A Rematch of Epic Proportions: Baylor hosts Kansas in runaway battle for Big 12

Senior forward Freddie Gillespie leaps for a bucket during Baylor's 70-59 win over West Virginia Saturday in the Ferrell Center. Brittney Matthews | Multimedia Journalist

By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer

No. 1 Baylor men’s basketball has possibly their biggest game of the season at 11 a.m. Saturday as No. 3 Kansas is slated to come to Waco. ESPN’s “College GameDay” is also heading to town to air its pregame show from the Ferrell Center.

Baylor is expecting a packed house for Saturday’s game, approaching the most-attended event in the history of the Ferrell Center as the game has been sold out for weeks, according to 247Sports. Ticket prices for the matchup have reached all-time highs, with the lowest around $175 and the highest north of $2,000. Redshirt senior forward Freddie Gillespie said he expects an intense fanbase in attendance.

“The crowd’s going to be electric,” Gillespie said. “I’ve gotten more ticket requests for this game than I have in my three years at Baylor, so that’s always cool … Leading up to this, it’s kind of hard to tell yourself it’s just another game just because of all the hype and fanfare, but … our preparation is still the same.”

The last time the two teams faced each other earlier in Big 12 play, Baylor came out the victor, earning its first win at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan., in the Scott Drew era.

The matchup features the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in KenPom’s rankings. Plus, Baylor is currently on a 23-game win streak, a new Big 12 record. The former Big 12 record was held by Kansas’ 1996-97 season with 22 victories in a row. However, sophomore guard Jared Butler said that while breaking the streak is a big deal, there are bigger things coming ahead.

“I think it’s good for us to not get too high, not get too low,” Butler said. “We definitely appreciate all the wins but we understand that there’s another storm coming.”

Both teams are defensive stalwarts, ranked No. 2 and No. 3 by KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, but each approaches the effort on that side of the court in different ways. Kansas’ offense scores about 2.5 more points per 100 possessions according to KenPom’s site, but much of that difference is made up by the Bears’ streaky shooting from behind the arc, as they’ve made just 32% of their shots from deep since conference play started.

Kansas anchors their scheme on Udoka Azubuike, a senior center named to the midseason watchlist for the Naismith Player of the Year award. Baylor redshirt junior forward Mark Vital and redshirt sophomore guard Davion Mitchell both made the watchlist for the Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year award, and the two normally draw the toughest assignment from the other team.

Gillespie said that Azubuike presents a physical challenge for the Bears in terms of defense.

“He’s just pretty physically imposing,” Gillespie said. “That alone, a guy with that type of size and strength is always going to give you a lot of challenge. But also, just the way that he’s kind of just improved his game throughout the conference … I mean his shot-blocking ability, that’s the anchor of their defense.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self is No. 23 on the men’s basketball all-time wins list and has won 82% of his games while with the Jayhawks. Baylor head coach Scott Drew said playing against Kansas presents a unique challenge each year.

“I think Kansas is definitely one of those teams that have gotten better,” Drew said. “You watch them play and they’re in a situation where offensively and defensively they’re executing at a high rate, and Coach [Bill] Self teams are never going to beat themselves. They’re always going to have talented players, but when any team’s at their best is when they know exactly the roles of everybody, and it looks like they’ve really settled in on who’s doing what and how.”

Baylor’s game against Kansas will start at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Ferrell Center. “College GameDay” will start its show at 10 a.m. on ESPN, and the game will follow on the same channel. Both broadcasts will also be available to stream on the ESPN app.