KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas defeated Baylor 70-66 in the Big 12 tournament semifinals. The Jayhawks will face the winner of the West Virginia-Oklahoma semifinal.
Here’s an instant analysis of the game:
At some point in the coming weeks, the best teams in America will separate from the field. Even in balanced years, the elite tend to fight through the weeds and advance. But how?
Stars. Leaders. Someone who decides he’s going to carry a load. The lie about Kansas is that the Jayhawks don’t need that guy because they have so many guys. One night it’s Wayne Selden. Then it’s Perry Ellis. Then Frank Mason. Maybe Devonte' Graham. But the leadership-by-committee approach rarely works in March.
You need a maestro.
Graham is the maestro. In recent weeks, he has demonstrated a remarkable poise and edge in difficult games. Remember, this is a team that hasn’t lost since late January. But it has faced a multitude of challenges throughout this run. Graham is the young talent on this roster who never seems shaken by the moment.
In the first half on Friday, he helped Kansas maintain its lead while Ellis was sidelined by an early foul. In the second half, Graham made important plays on both ends of the floor to help Kansas establish a lead. With his defensive aggression, he subdued a Baylor backcourt that soared against Texas. Graham was the leader in transition. He was a threat from the outside. He made key free throws down the stretch when Baylor launched a late comeback.
And he’s the reason Kansas will excel in any postseason situation it encounters in the coming weeks.
This is becoming Graham’s team. His effort on Friday (14 points, eight assists, four steals) proved as much. Bill Self has a guard he can lean on.
Ugly first half even uglier than you think: Kansas is arguably the best team in America. And Baylor is a legit top-25 squad coming off a Thursday win over Texas in the quarterfinals. In their first matchup this season, Kansas rocked Baylor 102-74. At halftime in this game, however, the two teams combined to score 44 points (Baylor 23, Kansas 21). They combined to shoot 4-for-20 from 3-point range. Baylor committed eight turnovers to Kansas' nine before the break. It wasn’t a pretty half.
Can we talk about that Selden dunk? Not even sure what to say. Kansas fans at the Sprint Center rose from their seats after that wild second-half flush. The Kansas bench lost it. One of Selden’s family members lost it. Selden dunked on generations of Baylor athletes. (Ish Wainright did the same thing to Texas on Thursday, so deal with it, Baylor fans). It was the nastiest flush of the week. And it’s only Friday.
Ellis, Rico Gathers and the value of a veteran big man: Ellis isn’t flashy. He doesn’t pump his fists. No big celebrations. But he played like an All-American on Friday. He finished with 20 points and four rebounds. You could see the difference when he missed a chunk of the first half after picking up an early foul. On the other side, Gathers kept Baylor alive with key rebounds and putbacks. He was the anchor on defense too. Baylor will be a difficult matchup for any opponent. But the Bears need Gathers to excel in order to reach their potential.
Can’t trust Baylor’s defense: You can’t ignore this. Baylor entered this game ranked 143rd in defensive efficiency. The Bears have so many gifted scorers, but they allowed Kansas to break the game open because they missed routine defensive assignments. That’s been the issue all year.