jumper and improving his consistency from behind the arc, McLemore's 16.5 points per game currently ranks second in the BIG 12. He possesses a tight handle and his silky smooth jumper gives him the ability to score from anywhere on the court.

McLemore's explosive athleticism make him an all-around threat for the Jayhawks. He currently ranks in the BIG 12 top 20 in points, field goal percentage, rebounds, steals and blocks. Recently, the biggest weakness in McLemore's game has been his inconsistency on the road. In KU's last eight games away from Rupp Arena, he has averaged 12.1 points on 42.6 percent shooting from the field

Strengths: Explosive Athlete, Versatility, 3-Point Marksman

Weakness: Inconsistency On The Road

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Baylor Bears (17-13, 8-9 BIG 12)

Baylor Bears Basketball
Kevin Jairaj-USA Today Sports

Baylor has been one of the biggest busts in the country this season. Ranked in the Top 20 during the first AP Poll, the Bears have gone 1-5 against ranked teams this season, and are currently 8-9 in BIG 12 play. The biggest reasons for Baylor’s struggles have come on the offensive end of the court. The Bears have been wildly inconsistent and have failed to find auxillary scorers outside of Jackson.

Since entering conference play, Baylor has really struggled. After starting out 5-1 against BIG 12 opponents, the Bears have gone 3-8 the rest of the season. Furthermore, Baylor was 9-2 at home to start out the season, but has dropped four of its last seven games at the Ferrell Center. While they are already out of contention for at-large bid for the tourney, the Bears will be looking to go on a run as they enter the BIG 12 Tournament.

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Star Player: PG Pierre Jackson

Baylor Bears Guard Pierre Jackson
Brendan Maloney-USA Today Sports

Stat Line: 34.6 MPG, 19.1 PPG, 41.9 FG%, 35.3 3P%, 6.4 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG

After being named the preseason BIG 12 player of the year, Jackson has not disappointed and he is currently leading the conference in points and assists. At 5’10’’, the diminutive point guard is a true floor general, and an absolute terror on the offensive end of the floor. He displays a tight handle and great floor vision, which allow him to excel as a distributor and primary ball handler.

As the season has progressed, Jackson’s biggest weaknesses have been his overall shot selection and decision-making. He is currently shooting just 41.9 percent from the field, and is second in the conference in turnovers. The major reason for his offensive inefficiency has been his inconsistent mid-range game. While 24 percent of Jackson’s shots have come on mid-range jumpers, he has converted only 34 percent of his attempts.

Strengths: All-Around Scorer, Senior Leadership

Weaknesses: Ball Security, Shot Selection

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Three Keys: No. 1: Will Jeff Withey Continue to Dominate?

Kansas Jayhawks Center Jeff Withey
Peter Aiken-USA Today Sports

Primarily known as one of the premier shot-blockers in the nation, Withey has constantly made progress as a scorer. Over the past two weeks, he has been showcased his all-around development, and has flat out dominated on both ends of the court. In his last five games, Withey has averaged 16.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4 blocks, while shooting 69.6 percent from the field. After posting 8 double-doubles over the first 23 games of the season, Withey has put up 5 double-doubles over the last 8 games. If Kansas is going to finish out the regular season in style, Withey will have to step up and make an impact in every facet of the game.

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Three Keys: No. 2: Who Will Win the Point Guard Matchup?

Baylor Bears Guard Pierre Jackson
Kevin Jairaj-USA Today Sports

The most significant player matchup will be the battle at point guard spot between Elijah Johnson and Pierre Jackson. Johnson is a true point guard, and serves as a second coach for the Jayhawks. While he has been very inefficient as a scorer throughout the season, he has been excellent lately. In the past three games, Johnson has posted season-highs in scoring (39 against Iowa State) and assists (12 against Texas Tech).

Jackson has been lights-out on the offensive end this season. He has the ability to score from anywhere on the court, and has developed into a willing and able distributor. In Saturday’s positional matchup, Johnson’s ability to limit the scoring production of Jackson will be essential. While big men Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson provide alternate scoring options, Jackson is the sparkplug of Baylor’s offense. If Johnson can shut down the 5’10’’ scorer, he will lead Kansas the W.

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Three Keys: No. 3: Can the Bears Rack Up Points Against KU?

Kansas Jayhawks Center Jeff Withey
Scott Rovak-USA Today Sports

For Baylor, the major issue in Saturday’s game will be its ability to put up points against Kansas. The Jayhawks have one of the best defenses in the country, and have completely shut down opponents since entering BIG 12 play. In conference play, Kansas is holding teams to 35.7 percent shooting from the floor, while blocking 9.7 percent of opponents’ shots, and is leading the BIG 12 in both categories. Center Jeff Withey mans the lane, and is currently fourth in the nation in blocks with an average of 4 per game. On the other side, the Bears are shooting just 41.9 percent, and have struggled to rack up points all season. Pierre Jackson and Isaiah Austin need to step up, and lead Baylor over the vaunted Jayhawk defense.

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Analysis & Prediction

Kansas Jayhawks Basketball
John Rieger-USA Today Sports

In Saturday’s season finale, Kansas will be the more talented team in every aspect. What will really decide the game is the matchup of the Jayhawks’ defense against the Bears’ offense. With Baylor’s inefficiency and inability to find consistent scoring from anyone other than Jackson, Kansas will shutdown the Bears’ offense and close out the regular season on an eight-game winning streak.

Final Score:

Kansas 74 - Baylor 64