Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:53PM

#19/17 Texas Longhorns (20-6 overall, 9-4 Big 12) at #8/8 Kansas Jayhawks (20-6, 11-2)
Allen Fieldhouse | Lawrence, KS | Tip: 6:30 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
Vegas: Kansas -10 | Pomeroy: Kansas, 81-71

The Texas Longhorns sit all alone in second place in the Big 12 as they head to Lawrence for tonight’s matchup with Kansas. But at two games behind the conference-leading Jayhawks, tonight’s game is essentially make-or-break for Texas as it tries to earn a piece of its first Big 12 title since 2008. A loss at Allen Fieldhouse would put the Longhorns three back with four games to go, practically ensuring that Kansas would win at least a share of the Big 12 title for a 10th-consecutive season.

While the Longhorns took care of KU in Austin at the beginning of the month, winning at Phog Allen is an entirely different beast. In the last six-plus years, the Jayhawks are an incredible 54-2 at home in Big 12 play, with one of those losses coming at the hands of Texas in 2011. The margin for error is very, very slim for the Longhorns tonight if they hope to pull off the rare road win in Lawrence and stay alive in the title hunt.

Meet the Jayhawks

For a detailed look at the KU roster, check out LRT’s preview of the February 1st game between these two teams.

The First Meeting

Cam Ridley and the Texas defense stifled Kansas early
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Texas dominated things early against the Jayhawks in Austin, stifling Kansas’ interior attack in a first half where KU shot just 25.8% from the field. The Texas bigs stayed home and protected the paint, cleaning up dribble penetration and providing timely help when KU found space down low. Isaiah Taylor had the floater working in a masterful performance, repeatedly finding cracks in the Kansas defense and attacking quickly.

The Longhorns took a 15-point lead to the locker room and held a double-digit advantage the rest of the way. With Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid struggling for Kansas, Wayne Selden, Jr. flipped the switch at half and played much more aggressively in the second. He scored 21 points on the afternoon, knocking down 50% of his shots from the field.

Both teams did a fantastic job on the offensive glass, effectively negating the extra chances earned by their opponents. The Longhorns won 48.7% of their misses back, while Kansas reclaimed 40.5% of theirs on the other end. Although Kansas won the second-chance point battle by a 16-11 count, timely Longhorn putbacks were key to building a big lead late in the first half.

In the end, Texas knocked off the Jayhawks, 81-69, earning a fourth-consecutive win over ranked opponents. The Longhorns pulled to within one game of KU in the league standings and solidified their NCAA tournament résumé with a convincing win over the No. 1 team in the RPI.

Since Then…

Although the Jayhawks have struggled on the road this month, they continue to take care of business at home. Kansas dispatched a tough West Virginia team with excellent execution in the final five minutes and absolutely obliterated TCU in a second half where the Horned Frogs seemed content to just watch the Jayhawks waltz to the hoop.

Kansas suffered its only other conference loss in Manhattan on February 10th, but the team showed grittiness in a late-game comeback that forced overtime. The Wildcats led by nine with just 1:53 to go, but a key steal by Brannen Greene, free-throw problems for KSU’s Wesley Iwundu, and a huge, last-second putback by Wiggins on his own miss all led to an extra period of basketball. In the overtime, Kansas State managed to escape with a key home win, but Kansas proved their mental toughness in the frantic comeback.

Wayne Selden and KU are on the verge of a Big 12 title
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Just four nights ago, it was again Wiggins who provided the heroics for Kansas on the road, but this time the Jayhawks didn’t ultimately lose. Down by one with 16 seconds left, KU fed Embiid on the block for a final chance. He was stripped by Tech’s Dejan Kravic, but Wiggins scooped up the loose ball in the lane and put it in for the winning bucket. With Texas losing at Iowa State on the same night, KU’s thrilling victory put them on the verge of winning yet another conference title.

Keys to the Game

1) Strong interior defense – Although Kansas has shooters, the Jayhawks have always been and will always be an inside-out team with Bill Self at the helm. The Longhorns didn’t choose to double-team Embiid or Perry Ellis when the teams met in Austin, yet still played very sound interior defense that frustrated KU all afternoon.

