Baylor preview: Time to make a statement

It's very tempting to believe that Kansas State cemented itself as a Big 12 title contender with a dominating win over Missouri, just like it's tempting to believe that Alabama's defense is the greatest ever because it shut down the offenses ranked 29th, 84th, 86th, 95th, 96th 98th, 100th, 104th, 105th, 114th, and 119th in the country in yards per game. However, I'm not so sure that either of those things is true.

In the same way it would have been foolish to count K-State out after another dismal performance in Lawrence, it's a mistake to anoint the Wildcats as world beaters just because they beat down the Tigers. After all, Mizzou not only hasn't won in Manhattan since 2004, the Tigers are just 9-16 on the road in the Big 12 in the last three seasons.

That includes the Elite Eight team, which was the last Mizzou squad to get a quality road win. In fact, the Tigers haven't had a record above .500 in the Big 12 since the 1999-2000 season. You get the picture.

But while the BCS allows Alabama to claim a national championship without having ever actually seen a good quarterback, the Wildcats will get plenty of chances to prove their worth in the coming weeks. It all begins with Baylor tonight, followed by a stretch of remarkably winnable games until the brutal stretch of KU, Baylor and Mizzou starts again in February.

Check the jump for a preview of K-State's matchup with the Big 12's most talented team.

I know there are plenty of good reasons why this shouldn't be the case, but there's still a part of me that finds it somewhat difficult to take Baylor seriously. I grew up knowing Baylor only as a perennial doormat, and while the Bears matured and improved along with me (I think), they always seemed to fall short of expectations. Another parallel with my life in many ways, but that's another story.

My point is despite the preponderance of evidence that this is not only a Big 12 title contender, but a team with a legit chance at cutting down the nets in April, I'm having a hard time coming to terms with this reality. Hell, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Baylor played two legitimate nonconference road games.

Luckily, I'm not the basketball coach at K-State, so I don't have any worries about the team being ready to play tonight. Since the game's not at Allen Fieldhouse, I'm pretty sure Frank can handle that.

I'm also pretty sure he's going to be the better coach tonight, because I've seen the remarkably undisciplined teams Scott Drew puts on the court every year. The problem is he's a damn good recruiter (by legal and ethical means, I'm sure, just like I'm sure Zach Randolph and Mike Beasley stop smoking pot when the season starts) and this year's Bears are simply overflowing with talent.

The good news is that there is no LaceDarius Dunn to go absolutely insane and win a game by himself with impossible-to-guard fadeaway 25-footers that have as much business going in as Ron Artest has calling himself Metta World Peace. The bad news is there is no LaceDarius Dunn to play absolutely no defense and shoot his team into a loss when he fails to realize that his jumpers have all the accuracy of a Tim Tebow first quarter pass.

Instead, Baylor relies on forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy to score inside, which is a lot more efficient. Throw in Pierre Jackson, and Baylor's top three scorers all shoot better than 52% from the field, which is downright frightening and means they're not relying on jumpers.

They've also got a deadly three-point shooter in Brady Heslip (44 3s in 15 games is 2nd in the Big 12 with the 2nd best percentage) and 11 guys that average more than 10 minutes per game. Oh, and let's not forget standout freshman forward Quincy Miller, who can do just about everything, including make freshman mistakes.

Put another way, this team's strengths and Mizzou's weaknesses are essentially one and the same.

Based on what we've seen so far this season, I don't expect Thomas Gipson to have a great game while matched up against guys with similar size and strength, not to mention more athleticism. I hope he proves me wrong, but it seems more likely that means we need to see the good JO and the extra-motivated version of Jamar Samuels.

Honestly, I'm not sure if K-State has the strength and depth inside to contain Baylor without playing at least a little zone this game. Not too many teams in the country do.

Things could get especially interesting if the referees decide they don't want to see any shoving matches inside. Then again, I'm (fortunately) not the coach, so maybe Frank will just let his guys have a go with their relentless man-to-man.

Speaking of zone, Baylor's 2-3 (they'll also play a 1-3-1 and it moves so much it can be hard to tell) is one of the scariest K-State will see all season. The amount of arm on the Bears' defense should be illegal, and that's before you take into consideration their jumping ability.

It's hard to imagine K-State winning this game without making a fair amount of shots from the outside to make sure the Bears don't just wait around to swat shots like they're playing whack-a-mole (their 6.8 blocks per game is 6th in the country), so if Rodney, Will and Angel could go ahead and shoot like they did in the Howard game, that would be great. I'll be interested to see if Jamar can find the smaller holes in the middle of this zone for his occasionally useful midrange jumper.

Somehow the fact that Baylor hasn't won in Manhattan since 2003 doesn't seem as relevant as it did for Missouri, and not just because we only saw the Bears in the Little Apple every other year in the old Big 12. With the conference changing, maybe it's also time for me to throw out my old perceptions of Baylor as the biggest underachievers in the league.

It would be great, though, if K-State could keep them alive for one more game, and with the guarantee of an electric atmosphere in Bramlage to go along with all the confidence the 'Cats should carry in from the Mizzou game, it seems quite possible. A win tonight would certainly go a long way in proving Kansas State is in contention to finally dethrone Kansas.

Either way, I still hate Scott Drew.

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