Despite having already wrapped up the season series with two other Big 12 teams, Kansas is getting their first look at the Texas Longhorns tonight. On the day Chris Beard was arrested in December, KU was 9-1, coming off a beatdown of the Missouri Tigers. In the following days and weeks, Texas would go to overtime with Rice, and open Big 12 play with a one point win over Oklahoma, and by somehow giving up 116 points at home to Kansas State. Kansas had just kept winning games, and it appeared the two teams were headed in different trajectories this season. That’s all changed now, as Rodney Terry has Texas playing as well as anyone in the Big 12, while the Jayhawks are staring down the possibility of a 5th loss in just 7 games.
However, this also presents an opportunity for Kansas to change things up at the top of the Big 12 standings. A win would, at least for a day, put Kansas ahead of the 3rd place pack where they currently find themselves, and within just one game of the conference-leading Longhorns. Meanwhile, a loss would make it very difficult to see how KU would make up a 3 game chasm sitting between themselves and 1st place.
Texas overall sits very close to Kansas in the “computer rankings.” KenPom puts them 9th to KU’s 11th, while Bart Torvik has them 13th to KU’s 15th. However, based on recent results, these teams are not sitting in similar places at the moment. Texas had a setback against the same Tennessee team that dispatched Kansas earlier this year in the Big 12-SEC challenge, but they’ve only lost one Big 12 game since that horrendous and strange home loss to K-State that featured 219 points scored, and that was a road loss to 2nd place Iowa State who...well let’s not talk about Saturday.
Texas plays excellent defense, but unlike most teams put together by Beard, is relying moreso on offense this year. They don’t shoot threes particularly well, something that has stayed fairly consistent in Big 12 play, but they’re hitting a fantastic 56% of their twos for the year, and rank 2nd in the conference making 52.1% in Big 12 play. You don’t want to send them to the free throw line either, where they lead the league hitting 80.6% from there. Being more of an inside-the-arc team, they do make it to the free throw line a bit, and any team that draws fouls has to scare Kansas a little extra, since Kevin McCullar and KJ Adams in particular seem to find themselves in foul trouble a bit too often. Texas is middle of the pack in turning it over, and elects to get back on defense rather than crashing the boards.
Defensively, Texas has been burned a bit by bad 3 point luck in conference play, where teams have hit over 35% from the behind the arc. They do a solid job inside the 3 point line, where teams hit just 49% of their twos in Big 12 play (up from 47% in non-con play). Texas isn’t a constant-ball-pressure team that looks to force a ton of turnovers, but they do an efficient job nonetheless in turning opponents over 20.5% of the time. They’re pretty mediocre on the defensive boards, so if Kansas can really hit the glass early and often on both ends of the court, they could open up an advantage.
I’m really trying not to let the recent losses piling up spoil my entire opinion of the team. The natural pessimist in me feels like this season is starting a tumble down a nasty hill. At the same time, I have to recognize that this Kansas team doesn’t suck, has a hall of fame coach, and specifically one who has a knack for coming up with Big 12 wins when his teams really need them. I’ll listen to that side of me and pick the Jayhawks, since it’s at home and once again Kansas takes the court needing to make a statement about who they are in this league, and whether they will factor into the race for the conference title.
Kansas 78, Texas 73