Finally, the final regular season game is upon us. This season has whizzed by, and I still catch myself thinking that we've still got another month to go prior to the NCAA Tournament. But, we're already practically there.
This game isn't as big as it was once though to be. Texas was a popular pick to win the Big 12, and while Kansas wasn't expected to win, we were expected to be competitive. An end-of-season trip up to Allen Field House, with potential conference title implications, and CBS went all-in. Of course, it hasn't worked out that way. Texas, until just earlier this week, was still planted firmly on the bubble. And we've already locked up the Big 12, with Saturday's game only deciding if we can become outright champions, or not.
But, that wasn't this game is about. No. With this being the final home game of the season, it's Senior Day. And while it certainly won't be the same, special celebration that it was last year, we've still got Matt Kleinmann graduating. And by God, we will refuse to lose on Matt Kleinmann's Senior Day.
Actual preview-material, game-related I promise, after the jump...
The background goes back awhile. In 2005, on a senior-laden team stacked with Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and Wayne Simien, the Longhorns waltzed into Allen Field House highly ranked. Along with them came the ESPN GameDay crew, in their first season of doing college basketball games. It ended shortly after, a 90-65 Kansas win. The next year, one of the youngest teams ever, after starting off terribly, made a trip down to Austin with an opportunity to clinch the Big 12 outright. And, again, ESPN GameDay came along for the trip. And, again, the road team was sent packing, 25-point losers, with the Longhorns winning 80-55. Ever since then, every game played between the Longhorns and Jayhawks has been epic.
Epic, I tell you.
It started just a couple of weeks following that second shellacking in Austin, when the two teams met, again, in the Championship Game of the Big 12 Tournament in Dallas. Kansas won, 80-68, in a game that was closer than the score. The next year, the Longhorns made their repeat visit up to the Phog. This time, they brought Kevin Durant along with them, and he went off. I'm talking, the greatest performance I've ever seen, ever, in a college basketball game. Still, in part thanks to Durant missing part of the second half due to injury, Kansas wins, 90-86. But the rivalry was just getting good. 8 days later, the teams met again in the Big 12 Tournament, this time in Oklahoma City. Texas surged ahead to a dominating 32-14 lead, but the Jayhawks slowly climbed back. A clutch Mario Chalmers three late in the game, and Kansas wins, again. Then, there was last year. This time, the game was on Big Monday, and Kansas lost, thanks to a career day by Connor Atchley. But, for the third straight year, the two teams found themselves matched up in the Big 12 Tournament Finals, this time in Kansas City. The Jayhawks used the homecourt advantage, of sorts, to their advantage, and used the best game of Mario Chalmers' life to win late, in what was probably the most well-played college basketball game of last season.
In case you're counting, that's five straight awesome, Instant Classics from this series. This year, with Texas' superiority in talent and experience and depth expected to be overshadowed by the mystique of the Phog, was supposed to be number 6. It hasn't exactly worked out that way, though.
Texas started out fine, lining up OOC wins over Villanova, UCLA and Wisconsin (in Madison). A narrow loss to Notre Dame, which was actually a Top 10 matchup at the time, was excusable, and a loss to Michigan State was almost expected. But then, in Fayetteville, the wheels began to shake off. They fell to the Razorbacks immediately prior to conference play beginning. After a shaky performance at home against the Cyclones, they got wrecked in Norman. A trio of what seemed like bounce-back losses, and then the wagon became completely derailed. They lost three straight to the supposedly weaker Big 12 North (vs. K-State, vs. Missouri, @ Nebraska), and they've never fully recovered.
They seemed to have clinched a ticket, for all intents-and-purposes, this past week with the massive bubble hysteria, but they still aren't where they expected to be.
Still, with another expected Epic Showdown on the way, they can start climbing back towards their lofty preseason expectations on Saturday.
eFG% (211th) -- When you think of Texas, what do you think of? Maybe I'm just way off, but I always kind of think of a shot-making team. That is probably due to A.J. Abrams, who just seems like he is within range the second he steps into the gym. But even his eFG% is way, way down from where you might expect it to be. Let's just say, I'm not terribly worried about losing our consecutive game streak of allowing the opposition to shoot higher than 50%.
- TO% (31st) -- Again, with all of their point guard issues, you'd expect this to be higher. Much higher. And yet, here it is, one of the better teams in the country at not turning the ball over. A lot of that is because Abrams never, ever turns the ball over; which is probably why plenty of folks thought he could play the point. Of course, maintaining possession is only half the battle; you have to distribute well, too. That's the part he wasn't, and isn't, so hot at.
Off. Reb% (23rd) -- They are a fairly short team, for the most part. With their new, Dogus Balbay-included starting lineup, they are starting 6'7"-on-a-good-day Damion James at the 4. And yet, James' beastitude on the boards is one of the bigger assets this team has. Well, 300-pound Dexter Pittman doesn't hurt, either. No matter how, we need to box the eff out. I don't want them picking up trash for 40 minutes.
- FTA/FGA (129th) -- Eh. As long as it isn't Abrams, I'm pretty much fine with fouling anybody, to be honest. Particularly Balbay (39%) and Justin Mason (52%). They are absolutely dreadful, as a team, at shooting the throws.
- eFG% (45th) -- Good, solid, kinda-sorta-awesome. We'll talk about it later on, in The Keys, but most games just revolve around our ability to hit open shots. We should, by the numbers, see a lot less open looks on Saturday than we did Wednesday night against Tech, but whatever. We can't afford to only hit 30% of them, I know that for sure.
