At one point it looked like this game may be for the Big 12 title. Then it looked like it may determine whether Kansas shares the title or keeps it themselves. Now, with Kansas hanging on to win two tough (ugly?) games at home, and Texas dropping back to back contests, the Jayhawks have wrapped up the title for themselves. That means the only thing on the line Saturday is pride, and a stronger case for the top overall seed in this year’s tournament.
Back in November, before the Chris Beard situation, this Texas team was actually 1st in the country in KenPom’s ratings. The team scuffled for a while as the drama surrounding the head coach was still fresh, but they eventually settled in under interim coach Rodney Terry. Things looked shaky after they gave up 116 points at home to Kansas State in a loss that dropped them to 1-1 in league play, but they rallied to win five of their next six and had righted the ship. They were 11-4 with a real shot at winning or sharing a Big 12 title as their time in the conference grows short. Fortunately for KU, Texas had two tough road games against Baylor and TCU, and dropped both. Now Saturday’s contest is to determine the number of games by which the Jayhawks win the Big 12 title.
In Big 12 play, Texas has been an excellent offensive team and a respectable defensive one. When they have the ball, they do an excellent job of limiting turnovers, shooting threes, and hitting their free throws. They don’t crash the offensive glass (or really the defensive glass either), and their efficiency inside the arc has been just ok, so especially facing the league’s top 2 point defense, there are weaknesses that can be exploited, though the team is always a threat to go off from three and make it a tough day regardless of who they’re playing.
Defensively, their biggest strength is in forcing turnovers, ranking 2nd in the Big 12 by creating them on 21.9% of opponents’ possessions. Aside from that, they don’t particularly excel anywhere. They have been victims of bad luck when it comes to opponent three point shooting, but they rank 4th in the league in 2P%, 7th in opponent free throw rate, and 9th in defensive rebounding. If Dajuan Harris is feeling good and KU takes care of the ball, there will be points to be had in Austin.
Texas has to be disappointed, since one week ago they were in the driver’s seat for at least a share of the title, only to come into this game with no shot whatsoever. That could motivate them to show out for senior night and end the regular season on a high note, or it could lead to a lethargic performance in a game that ultimately means very little for them.
The first time these teams played one another, Texas put up 80 in a 76 possession game despite hitting under 32% of their threes. They hit 54.5% of their twos against what ended up being the top FG% defense in the conference and...lost by eight points. It was as good an example as any for how this team can score, but be undone by allowing their opponent to do the same. Even without a Big 12 title on the line, it’s hard to imagine that once the game starts, Texas will be plenty eager to get revenge on the team that passed them in the standings.
With all that said, Bill Self is unlikely to coach this game as though it lost any meaning. This team is really carrying itself with some swagger, and I think they want to put Texas in their place. If the Longhorns go nuts from three point range, all bets are probably off. If they don’t, Kansas is playing borderline elite defense of late, and (again, assuming Harris is in good shape) they’re finding ways to score enough points to get the job done. I like Kansas to cap the regular season with a big road win and leave zero doubt as to who the best team in the Big 12 has been this year.
Kansas 84, Texas 79