#13/13 Kansas State Wildcats (21-5 overall, 10-3 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (12-14, 4-9)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
LRT Consecutive Game #247

It has been over two months since the Texas Longhorns have managed to string together a winning streak. Not since taking care of Texas State and North Carolina on December 15th and 19th have the Horns been able to build off of the momentum of one win by notching another. The team has managed to cobble together five wins over the last nine and a half weeks, but sandwiched them between 10 losses.

Kansas State and Kansas are battling for the Big 12 title
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Tonight, the Longhorns welcome a Kansas State team that is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Wildcats are winners of six out of their last seven, and they put together an eight-game winning streak in December that included a victory over Florida and a 4-0 start in the Big 12.

For Kansas State, even a game against the league’s eighth-place team is huge. The Wildcats are chasing their first conference title since 1977, when they played in the Big 8. They enter today’s action in a first-place tie with Kansas, which holds a 2-0 head-to-head advantage over KSU. Although the Big 12 awards co-championships, Wildcat fans certainly don’t want to share their first league title in nearly 40 years with their hated rivals, especially in a year where those rivals swept the season series.

K-State will have to take care of business on the road if it wants to win the title or even to share a piece of it. After tonight’s road trip to Texas, the Wildcats still face games at Baylor and Oklahoma State on the last two Saturdays of the season. Kansas, meanwhile, has only two road games left — against Iowa State and Baylor — and will host three of the league’s bottom four teams. The Wildcats clearly have their work cut out for them down the stretch, so a loss tonight would be a damaging blow to their title hopes.

Meet the Wildcats

For an in-depth look at the Kansas State roster, check out LRT’s game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

The first match-up

When Texas and Kansas State first faced off on January 30th, the game was quickly out of reach. The Longhorns had two leads in the first four minutes, but trailed 9-7 at the under-16 media timeout. Texas would never get any closer, falling victim to a brutal stretch of offensive inefficiency. For a span of more than 12 minutes in the first half, Texas managed only eight points, with all of them coming from Sheldon McClellan.

The Longhorns did manage to get some good looks early in the game, but could not make any buckets. With shots not falling, Texas only made things worse by constantly turning it over and giving up easy points to the Wildcats. On the night, Texas ended 27.5% of their possessions with a turnover and allowed KSU to score 33 points off of those miscues. In a lopsided 83-57 loss, those wasted possessions and free points were easily the difference in the game.

Texas had no answer for Thomas Gipson in Manhattan
(Photo credit: Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

Most troubling for Texas fans is that this beatdown came with Rodney McGruder limited due to foul trouble and Will Spradling playing with a broken nose he suffered in the first half. With those two only chipping in 12 points, it was Texas-born big man Thomas Gipson who dominated the game, scoring 17 points and grabbing seven boards in only 21 minutes on the court.

Since then…

That Texas game was the first in which Gipson came off the bench after he had made starts in the 13 previous games. It was also the first of six wins in seven games for the Wildcats, with Gipson the sixth man in all of those. Although he struggled against Romero Osby and Oklahoma and again against Jeff Withey and Kansas, the big man has become a key bench contributor.

The other player to suddenly step up in the last three weeks was point guard Angel Rodriguez. Although the sophomore was already one of the Big 12′s top assist men, he has complimented those skills by pouring on the points in recent weeks. After scoring 17 in the loss to Kansas and another 22 in a home blowout of Baylor, Rodriguez was named Co-Player of the Week in the Big 12. In that Baylor game, the point guard dished out 10 dimes against only two turnovers.

Most importantly, Rodriguez is now hitting his three-pointer with a little more consistency. When these two teams first met, he was slumping from long range, having made less than 22% of his threes in the previous 10 games. In the Texas game and the six others since then, Rodriguez has made more than 36% of his threes. Re-establishing his long-range threat forces defenses to play him a little tighter, which then gives him an even better opportunity to drive and create.

With consecutive Big Monday games and incredibly one-sided outcomes, it has been quite some time since Kansas State has played in a stressful, competitive contest. Since gutting out an important 79-70 home win over Iowa State on February 9th, the Wildcats have gone 2-1 in a trio of games that had a 17-point average margin of victory. Considering that the Longhorns have failed to put up enough points to blow out anybody, it’s safe to say that the Horns are hoping to end that trend this evening.

Keys to the game

1) Hang on to the ball – The Texas turnover problems have been a season-long storyline, but never were they as damaging as they were against the Wildcats in Manhattan. Texas made bad passes, had the ball stripped well beyond the perimeter, and seemed to travel every other time down the court. All told, the Longhorn miscues accounted for 33 of Kansas State’s 83 points, and they ended more than 27% of Texas’ possessions. If Texas cannot drastically turn those numbers around when they rematch tonight, the Horns will have very slim chances to pull off the upset.

2) Keep KSU off the offensive glass – The Longhorn turnovers and points scored off of them were certainly damaging in the first loss, but bad defensive rebounding was another nail in the coffin for the Longhorns. The Wildcats were able to reclaim 40% of their missed shots, and they turned those extra chances into an additional 12 points.

Texas has done little in recent weeks to give fans much hope that they can keep the Wildcats from reclaiming their missed shots again tonight. In the last nine games, the Longhorns have allowed eight opponents to win more than 35% of their offensive rebounding chances, with four of those teams actually posting offensive rebounding marks north of 40%. Fortunately, the Longhorns will have Jonathan Holmes available this time around, but his presence has not made much of a statistical impact in that department in the three games since his return.

Myck Kabongo drove at will against K-State last year
(Photo credit: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

3) Attack with the bounce – Last season, Myck Kabongo was able to find success against K-State by beating Rodriguez with the dribble. Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland were able to do the same at times in the first meeting, although Holland would often waste those drives with questionable passes in the paint.

If Kabongo can again find those cracks in the defense and make the Wildcats react to his penetration, Texas will be able to score much easier this time around. If not, the Horns are likely destined for another frustrating game where points are hard to come by and the Wildcats pull away quickly.

4) Turn back Rodriguez’ drives – Kansas State and its motion offense is tough to defend. Opponents have to be constantly communicating, hoping to battle through screens while still staying close with the likes of McGruder, Spradling, and Shane Southwell. But when Rodriguez is also able to put the ball on the floor and slice up a defense, K-State is downright impossible to shut down. The Longhorns found that out the hard way in the first meeting with KSU, as Rodriguez repeatedly slithered through the Texas D and dished out eight dimes to go with his 11 points.

Tonight, the Longhorn guards need to learn from those mistakes and keep Rodriguez on the perimeter. Without his dribble penetration, Kansas State is forced to knock down jump shots out of their motion sets, and the Wildcat bigs become less of a factor. If the Longhorns cannot manage to do this and they allow Rodriguez to run wild, there’s little hope for Texas to keep up with a clicking KSU offense.