TO% (161st) -- Thank Jesus. A team that doesn't consistently turn you over. As long as we don't go crazy and commit a bundle of unforced errors, we should be fine.
- Off. Reb% (140th) -- This is where we can take advantage of the Horns. Our bigs need to be able to feast off of the second-chance points and get the subsequent layups to fall. If we do that, and limit our turnovers to something halfway reasonable, and we win. Even if we can't hit the broad side of the barn.
FTA/FGA (167) -- Nothing useful, here.
A.J. Abrams (G) -- The most well-known player, he certainly isn't the best player. Still, when he gets hot, like he was to close out their home game against Oklahoma, there isn't anybody in the country who can light it up better. You see, though, that he's cold far more often than he is smokin'. As long as he doesn't Voskuil us to death, and yes that's a term now in the Kansas fans' lexicon, I'm not terribly worried. Brady, one would imagine, would have to guard him. But I swear, Brady's hurt or something, so I'm going to say that T2 gets put on Abrams, at least at the start. Whoever is guarding him, just faceguard the hell out of him on the perimeter, try and force him to use the bounce, and you should be fine. Assuming he isn't Superman, for a day, like Voskuil.
Damion James (F) -- James, on the other hand, is their best player. Hands down. He's a freaking monster on the glass, particularly the offensive glass, so it is paramount we find him and stick an ass on him. I can't tell you how many times I've seen him soar in for putback dunks when he starts from the three-point line when the shot is fired. I don't care if he is at half court, one of the Morris twins (or someone else, I suppose, it's just fun singling out the twins) needs to find him and do whatever it takes, without fouling, from touching the ball. Simple as that. I'll tolerate any potential offense he gives them non-rebounding related; it's going to happen somewhat, but I doubt he explodes or anything.
Dogus Balbay (G) -- Maybe I just haven't seen him play enough, but from what I've seen, I'm wholeheartedly unimpressed with good ol' Dogus. He's pretty good at getting into the lane, and can play D, but can't shoot whatsoever. It isn't your typical, pass-first, drive-second, shoot-third kind of situation. No, it's like, leave him wide, wide open from anywhere beyond 10 feet, and I bet he misses. Dude's shooting 39% from the free throw line. Sherron, on offense and defense, should eat Balbay's lunch. If he does, we'll be fine. If we see the Sherron who showed up in Lubbock, the game will be closer than anyone thought.
Dexter Pittman (C) -- This dude's huge. Like, ginormous. He used to be way bigger, a story that I'm sure you'll hear, for the billionth time, during the telecast. He knows how to use his weight effecitvely, though, and picks up rebounds just because of his sheer size. And, even before Blake Griffin got knocked out with that concussion of his, Pittman was pretty much shutting him down. At least, as much as you can shut down the unanimous best player in the country. Cole should have a bitch of a time down there, so we'll have to be patient. Feed Cole early on, see how Dexter responds. If nothing's happening, and 300+ over here is dominating Aldrich, find somewhere else to go. I'm intimidated of him, to tell you the truth.
Justin Mason (G) -- Dude has had some offensive explosions, but nearly all of those occured out of conference play. Since Big 12 play started, Mason's struggled. He's kind of like their Brady Morningstar, at least with the defensive reputation, so he actually might be the one who is guarding Sherron. In any case, whoever is assigned to him on D should be fine with leaving him to help. If Mason is beating us, then whatever. It just ain't our week.
Rest of the Bunch -- Connor Atchley is tall, can rebound and, most importantly, likes shooting the three (he went 5-5 last year from three against us, and that's ALWAYS the first thing that I think of whenever I read/hear/see his name).....Gary Johnson has been out recently, but he's an awesome rebounder in his own right when healthy; he adds a bunch to their team, and provides a decent mid-range game, too.....Varez Ward is just a ho-hum reserve, freshman guard, providing nothing terribly impressive or impactful......Harrison Smith has seen some recent playing time, but hasn't played enough on the season to be listed on Texas' KP page. So, whatever.
1) Open Shots: Drill 'Em -- I'm considering just leaving this the #1 key for all games. I want to statstically confirm this, and maybe I'm just dealing in the realm of obvious-ness, but we win or lose based on our shooting. And our offense is well-run enough, with enough ball movement and sharp passes and drive-and-kicks and etc., that we get approximately the same amount of open looks a contest, adjusted for the opposition's defense. We win if we make above x percentage, and if we don't hit that many, we lose. As simple as that. This is particularly crucial from behind the three-point arc.
2) Speed 'Em Up -- I've left pace out of the keys for the most part, this season, because there isn't a speed we are greatly better at. But, Texas has struggled the most, by far, when the games are fast, and we thrive at home playing up-and-down. So, use Allen Field House to your advantage, get everyone standing-and-clapping-and-hooting-and-hollering, and keep on running. Make Balbay slow it down, or Rick Barnes. Don't get out of control, but don't be shy at taking it in to score if you have an opportunity.
3) Box. The Hell. Out -- Hey, Morris twins, hey. Damion James is as good of an offensive rebounder as you get, for his body type, and is athletic as hell. Find him, stick a body on him, go up and grab the board. Both of you are infinitely better at this stuff than you were at the beginning of the year; show off your improvement tomorrow.
That's all, for now.
We're going to win, I'm fairly certain. Coming off such a terrible, stupid loss, you'd have to think that we're going to come out quite pissed off and angry. And that, combined with the raucous Allen Field House crowd, doesn't bode well for the Horns.
Plus, most of all, it's Matt Kleinmann Day. And we won't lose, no matter what, on Matt Kleinmann Day.