First off, let's start with a lesson I learned Saturday. Never attempt to think ahead and get ahead in any kind of work. I had nearly a full post previewing Monday's game written out, but done so under the impression that Texas would be beating Oklahoma that afternoon. So, I had to scrap it all and start over. Let this be a lesson to you, too.
What can you say when your conference competition keeps laying down and giving you a bigger and bigger lead all the time? It's frustrating in the fact that you want to beat the best of the rest to be the best. You want to prove you deserve being called "champions." You want everyone to see you flex your muscles and show that swag. That was the original plan. All season long, February 8th was the day. The Kansas Jayhawks would make a quick turn around and go on the road to take on the preseason number two Texas Longhorns. It was to be for all the marbles in the Big 12.
Well, in a sudden turn of events, the 2009-10 Texas basketball team has gone all 2009 Kansas football team on us and basically given away any hope of a regular season title. Yes, it is great to know that just at the halfway point of conference play we are miles ahead of everyone else. But, still, where's the fun in that? Now, will the Jayhawks go another eight games that are partially meaningless and just all a part of the motions? (sans the trip to Columbia, because that is bigger than even the National Championship game - at least to one side.) With next to nothing on the line anymore, will the team keep their intensity up and continue to improve en route to the NCAA tournament? Or, will they instead relax and fall into complacency? Whatever happens, you can blame Texas. I know I will. Just couldn't beat Oklahoma, could you?
The way that I see it, (and the way I began to see it as non-conference play was winding down - before this recent struggle ever happened) is that Texas can score in bunches, but they fail to play good, tough defense and allow far inferior teams (North Carolina - which that win doesn't look nearly so great now - Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma) score 80-plus points against them, whether they won or not. Sure, they won all of those games, but let's face it - when you're playing a team that can run right alongside you and play defense and hold you to the 65-70 point range, you're going to struggle if you don't play better defense. You can bring in all of the glamorous high school recruits from around the country that you want, but as a coach, you have to a) teach them to play team defense, and b) play as a cohesive unit offensively, not just to "get theirs" and shoot when they want.
A team with that much talent just shouldn't be struggling the way they are.
All-time matchup notes. In a relatively short all-time series, Kansas, as they seem to do with most teams, holds the series lead, 12-5. The Jayhawks currently hold a two game mini-streak in the series, winning last year and in 2008 in the Big 12 tournament championship game. The Longhorns had beaten the Jayhawks just a month earlier in Austin, though. The Jayhawks recovered well from that loss and went on to win the National Championship.
Whoever wins the battle of the bigs will win this game. Texas has unbelievable depth in the frontcourt. While they lack a number of reliable options at the guard spot, due to the loss of Varez Ward for the season, they more than make up for it in big bodies. Dexter Pittman, to put it nicely, has been a large disappointment this year, after all of the preseason hype he received. He averages under 20 minutes per game in conference play and 6.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. His physical shape has left him in a position where he is physically unable to play more and have an impact. One would think the loss of such an impact player would cripple a team. Such is not the case when you have fall-back options like Damion James, Gary Johnson and Jordan Hamilton. The collective points per game total is a staggering number, considering the way most of college basketball is played anymore. If Cole Aldrich gets in early foul trouble, as he did against Colorado and Nebraska, it could be a long night for the Morris twins and the rest of the Jayhawk bigs. Enough can't be said of Damion James ability to play the game. Not so much should be said of his decision making at times, though. When he decides to get to the basket and take close shots, he is nearly unstoppable, but when he settles for eighteen foot jump shots, it plays away from his strength and right into the hands of the defense. Let's just hope he wants to prove to NBA scouts he can shoot on Monday.
Record: 19-4 (5-3)
Best Win(s): Pittsburgh, Michigan State, Texas A&M and @Oklahoma State
Worst Loss(es): @Kansas State, @UConn, Baylor and @Oklahoma
Informative Texas Links
Player rotation from their Yahoo! team page:
Player Rotation: Usual Starters—F Damion James, C Dexter Pittman, G Avery Bradley, G Justin Mason, G Dogus Balbay. Key Subs—G J’Covan Brown, F Gary Johnson, F Alexis Wangmene.
Random Stat Musings about the Longhorns
- Texas scores 84.1 points per game - 3rd nationally. 4th - the Jayhawks at 83.7. The difference in points per game is the ones allowed by each team. Texas - 67.7, 161st nationally. Kansas - 62.7, 51st nationally.
- Texas prefers to play much more uptempo. They average 76 possessions per 40 minutes, while Kansas sits only at 70.6.
- Texas rebounds 39.3 percent of their own missed shots - 20th nationally. The Jayhawks do so at 39.1 percent - 22nd nationally.