Texas will once again have to stay home in the lane, but must also avoid foul trouble in the frontcourt. Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh made key contributions in the earlier win over Kansas, but it’s obviously preferential to have Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley out there for as many minutes as possible.

2) Don’t settle for jumpers – Texas played right into Iowa State’s hands on Tuesday night, particularly Javan Felix, who took every open look that the Cyclones gave him. He shot 15 three-pointers and was just 27.3% from the field, although in a game where Texas was even missing point-blank shots, it’s tough to say that made a huge difference.

However, against a Kansas team with an imposing frontcourt, the temptation to settle for jumpers will again be there. Taylor did a good job attacking with the bounce against Kansas in the first game, and the Horns repeatedly found post players in the paint when the Jayhawks pushed out and denied dribble penetration. The Longhorns need to make the same commitment tonight to driving and to feeding the post if they want to have any chance to win. Having a player take 15 threes will be a recipe for disaster for UT tonight, unless Baylor’s Brady Heslip somehow transfers this afternoon and is immediately eligible.

3) Clean up the glass – The Longhorns didn’t do a great job on the defensive glass in the first meeting, but they balanced things out by winning nearly half of their own misses back. Texas must again be competitive on the boards tonight against a KU team that is ranked third in the Big 12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates. If the Longhorns are dominated on the glass on either end of the floor, the disparity will likely be far too much to overcome in a road environment where there is little margin for error.

4) Show poise under pressure – The Big 12’s three toughest road venues are Allen Fieldhouse, Bramlage Coliseum, and Hilton Coliseum. You can argue which one is second and which one is third, but Phog Allen is undoubtedly the toughest place to play. The Longhorns have gone 0-2 so far this season in those hostile environments, including a blowout loss at K-State.

If Texas is going to hang in this game long enough to have a chance for the upset, the team will have to withstand a few Kansas rallies. When the Jayhawks get cranking, Allen Fieldhouse is a cacophony of noise and emotion. If the Longhorns can fight through that and throw a counter, they might be able to give Kansas a good battle tonight. If they don’t, Kansas can turn it into a rout in a matter of seconds.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:01AM

#6/7 Kansas Jayhawks (16-4 overall, 7-0 Big 12) at #25/ARV Texas Longhorns (16-4, 5-2)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN

The Big 12’s two hottest teams meet at the Frank Erwin Center this afternoon, as the Jayhawks and Longhorns put their seven-game and five-game winning streaks on the line. Texas is returning to action after a week off, and is looking to notch its fourth consecutive win over a ranked opponent. It was a feat that had not been seen since North Carolina ran a four-game gauntlet in 1996-97, until Kansas did it just a few weeks ago. With seven different Big 12 teams bouncing in and out of the polls in conference play, the tough tests come often, but only Kansas and Texas have managed to string together lengthy winning streaks in the country’s top conference.

Texas’ streak has propelled the team from a spot on the bubble to being safely in the NCAA picture — for now. With the Big 12 schedule providing a stiff test night after night, and with the league’s three toughest road tests still to come for the Longhorns, there’s still the danger of a losing skid that could muddy Texas’ NCAA picture. Another win this afternoon over a ranked opponent — and the No. 1 team according to RPI — would give Texas even more insurance against any late-season stumbles.

Bill Self is fired up about his team’s 7-0 Big 12 start
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Meanwhile, Kansas is in the hunt for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and is already getting close to running away with another Big 12 title. With Allen Fieldhouse providing the league’s strongest home-court advantage, challengers to the throne have to pick off wins when the Jayhawks hit the road. Kansas has avoided two potential potholes already, surviving road tests in both Norman and Ames, and the team still has five games left against Texas Tech, TCU, and West Virginia.

The number of good opportunities left for Big 12 contenders to trip up the Jayhawks are dwindling, with this afternoon providing one of the best chances remaining. Considering that KU already leads Oklahoma by 1.5 games and Texas by two full games, another Jayhawk win today could make that conference lead insurmountable.

