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Kansas Seizes Early Control of the Big 12 With Win at Texas

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Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

It's always a much happier occasion when I expect Kansas to play poorly and lose, and they come out and do the exact opposite. It didn't start out well, as Texas got out to an 8-0 run, but the Jayhawks slowly whittled away at that lead, and then the teams kept each other in their sights for most of the rest of the game, when Kansas pulled away late thanks to some stout defense, key threes, and free throws. The Jayhawks ended up holding the Longhorns to an even point per possession and put up 1.21 points per possession on what had been the best defense in Big 12 play.

It certainly didn't start out this way, but I was most impressed by Kansas work on the glass. The Jayhawks limited the Longhorns to rebounding just 35 percent of their misses, and Kansas had an offensive rebounding rate of 36 percent. With all of Texas's length, to be able to win the rebounding battle is huge, especially given that's how their offense gets a lot of cheap points.

It's fair to note that the Jayhawks probably got a little lucky defensively, as Texas shot just 3-18 from three, but the Jayhawks were under their season average as well. Kansas also limited Texas to just 48.1 percent in the restricted area, and made them rely heavily on tough leaners and floaters, a lot of which ended up going down, but it was still a great defensive gameplan by Bill Self.

On the offensive end, Kansas didn't do anything too special. They just took care of the ball, made some key threes, and got to the rim a lot. The Jayhawks shot just 51.4 percent in close, but that is far above the average Texas gives up on the season, and Kansas attempted 35 shots at or near the rim, getting there almost at will once they figured out the Texas zone a bit. (Other coaches: please zone this team more. Thanks.)

Kansas also assisted on almost half its field goals and the kicker, had just three turnovers in the game, just 4.8 percent of its possessions. Some of that is that Texas doesn't force opponents to turn it over much, but some of it is obviously poise and toughness by Kansas. It also highlights why turnovers are so important: Kansas didn't shoot all that well in this one, and Texas obviously has a ridiculous defense when it comes to field goal percentage, but if your defense gives up at least one shot every time down the floor, there are going to be games where teams either get hot from outside, or solve your zone (or rotations) and beat you. Forcing turnovers not only limits the other team's ability to score, but gives your team more chances to score. It might not be the most important part of defending, but it's probably more important than I've ever given it credit for before.

  • Frank Mason was just 4-10 on twos and didn't make a three, going 0-4, but he had four assists to no turnovers, and controlled the game well on the offensive end. He was also 4-5 on free throws, including a key pair down the stretch. Although Isaiah Taylor shot 8-16 on twos, above his season average, I thought Mason played him pretty well and forced him to take a lot of tough looks.
  • Perry Ellis is back. The junior was 6-10 on twos against the toughest front line he'll see all year, and added five rebounds, three assists, a block, and a steal.
  • Wayne Selden had just 8 points and missed all three of his twos, but was 2-3 on threes and had a block.
  • Kelly Oubre missed all four threes he took, and is now down to 38.8 percent on the season, but was 3-5 on twos, and had 6 rebounds.
  • Jamari Traylor had the hustle play of the century, which started with him trying to take Myles Turner 1 on 1 and getting blocked, which illustrated the up and down type game for him. Traylor was 1-3 on twos, but had 4 rebounds, an assist, a block, and 2 steals.
  • Cliff Alexander played a career high 27 minutes and responded. He was the best player on the floor against a front line of guys bigger than him. Cliff was 6-11 on twos, and did get blocked a couple times, but had a game high 9 rebounds, including 5 offensive, and a block. All while committing just 1 foul.
  • Brannen Greene has gone from a guy that made me cringe a bit when he came in to a guy who might be our starting shooting guard before the season is over. Greene was 1-2 on twos, 4-5 on threes, had 4 rebounds, and played pretty good defense. I do think it's notable, though, that Self tried to match him with Connor Lammert as much as possible, knowing Lammert wasn't a threat to go around Greene. I still don't think I trust Greene to guard anyone too good, but on another team with a stretch 4 type player I think he's a valuable asset to have in there. Greene is now shooting 48 percent from three on the year and 58.8 percent in Big 12 play.
  • Devonte Graham had just 2 points, and missed both threes he took, but had one of the better games you'll see from a guy who scored so little. Graham had a great steal in the second half, three rebounds, three assists, and no turnovers. In Big 12 play, Graham has a not too shabby 20 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.