When Kansas State (21-9, 10-8) and Baylor (25-6, 12-6) tip off in the first game of the day it will represent the rubber match this season between the two schools. In an odd twist each school won on the other team's court as Baylor won early in conference play at Manhattan by a score of 75-73. The Wildcats then returned the favor last month by going to Waco and getting a much needed victory which helped take K-State off the NCAA tournament bubble.
The Wildcats have been led recently by All Big 12 second teamer Rodney McGruder who in the past five games has averaged over 20 points a game. His play combined with a strong late season surge from senior Jamar Samuels has taken K-State squarely off the bubble and now playing simply for a higher seed.
Baylor enters the game coming off a regular season ending loss at Iowa State which dropped the Bears down into the #4 slot behind the Cyclones. In that game Perry Jones III played over 35 minutes and grabbed 12 rebounds but barely got into double figures in points with 10. If the Bears want to not only beat K-State and make a run in both the Big 12 and NCAA Tournament they will need Jones to finally step up and have his play equate to ability.
For the game today it really comes down to how a few key players perform. The first is obviously Jones III for Baylor, if he scores only four points like his last game against K-State then you can be almost certain Frank Martin and his squad will be advancing. If he plays up to his talent level like he did in Manhattan then K-State will have to pick their poison between him in the post and leaving Brady Heslip open to drain down three pointers.
Maybe the second most important player on the floor will be K-State point guard Angel Rodriguez. Late in the season he has essentially been given the keys to the car and he has rewarded them with strong play down the stretch. When he plays smart and keeps the turnovers to a minimum while also chipping in a few three pointers the Wildcats can play with almost anyone. On the other hand when he throws passes that that frustrate the entire KSU coaching staff and fanbase it makes the Wildcats an average to subpar basketball squad.
If Pierre Jackson for Baylor can come out and force either Rodriguez or Will Spradling into some turnovers this would greatly tilt the advantage to the Bears. If the Wildcats are able to keep the turnovers under control and get set up in their offense they should be able to take advantage of their rebounding ability to score on putbacks.
As is usually the case with a K-State game it will be interesting to see if the other team can come out and match their toughness and rebound the basketball. And on the flip side, K-State does not have the overall level of basketball talent as the Bears so it will be key to see if players like McGruder, Spradling, Rodriguez and even Jamar Samuels can knock down some outside shots. Look for this game to quite possibly be the best of the day even though it's the first one.