By the numbers

Kansas has the nation’s fourth-best offense when it comes to offensive efficiency, and the team does it by destroying opponents in the paint. The Jayhawks score an adjusted 1.201 points per possession, a number that has actually gone up against tougher Big 12 competition. In conference games, KU has scored 1.214 raw points per possession. On the year, Kansas averages 37.5 points per game in the paint, which makes up 46.8% of its scoring.

Kansas has an impressive frontcourt that can easily score at the rim, plus guards and wings that can get a piece of the paint. While that all leads to quite a few points in the lane, Kansas’ excellent offensive rebounding numbers also play a role in the team’s interior scoring. The Jayhawks reclaim 36.6% of their missed shots, and frequently have a player snatching up a weakside board for the easy putback.

If keeping up with that kind of offensive efficiency wasn’t tough enough for Jayhawk opponents, they also find it very difficult to score against a stout Kansas defense. KU allows 0.953 adjusted points per possession, a defensive efficiency mark that ranks 28th in the nation. That defensive dominance is thanks in large part to a block percentage of 15.8%. With a 7-foot freshman man-child starting at center, and quality depth in the KU frontcourt, opponents find it tough to score inside for the entire 40 minutes.

One area of concern for the Jayhawks is their trouble hanging on to the basketball. On the year, Kansas has coughed it up once for every five possessions, a turnover rate that is among Division I’s bottom third. In conference play, the problem has become worse, with Kansas losing the ball on 21.1% of its possessions. Against Baylor’s zone, the Jayhawks repeatedly made poor passes, and second-half backcourt pressure from Oklahoma State led to KU unraveling and a Cowboy comeback.

The fact that Kansas can give up so many possessions and still have the fourth-best offense in the country is downright frightening. If and when the Jayhawks can manage to clean up their passing, it’s hard to imagine any team being able to keep pace with their scoring.

Meet the Jayhawks

On a team with three recruits who played in the 2013 Jordan Brand Classic, Andrew Wiggins (No. 22) stands out as the freshman who arrived in Lawrence with the most hype. Although he hasn’t wowed in every single game, he has had numerous plays in each one that underscore the athleticism and talent he possesses. Wiggins has a strong, quick first step that helps him blast past defenders when he slashes from the wings, and he seems to hit another gear when he runs the open floor in transition. The freshman also loves to spin like a top when he drives from the perimeter, slipping past defenders that thought they had contained his penetration.

Wiggins has certainly struggled with his turnovers in conference play, and had a very tough time against Baylor’s zone. He looked afraid to shoot against the closing length of the Bears, and passed up numerous opportunities to drive and attack the gaps. Instead, he tried to make passes that teammates weren’t expecting, or decided to dish in midair. He coughed it up four times against Baylor, and has lost it on 21.1% of his possessions against Big 12 opponents.

Defenses have a hard time slowing down Joel Embiid
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

While Wiggins was the biggest freshman name for KU in the preseason, 7-foot center Joel Embiid (No. 21) has quickly become the team’s biggest star with his incredible performances. The big man only started playing basketball two years ago, but already has impeccable, smooth footwork and a variety of post moves. He understands how to get good position and take the right angles, so most defenders are beat before the entry pass is even made.

Teams have repeatedly tried to double and triple team Embiid on the catch, but he keeps the ball high and passes well against the pressure. He also uses those passing skills to his advantage in one-on-one situations, making hard pass fakes to get defenders off-balance before he moves to the rack.

Defensively, Joel has become a monster. His block rate of 12.2% ranks him 13th in the country, and he’s logged ridiculous seven and eight-block performances against UTEP and Oklahoma State. When he’s not blocking shots, he’s forcing opponents to take tough ones, and he’s constantly cleaning up the glass. Embiid is ranked in the Top 75 in both offensive (13%) and defensive (24%) rebounding percentages.

The biggest knock on Embiid’s game right now is how often he gets called for fouls, especially for throwing elbows. He was ejected for sizing up Kansas State’s Nino Williams on a rebound and popping him in the face, then earned technicals in each of the team’s next two wins, against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. While the latter two weren’t nearly as egregious as his cheap shot on Williams, Embiid now has the attention of officials, and that is going to make things a little tougher on him.

