Fresh off a scare at Allen Fieldhouse, in which Kansas nearly opened their Big 12 slate with a loss before late-game heroics (and maybe a missed foul call?) helped KU survive, the Jayhawks have promptly turned around to make the unfortunate trek to Lubbock Tuesday night. With the Big 12 as loaded as it is, top to bottom, there will be no rest for the weary this season, a fact that the Jayhawks and nine other conference mates have to come to terms with. If Oklahoma State in Lawrence nearly turned into a loss, a road game at Tech can't be considered anything short of danger, either.
Texas Tech does seem to have slipped slightly from the final years of Chris Beard, along with last year's debut for Mark Adams. Though last year Tech ended up with 10 losses and a 3 seed, Ken Pomeroy's ratings put them 7th in the nation when all was said and done. As of now they don't appear to have that same level of dominance, but they're a very capable team that plays the style of frustrating defense the Red Raiders have become known for. Their record sits at 10-3 for now, but those losses came to Creighton (before injuries really started to weigh them down), Ohio State (12th per KenPom), and most recently on New Year's Eve, on the road against a scrappy TCU squad. They have nothing that can reasonably be considered a bad loss, though it should be noted they also have nothing resembling a good win. The "best" team they've beaten, again using KenPom's ratings, was Louisiana Tech, ranked 152nd. They played in Lubbock and won by just nine.
Resume-wise, this Tech team needs to start winning some games to achieve a higher level of national respectability. A win over Kansas, now ranked 3rd in the AP poll and 5th by KenPom, would be a huge step in the right direction. And, if they execute properly and play well, they do have the makeup of a team that can take Kansas down.
The concern going into the OSU game was the Cowboys' defense. They make few mistakes and, though they don't force a lot of turnovers, they apply steady pressure against opponents running their half court sets. Tech does the same, but in a different way. Like OSU, Tech has held opponents to very poor shooting numbers (45.9% from two and, to the extent that this information is useful, just 30.2% from three). But while OSU didn't rely much on turnovers, the Red Raiders make it a big part of their defensive strategy. Tech ranks 22nd nationally by turning over opponents on nearly a quarter of their defensive possessions. KU hasn't been especially turnover prone this year, but they have been prone to the occasional scoring drought where the offense is simply stalling out, especially against the top defensive teams they've faced. KenPom puts Tech's defense 22nd in D1 overall, just a touch lower than it rates OSU. They have the ability to make KU work for decent shots, and they create a turnover risk in the process. It's not a guarantee of a bad night for Kansas, but on the road, as a team whose offense can sputter at times, it's a cause for some concern.
Offensively, as one might expect from a Mark Adams team, they don't fair quite as well. One of their top offensive players from last year, Terence Shannon, jumped ship and plays at Illinois now. They also lost another good player named Kevin McCullar you may be familiar with, who will be playing against his former teammates for the first time tonight. Between the lack of offensive potency in Adams' style of play, and a lack of high level bucket getters, the Red Raiders are just 61st offensive in KenPom's ratings, almost identical to Oklahoma State's number. Tech has shot extraordinarily well, at 58.4% from two and 36.7% from three, but do recall that this is a team that's only played three good opponents, which obviously provides a boost to their numbers. They also have a very bad habit of turning the ball over themselves, over 20% of the time. Kansas is having one of their best years in recent memory in turning over opponents, ranking in the top 40 in defensive TO rate, so this may be an area where KU can both disrupt Tech's scoring, and potentially turn defense into offense by scoring before Tech can get back in their defensive set.
While Tech isn't elite on the boards on either end of the court, they've been very good on the glass overall and if Kansas doesn't box out properly, the Raiders will get some second chance points. With the potential for this to be a close, lower-scoring game, it will be important that Kansas not allow that to happen.
In terms of personnel, senior Kevin Obanor, a 6'8 forward in his second year after transferring from Oral Roberts, is the team's leading scorer by a decent margin. He's also done it efficiently with an oRtg of over 120, hitting 63% from two and 36% from three. De'Vion Harmon is on his third school in three years, but is playing well as the team's 2nd leading scorer, also getting it done efficiently, despite being a poor outside shooter so far this season. Harmon is also a skilled thief, far and away the team's leader in steals in the other end of the court. Also keep an eye on 6'11 sophomore Daniel Batcho. Despite not playing a heavy load of minutes, he's the team's third leading scorer, though that's not his primary area of impact. He rebounds very well on both ends of the court and is putting up near-elite shot blocking numbers. Kansas will have another legitimate rim protector to worry about, potentially limiting their ability to effectively get to the rim. If the game is close late, watch for Kansas to be willing to foul Batcho, who is a career 59% free throw shooter.
Kansas didn't look great at times against Oklahoma State, making just under 46% of their twos, saved by hitting nearly 48% from three. I don't think KU will give the ball away repeatedly, but I do expect some frustrating turnovers against this Tech defense. I also think the lack of good shots around the basket could certainly carry over, which would once again put pressure on the Jayhawks to take and make threes. KU has been an excellent three point shooting team, but it's always a bit uncomfortable feeling like a team has to scorch the nets from behind the arc to score effectively.
Kansas does appear to be the better, more well-rounded team in this matchup. However, with Tech trying to avoid an 0-2 start in Big 12 play, I fully expect to get their best shot. Because of their defensive ability, and the game being played on their turf, this seems like a great opportunity for them to get their first big win. I expect Kansas to have some dry spells that keep this close, or even leaning in the Red Raiders' favor. I see this as a bit of a coin flip type of game, and I give a very slight advantage to Tech, the type of team that's going to be much more difficult in their home games, to come away with the victory.
Texas Tech 67, Kansas 64