Baylor might be the Big 12’s sleeping giant.
Before the season started, Kansas and Oklahoma State were picked to finish tied for the conference title. Baylor was picked third.
When Kansas State (17-7, 7-4) heads to Waco, Texas, on Saturday to play Baylor (15-9, 3-8) , the Wildcats will take on a team sitting in ninth place in the standings.
But the Bears still have two NBA-capable posts in their starting lineup, and depth in the paint that would be the envy of many Big 12 coaches.
And despite losing eight of their first 10 Big 12 games, one of their three wins was at Oklahoma State, when the Cowboys still had Marcus Smart.
“You’ve got a dangerous team,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “They were 5 or 6 to start the Big 12, and when they played Texas, which was not that long ago, they were still rated, and Texas wasn’t rated. They showed (Wednesday) they can score.”
The Bears are coming off an impressive performance at TCU, beating the Horned Frogs 91-58 for their second league win in the last four games. It was their second win over TCU this season.
Weber said the most worrisome thing about Baylor is its size on the inside, where the Bears boast 7-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin and 6-foot-9 power forward Cory Jefferson.
“If we let them do whatever they want, we will get punked inside,” he said. “The thing we did with Texas, we fought them, got around them, made it tougher for post entry. They will get some shots inside, but we’ve got to limit their easy looks.
“The one thing they have is depth at the big guy spot. That’s not our depth, that’s the scary part of it.”
While Baylor’s entire Big 12 season has been disastrous so far, K-State’s season has been tumultuous on the road. While the Wildcats have just one loss at home, they’ve only won one of their true road games, losing the other four.
The last three road games at West Virginia, Texas and Iowa State, have all featured significant breakdowns in the first half, and failures to capitalize in the second half.
Weber said his team has struggled to create it’s own momentum on the road.
“We have to find a way to play with the same energy and emotion that we do at home,” he said. “Now, I don’t think you can match that. The crowd is a difference maker. I don’t know if the word is more focus, but we’ve just got to be better, especially in the first half. That’s been our nemesis, just getting ready to play.”
After the emotional win over Kansas on Monday, the Wildcats had off Tuesday, and didn’t have full practice on Wednesday, limited by numerous injuries. Weber said their first intense practice was Thursday.
Marcus Foster left the Kansas game twice with injuries, and Shane Southwell hurt his foot and wasn’t on the floor at the end. DJ Johnson and Thomas Gipson, the team’s only true posts, have battled nagging injuries, and Omari Lawrence left the game with the Jayhawks with a crippling cramp to his calf.
Weber said that’s where last week’s bye has been important, as the team has had a chance to get back into better shape health-wise.
With just seven games left before the Big 12 tournament, Weber said this is the time of the season they have to find ways to win if they hope to keep a favorable seed for the Big 12 tournament and, maybe, the NCAA tournament.
But losers of their last four road games, Weber said they could use a little confidence away from home before they start the postseason conversation.
“It’s not the end of the world, but it sure would be nice,” he said. “As we get into the stretch run, it’s a struggle to stay up in the top. We’re in third now — I hope we stay up in the top part of the league, not only for the Big 12, but for the NCAA.
“You can’t talk about the NCAA until you win a few more games, and if you win a few more games, you’re probably going to stay up in that top part of the league.”