The third stud freshman is Wayne Selden, Jr. (No. 1), an excellent shooter and slasher who has been content playing sidekick to his star teammates. Coach Bill Self wasn’t as happy with that deferential attitude, and he has implored Selden to be more aggressive and take his open looks. The message finally sunk in as the calendar turned to conference play, with Wayne scoring 44 points in the team’s first two conference games, while posting an effective field goal percentage of 74.1%.

After those two solid performances, Selden went through a mini-slump. He shot just 33% from the field in the team’s next three games, including a 21.4% mark behind the arc. The cure, as it is for many teams and players, was a game against TCU. Selden shot 55.6% from the field against the Horned Frogs, scoring 12 points, while logging four assists. He followed that up with another solid outing against Iowa State on Wednesday night and seems primed to once again fill the role Coach Self envisioned for him.

At the point, senior Naadir Tharpe (No. 10) is making things click. Jayhawk fans have always been tough on the point guard, but this year he seems to be providing the quiet, steady leadership that a team of young stars needs. Tharpe’s assist rate of 30.3% is tops on the team, but he’s not simply a pass-first point guard. The senior is deadly coming off of high ball screens, as he loves to pull up and drill 18-footers.

Tharpe is also incredibly dangerous behind the arc, where he’s hit 43.8% of his long-range looks. The Jayhawks move the ball very quickly and take advantage of opponents who sell out to try to stop KU’s interior threat. Often that means swinging the ball around and hitting opposite post when teams double on the block, but it also leads to quite a few open looks for Tharpe and others waiting on the perimeter.

The fifth starter for Kansas is sophomore Perry Ellis (No. 34), a Wichita product who finally emerged as a big-time threat in last year’s Big 12 tournament. Ellis carried that momentum into this season, and he’s flourishing in the frontcourt as teams struggle to slow down Embiid. Perry has a good midrange jumper and an excellent face-up game from about 15 feet and in, plus great passing ability from the block and high post. Teams have not only tried doubling Embiid in the post, but have also thrown pressure at Ellis to try to force mistakes. Like Embiid, Ellis is able to find open teammates and get them easy looks.

While it’s tough to match the size and skillset of Kansas’ 7-foot Cameroonian center, the Jayhawks do have the luxury of a pair of solid frontcourt reserves. Jamari Traylor (No. 31) and graduate transfer Tarik Black (No. 25) are two imposing figures at 6’8″, 220 pounds and 6’9″, 260 pounds, respectively. Traylor has a really nice face-up game for a guy his size, and he also can whip some impressive passes when he puts the ball on the court and draws defensive attention with his drives.

Tarik Black would be in the starting five for most teams
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Black turns into a wall when he sets ball screens and is a tough defender in the paint. In addition to blocking shots and cleaning up the defensive glass, he has also proven capable of planting his feet and drawing the charge, as he did three times against Kansas State earlier this year. Getting tagged with an offensive foul and turning it over is bad enough, but you have to imagine running into someone built like Black probably makes it even worse.

Unfortunately, Black sprained his ankle in a Big Monday win over Baylor and has missed the team’s last two games. He is expected to play this afternoon against Texas, but his mobility could understandably be limited. The outlook is not as good for freshman guard Conner Frankamp (No. 23), who will likely miss his second straight game due to a knee injury.

With Frankamp out, that leaves Kansas with Frank Mason (No. 0) and sparingly-used gunner Brannen Greene (No. 14) as the bench options in the backcourt. Mason, a freshman, has come on strong in recent games after struggling a bit as the team’s backup point. The 5’11” guard has a great first step and can penetrate at will, and his solid performances in Big 12 play have earned him even more playing time. Recently, Kansas has frequently put both Mason and Tharpe on the floor at once, giving the team two good ballhandlers to go with Selden or Wiggins on the wing.

Keys to the game

1) Limit offensive rebounds – Texas has done a phenomenal job on the glass this season, but the Horns have yet to face a frontcourt like this. The home loss to Oklahoma was due to Texas’ inability to clean up the defensive glass, and the team also struggled against a good-rebounding Kansas State team. The Jayhawks are already very tough to slow down, so the Longhorns must limit the number of second chances and easy putbacks that KU earns today.

