Kansas looks to clinch a share of its 14th straight Big 12 title and avenge a loss to Texas Tech Saturday, with the Red Raiders somewhat reeling from back-to-back losses. Most notably, Texas Tech has been basically without Keenan Evans for those two games, as he suffered a foot injury against Baylor and only got to play 25 minutes against Oklahoma State.
To say the Red Raiders need him is an understatement, as their offense has been borderline pitiful without him. Overall their numbers aren’t really what you’d expect from a possible conference champ either, as Tech ranks 8th in the Big 12 in points per possession, scoring 1.046 points per trip.
However, it’s somewhat easy to see why, considering Tech ranks 258th nationally in shots at the rim and 263rd nationally in attempting threes, leaving quite a few attempts coming in that low efficiency middle area. That’s potentially good news for Kansas, who has had a problem keeping teams out of the lane. In the first matchup, the Red Raiders did a great job on the offensive glass, rebounding roughly 46 percent of their misses, quite a bit higher than their Big 12 average of 32.6 percent, which ranks 5th in the league.
The main calling card for the Red Raiders, obviously, is the other side of the ball. Texas Tech ranks 3rd in KenPom defensively and leads the league in defense in conference games as the only team to allow less than one point per possession in Big 12 games. Notably, they lead the league in both forcing turnovers and not allowing offensive rebounds, but they also rank 3rd in 2-point defense and 4th in threes allowed, allowing just 35 percent of opponents’ shots from beyond the arc.
Of note, the Red Raiders are 9th in the league at sending teams to the free throw line, which may cause a bit of controversy if the free throw disparity gets out of hand. In the first meeting, Kansas did a good job attacking the Tech defense, shooting 65.5 percent on twos and getting quite a few open looks from three. The problem is they didn’t make a ton of those threes, just 23 percent, and they turned it over on 21 percent of their possessions. If Kansas gets the same quality of looks in this matchup, however, one assumes they’ll score closer to 1.1 PPP than 1 PPP.
Players to Watch
Keenan Evans, 6-3 senior guard
When healthy, Evans is a legit Big 12 player of the year candidate. He’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, shoots 55 percent on twos, 84 percent at the free throw line and ranks 3rd at getting there. He also ranks 2nd in usage, so naturally Tech has been much worse without him.
Zhaire Smith, 6-5 freshman wing
Smith has maybe taken the title from Zach Smith of most exciting athlete in the league, but he’s also been a very good basketball player this season. He’s scored in double figures in the last 6 games, and he ranks 7th in the league in effective field goal percentage. He does a really nice job on the offensive glass, and is also shooting 46 percent from three, although in just 26 attempts.
Keys to the Game
- Threes - If Kansas had had an average day from behind the arc in Allen Fieldhouse in the first matchup, the conference race would be over already. They may not get as many good looks in this one, especially with their hot shooting against Oklahoma, but probably will get enough to win if they shoot even in the mid-30 percent.
- Defensive rebounding - Tech shot the ball inside the arc pretty well in their first matchup, but the big problem was the offensive glass, where the Red Raiders grabbed almost half their misses. It’s no surprise, then, that they had one of their best offensive outputs of the season that day. Kansas has played better defense in stretches lately, and with the number of mid-range twos the Red Raiders attempt, if Kansas can keep the Red Raiders off the glass, they should have a much better showing defensively overall.
- Turnovers - Kansas needs to limit turnovers for two reasons. First, as Tech ranks 1st in the league at forcing them, getting those few extra shots off could mean an extra 5ish points that the Red Raiders are not used to giving up, which could make a huge difference. The other key reason is it keeps the Red Raiders from getting a bunch of easy transition baskets, which will make it that much harder for their offense to score. Kansas turned it over way too much in the first matchup, on roughly 21 percent of possessions, and on the season Tech’s best shots have come off steals, by a wide margin. Obviously every team shoots better right away off steals, because they’re mostly looks at the rim, but with Tech it is striking: The Red Raiders have an eFG under 50 percent in the half court, but immediately after steals it is 75 percent. Needless to say, keeping them from getting a ton of transition looks is huge.
There are good things and bad things to take from the first matchup. Devonte Graham destroyed Keenan Evans, Kansas got a ton of good looks on offense, and the Jayhawks still lost. If Kansas can replicate their offensive effort from the first meeting, they should win, but can they? Texas Tech will no doubt adjust and limit their easy looks inside, but can they make enough jumpers on the other end? Will Keenan Evans play? Numbers wise, it really is too close to call, so I am going to go with my gut. This is obviously the game of the year for Texas Tech, but Kansas has no doubt had this one circled on their calendar for a month or so. With the finish line to #14 in sight, I am going to take the Jayhawks to clinch it on the road, 76-74.