By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
The Baylor Lariat contacted University Daily Kansan sports editor Jack Johnson to inquire about his thoughts on the highly anticipated matchup between No. 1 Baylor men’s basketball and No. 3 Kansas:
As someone who’s covered this team, and obviously Kansas has been a powerhouse for a really long time, what do you think has contributed to its success over this season?
I definitely think it’s been the health of Udoka Azubuike. They lost him last year, the beginning of conference play, and that really sent them into a nosedive. They really struggled to find a lot of production from their front court, but definitely having him healthy has been a big contribution for them to be as hot as they are. And then also it’s been the defensive play of Marcus Garrett. He’s been one of the top defenders in all of college basketball and he’s kind of been the leader in having Kansas’ defense take such a big step up. And that’s usually been their downfall in past years, how they haven’t been able to guard the more physical teams. I would probably say the only team that really just outmuscled Kansas this year has been Baylor, and they pretty much took what they wanted. But I would say with those two and obviously [Devon] Dotson’s production, he’s been one of the better players in all college basketball, but those three have really been strong for this team both offensively and defensively.
So when Baylor went to Kansas and beat the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse for the first time, what can you say was the reaction to that by not just the team but maybe by the fans and people in basketball that didn’t expect Baylor to go and win, especially because it was early in conference play?
Definitely around here, for years people have known that Baylor’s been good but obviously they had not come into Allen Fieldhouse yet and won, so people knew it was going to be a really good match-up. But to be honest, I would say that most people here thought KU was going to be able to win that game. They really hadn’t played poorly as of late to that moment. They had a hard fought loss against Villanova and they kind of gave that one away, so people were feeling pretty confident. And with the way Baylor won, I think is what shocked everybody, how there was no KU run late in the half. They basically were dominated from start to finish. Baylor did a really good job of rebounding in that game, their guard play was phenomenal and they were able to basically take Dotson out of the game, which not many teams have been able to do. This team is basically beaten when Dotson is taken out of the game. Definitely Azubuike, when he is pushed out of the paint, because his game outside of 5 feet is not the greatest, so when teams are able to basically outmuscle him down low the Kansas offense struggled, and that’s what Baylor did, and they did very well in that game. I think that’s how they were able to come out with the win.
And now that both teams have had a few weeks to reassess, they basically have most of the conference schedule now done, how do you think that plays into Saturday’s match-up and what that outcome would look like with both teams having been through most of the Big 12 schedule now?
Well, this game is definitely going to have big implications on who wins the Big 12. I think this is KU’s last chance to really jump into the driver’s seat. I think if KU was to lose in this game, I think Baylor’s pretty much the frontrunner to win the conference and they would have a pretty good shot to be undefeated in conference play, which hasn’t been done by anyone in a long time. So it is really important for both teams to win this game because if KU does go down to Waco and win then you got a toss up of who’s going to end up eventually winning that game. So I know Baylor’s got a couple tough matchups on the road down the stretch. KU’s schedule aside from going to Manhattan to play K-State and Lubbock to play Tech are pretty much the toughest it gets for them. So I think this matchup is definitely crucial for Baylor to put away Kansas for good to win the Big 12. But it’s also a chance for KU you to sort of get back in the driver’s seat that they’ve been chasing for about the last three or four weeks.
Watching Baylor’s team from an outside perspective, like outside of Waco, and all of the hype that’s been built up over the past few months, what can you say has been the reason for their success?
I’ll definitely say Baylor has been one of my favorite teams to watch in college basketball this year. I was high on them when I was at Big 12 Media Days right before the season. I love Scott Drew. I love the way he runs the program there and I think that they’re just a really physical team. They’re one of the few teams that doesn’t back down from any challenge of the speed of teams or the size of teams. They’re just a really physical team. In my mind, I think Mark Vital is one of those guys that, he’s only 6 feet 5 inches but he’s a big dude and he can, and I saw it at Allen Fieldhouse, he was one of the guys that was so tough for you to really defend because he was a great rebounder. He wasn’t big in size, but he was able to make Azubuike uncomfortable, Freddie Gillespie was able to make Azubuike uncomfortable and they were just one of those teams to me that look like when they take control a game they’re really gonna run away with it. They’re not going to let you back into it by sloppy play. I think they’re well coached and they’re truly not a fluke or anything. I think they’re definitely the top team in college basketball this year, and they’ve proven it by you know, going on this incredible streak of wins.
The Bears and the Jayhawks face off at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Ferrell Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and can also be streamed on the ESPN app. College GameDay will begin at 10 a.m. on ESPN.