2) Rotate quickly – Kansas moves the ball quickly and takes advantage of opponents who elect to double team. Cameron Ridley might find it difficult to keep up with the slippery Embiid, which means that Texas may have to risk using a second defender. If the Horns do, they will have to rotate quickly to keep up with KU’s ball movement and prevent wide open looks or easy cuts to the rim.

3) Take advantage of mistakes – The young Jayhawks have turned the ball over frequently this season, although many of their turnovers tend to be of the dead-ball variety. With Kansas boasting a strong interior defense, the Longhorns need to get as many points as they can in transition and on the secondary break. The Jayhawks gave up quite a few hoops to Oklahoma State off of turnovers, and they repeatedly lost Baylor’s Brady Heslip on the break, allowing open threes. If the Longhorns can get a nice chunk of points in the open court this afternoon, they should keep themselves in position to pull off the upset.

4) Stretch the floor – With the Jayhawks so strong inside, teams have found the most success when they can stretch the floor and pull the KU bigs out of the lane. Kansas typically rushes the ball screens with their posts, because their defense rotates well and eliminates easy buckets at the rim. However, this does leave them exposed to the pick-and-pop, something that Baylor and Isaiah Austin took advantage of last Monday. Both Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert have a nice three-point stroke, so the Longhorns need to exploit that tendency and have the bigs knock down a few triples after setting high ball screens.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:58PM

Texas Longhorns (11-13 overall, 3-8 Big 12) at #14/13 Kansas Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3)
Allen Fieldhouse | Lawrence, KS | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
LRT Consecutive Game #245

There is no doubt that the suits at ESPN expected a little more glitz when they booked College GameDay at Allen Fieldhouse for tonight’s tilt between Texas and Kansas. The Longhorns were expected to be part of a deep Big 12 pack this year, chasing the perennial preseason favorite Jayhawks. That was long before an NCAA committee suspended Texas guard Myck Kabongo for two-thirds of the season, and well before Kansas lost three straight games for the first time in nearly eight years.

Myck Kabongo made his season debut Wednesday night
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Texas scuttled to a 2-8 start in conference play without their sophomore point guard, yet still managed to have these very Jayhawks on the ropes when they hosted them at the Erwin Center on January 19th. Although it was clear that this young Texas team could compete with the best of the Big 12, it consistently fell short in crunch time. Two days after that valiant effort against Kansas, any optimism was tempered when sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes broke his hand against Oklahoma.

On Wednesday night, the Longhorns finally welcomed back both Holmes and Kabongo against Iowa State. But thanks to foul trouble, neither one of the returning stars were even on the court when the game was decided in a second overtime. Kabongo and Holmes combined to play only 53 minutes in a game that was 50 minutes long, as freshman big man Connor Lammert put forth the best effort of his young career. Most importantly, Sheldon McClellan finally stepped up and carried the Longhorns, scoring all 10 Texas points in the decisive overtime period.

While the odds are incredibly long for a Texas win at Allen Fieldhouse tonight, there is no reason to think that the Longhorns stand no chance. Kansas has looked incredibly vulnerable this season, while the Texas offense finally started clicking when it was at full strength on Wednesday night. The 1.097 points that the Horns scored per possession was their second-best offensive performance of the season, and the fifth-best showing by an Iowa State opponent this year. The Longhorns will still have to execute incredibly well to have a shot at an upset tonight, but fans now at least have a reason to hold on to some shreds of hope.

Meet the Jayhawks

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

The first match-up

On January 19th, the Longhorns used stifling defense to keep Kansas in check during the first twenty minutes, limiting the Jayhawks to just 26 points on 28% shooting. Ben McLemore took just three shots in the first half, perhaps still struggling with the lingering effects of an ankle sprain suffered five days prior against Baylor.

The Longhorns made no effort to crash the offensive glass, but still managed to own the rebounding advantage heading to the locker room. That edge on the boards was especially surprising after Holmes picked up two fouls in the first 56 seconds of the game and spent the remainder of the half on the bench.

