TV Schedule: Saturday, February 18, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Stadium: Ferrell Center (Waco, Texas)
The Kansas Jayhawks and Baylor Bears will meet up for one of the most intriguing games of the weekend in college basketball — to say the least.
Not only is Kansas and Baylor both fighting for top-dog status in the Big 12 (the Bears enter this showdown two games back in the conference standings, with the Jayhawks, of course, leading the way), but both squads are also ranked in the top five.
Kansas enters by being ranked No. 3 in both major polls while Baylor is ranked No. 4 in the polls.
While the NCAA tournament committee looks at a team’s entire resume when considering it for the Big Dance, this game is huge for a couple of different reasons. (1) The Bears need this victory to keep pace in the Big 12 (they only have four games left after the battle with Kansas). (2) Knocking off a top five team this late in the season will surely help out any team’s NCAA tournament seed.
With that in mind, a lot goes into each team’s seed for the dance. For example, if a squad goes on a winning streak and wins its regular-season conference title, the NCAA tourney committee will likely take note. The same thing goes for a team that earns an auto bid by winning its conference tournament. The committee might look at an entire resume, but the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately factor likely plays a major role.
In terms of this clash, the Jayhawks and Bears could be playing for a No. 1 seed in the 2017 NCAA tournament. So, yes, one might say the stakes are rather high. Then again, there is still plenty of basketball that needs to be played, and if Kansas or Baylor wins the Big 12 tournament, then the tourney committee would strongly take that into account — well, one would imagine, that is.
In case fans already forgot, for the first time ever, the top 16 teams in the dance were released early, and Kansas and Baylor both received — wait for it — No. 1 seeds.
The full #BracketPreview!
Is it a glimpse at this year’s Sweet 16?? pic.twitter.com/TElTZy98WG
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) February 11, 2017
Kansas has come a long way since the first game of the season. In said first game, Bill Self’s squad went down to the Indiana Hoosiers. However, the Jayhawks rebounded in a monster way by knocking off the Duke Blue Devils, who were ranked No. 1 in college hoops at the time, in the very next game. Now, Kansas stands at 23-3, and it has big-time wins against Duke, the Kentucky Wildcats, Baylor, and the West Virginia Mountaineers.
As for the Bears, they are 22-4 on the season. Their marquee wins have come against the Oregon Ducks and Louisville Cardinals. For all it’s worth, Baylor knocked off the Michigan State Spartans, Xavier Musketeers, and Kansas State Wildcats when they were ranked.
If you are looking for someone to keep an eye on in this big-stage showdown, then look no further than Kansas’ Frank Mason III. Not only is he averaging 20.2 points per game, and shooting 50.9 percent from behind the arc, but he is also in the running for Player of the Year. Of course, this is Kansas we are talking about, so they are flooding with talented players.
Leading the way for Baylor is Johnathan Motley, who is one of two Bears who is averaging double figures in the scoring department at 16.7 points per contest. Motley is also grabbing 9.5 boards per game.
The last time these teams met, Kansas prevailed, winning by the score of 73-68. Of course, the Jayhawks got that game at home, and they won’t have the same fortune this time around as the game will be played under Baylor’s roof.
That said, Kansas is not only a top team in college basketball (yes, the Bears are as well), but it has arguably the best player in the country (although guys like Villanova’s Josh Hart and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan would probably say otherwise) in Mason III.
If the Jayhawks do pull off the regular-season sweep of Baylor, then they will be on the verge of winning yet another Big 12 title, and their chances of capturing a No. 1 seed in the 2017 NCAA tournament will go up (spoiler alert: Kansas’ chances of earning a top seed in the dance are already looking solid). However, if the Bears manage to win at home, then they will make things interesting in the Big 12 race, and they will keep their No. 1 seed hopes alive in the process.
Prediction: Kansas 77, Baylor 73
[Featured Image by Jamie Squire/Getty Images]