After the beat down in South Bend by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, I think it's safe to say that Kentucky flunked their early-season exam. That makes today's game against the Baylor Bears, our Elite Eight opponent from last year all the more important.
Kentucky is undefeated in 7 attempts against Baylor, and the first meeting between the two teams was in 1946. One interesting historical note was that the 1948 Kentucky Wildcats, which won not only the NCAA Tournament championship but also the 1948 Olympics, beat Baylor both in the NCAA Finals and also in the Olympic trials.
Baylor loses a ton from last year in Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller, Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones. These three players accounted for most of Baylor's scoring and rebounding last season.
But Baylor does return a number of quality players, among them Pierre Jackson at point guard, a guy who figures to give UK no end of trouble today, along with Corey Jefferson at forward, A.J. Walton at shooting guard, Isaiah Austin at center, Brady Heslip at guard, and Rico Gathers at forwards.
|Legend: S=Starter, S/MR=Part-time starter/Major reserve, R=Reserve|
Kentucky is the more efficient offensive team so far this season. Baylor is a significantly better offensive rebounding team, which is the major concern for this game. Neither team turns the ball over much, and Kentucky gets to the line much more than the Bears. Unfortunately, Kentucky does not shoot free throws well at 67%
Baylor, believe it or not, is a significantly worse defensive team than UK, currently ranked 63rd by Kenpom.com, where Kentucky is ranked 29th. Kentucky shoots the three better than Baylor as a team. Despite their size, Baylor shoots more 3-point shots than Kentucky per possession by a significant amount.
This should be a very competitive game for Kentucky, and if this were held in Waco, I would expect the game to be an even-money proposition. The Bears are as big and long as Kentucky is, very athletic, and extremely deep. They are, fortunately, not as talented. Baylor has, in fact, lost to some significantly inferior teams this year, likely as much a testament to Scott Drew's coaching as not.
If Kentucky does not compete with Baylor on the glass in this game, Kentucky is likely to lose yet again. The Wildcats cannot continue to throw away rebounds through butterfingered incompetence or lack of effort. Even though Kentucky is much more talented than Baylor, the Bears match them athletically, and if they get hot, UK could go on an early-season losing streak.
Kentucky needs to be more patient against the 1-3-1 zone defense that Drew likes to play, and work for the short corner jumpers, or wing kickouts to Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays. Kentucky must make 3-point shots against Baylor, because they try to take away as much post play as they can.
Defensively, Kentucky must stay in front of Jackson or pay a terrible price in dunks and kickouts to open shooters. In short, the Wildcats must defend much better than they have.
This is yet another game that Kentucky can lose if they don't rebound well from the Notre Dame loss.