Kansas opens up its Big 12 title defense at Austin, which marks the first time in the Bill Self era Kansas has opened up conference play against Texas. It comes at perhaps a fortuitous time, as the Austin crowd, notoriously only full against one opponent, will have to try to fill the building with its students on winter break.
As for the team, we start with the defense. Texas currently is 2nd in KenPom defensively, and has allowed only Duke and Michigan to score over a point per possession against them. Texas allows opponents to shoot just 28 percent from three against them, but given the volatility of 3 point defense and the fact the Horns allow roughly an average number of 3-point attempts, one might say there is a bit of, ah, fools gold at play.
However, equally impressive is Texas’s 2 point defense, which sits at 21st nationally, allowing a hair under 43 percent. Kansas has had a habit against the Longhorns of charging right at their chief shotblocker (and Texas always has an impressive one) in an attempt to draw fouls. What might save Kansas this year is the lack of personnel with which to do that, but if Kansas falls behind, pay special attention to whether they let it fly from three, or go 1 on 2 or 3 into the lane.
Texas is much less impressive offensively. They rank outside the top 100 in KenPom, though a lot of that can be explained by the .77 PPP effort against Tennessee State at home. Texas’s main problem is they can’t shoot. Texas ranks 344th nationally in 3-point percentage, although they do shoot 55 percent on twos. Texas takes roughly an average number of its field goal attempts at the rim, and shoots an impressive 70 percent at the rim. Clearly Kansas’s best defensive strategy will be to pack it in and force Texas to shoot over the top whenever possible.
Players to Watch
Mo Bamba, 6-11 freshman forward
Bamba is probably the key to this game. He shoots 59 percent on twos, is a good rebounder on both ends, and is 6th nationally in block percentage. The wonderful Jeff Haley at Burnt Orange Nation did say that Bamba struggles with wider big men, which is a positive. I wonder if Kansas has one of those... Anyway, Bamba does commit 4 fouls per 40 minutes, so perhaps the Jayhawks can finally get an opponent in foul trouble.
Kerwin Roach, 6-4 junior guard
Roach is Texas’s best perimeter defender (hat tip again to Jeff Haley), so one would think he would get matched up on Devonte Graham. However, given that Texas’s backcourt other than Roach goes 6-2 and 6-2, that would give Lagerald Vick a major size advantage. On the other end, Roach is shooting almost 74 percent on twos, although he takes only 16 percent of the shots while on the floor.
Andrew Jones, 6-4 sophomore guard
Jones broke his wrist against VCU, and is listed as a gametime decision tonight. If he plays, it’s a huge plus for Texas as I think he’s their best player. He doesn’t give anything away defensively, shoots around 60 percent on twos, and 43 percent from three. He also functions well as a secondary ballhandler.
Keys to the Game
- Threes - Frankly, Kansas needs to make quite a few. Their best effort away from Allen Fieldhouse this year is 36 percent. If they take a ton of threes that might get it done, but more likely we are looking at them probably needing 40 percent or so. On the flipside, any three Texas makes is a bonus.
- Matchup at the 4 - Texas starts 6-9 Dylan Osetkowski at the 4, and while he’s more mobile than he looks, he will have a hard time keeping up with whomever Kansas has at the 4. On the flipside, Osetkowski might be good for some extra baskets, and rebounds, against Kansas’s smaller lineup. One thing worth watching, Osetkowski has lit up weaker opponents this year, but struggled against tier A and B teams in KenPom.
- Rebounding - Despite the size difference, Kansas has been the better team on the glass this year. Some of that is probably opponent, but if Kansas can limit Texas second chance opportunities it will go a long way to a big road win.
You could tell me virtually any final score and I would believe it. Kansas is the better team than Texas, even missing Preston and waiting for De Sousa, but Texas is such a tough matchup. I think Kansas will fall in love with going inside a bit too much, and Texas probably will hit a couple more threes than they should, and Texas will pull it off, 65-60.