Ben McLemore and Kansas stormed back against Texas
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

In the second half, Holmes made an immediate impact. He scored seven quick points that fueled a 14-4 run for Texas to open the frame, as the Longhorns took full advantage of miscues by the Jayhawks. Kansas turned it over six times in the first five minutes, after having coughed it up only four times in the entire first half.

Texas built a lead as large as 11 points in the second half, and still led by 10 with just over 11 minutes to play. But with Kansas taking better care of the basketball, the Longhorns once again found it difficult to score in a half-court game. McClellan became the only Horn who could put the ball in the basket, scoring all six of Texas’ points in a painful stretch of nearly eight minutes of offensive stagnation.

With Kansas switching to a four-guard look in the final six minutes, Naadir Tharpe took over ballhandling duties and freed up Elijah Johnson to play in his more natural role as a two-guard. The Jayhawks erased Texas’ six-point lead, holding the Horns to only two more baskets as Kansas poured on the points in crunch time. KU outscored Texas 17-4 down the stretch, moving to 4-0 in the Big 12 with a gutsy road win.

Since then…

Even with the offensive problems and the close calls against both Iowa State and Texas, Kansas maintained its steady march through the conference. Two days later, the Jayhawks went into Bramlage Coliseum and continued their dominance over in-state rival K-State. A comfortable home win over Oklahoma preceded a road win against West Virginia, where the Jayhawks again struggled to hang on to the ball and let the Mountaineers claw back late in the game. Still, Kansas was sitting at 7-0 in the league and seemed to be on its way to a ninth-straight Big 12 title.

But that’s when things started to unravel for the Jayhawks. The issues that had concerned Coach Self and the Kansas fanbase finally became big enough to result in losses. Early turnovers allowed Oklahoma State to build a big lead at Allen Fieldhouse, and the Cowboys ultimately snapped KU’s 33-game home win streak. Four days later, the Kansas offense was absolutely horrid in a loss at TCU, which was 0-8 in league play at the time.

After that improbable upset, the Jayhawks were facing the possibility of their first three-game losing streak since February of 2005. After a road loss against a resurgent Oklahoma squad, that fear came to fruition for Jayhawk Nation, knocking KU out of first place and putting them a game behind hated K-State.

Monday night, the Jayhawks once again returned to top form, looking dominant from start to finish against the Wildcats. Kansas cruised to a 21-point win, pushing the team back into a three-way tie for the league lead with seven games to play.

The biggest storyline to emerge from the three-game losing streak is the controversy over the point guard role. Johnson has made questionable decisions and been responsible for some frustrating turnovers, while his shooting percentage has taken a nose dive. To add fuel to the fire, Tharpe has stepped up and shown himself to be a quality facilitator when he’s put in at the point.

Naadir Tharpe has come on strong in Big 12 play
(Photo credit: Sharon Ellman/Associated Press)

In conference play, EJ has posted a turnover percentage north of 35% in six different games. His assist-to-turnover ratio has been above 1.0 in only four of the team’s 11 conference games. Meanwhile, Tharpe has put his teammates in a position to score and even took on the daunting task of guarding Rodney McGruder in Monday’s win over K-State. Tharpe had an assist rate of 50.3% in that win against KSU, and posted 43.4% and 45% in the home win over OU and the loss to Oklahoma State.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Tharpe makes things click when he is on the court, so Self and the Jayhawks now have to decide just how many minutes the sophomore guard will get. Someone has to sit on the bench to make room for the point guard, and it’s not an easy decision. The solution late in the game against Texas was to run with four guards. Unfortunately, that made Kevin Young the odd man out, with Jeff Withey obviously cemented into his role in the middle. Young provides an excellent spark for KU and is a constant hustle guy. Meanwhile, Johnson is much more comfortable when he slides off to shooting guard. If the Jayhawks are still going to make a run to Atlanta, Coach Self has to find the right lineup combination that can utilize Tharpe’s talents and still optimize the minutes he gives Johnson and Young.

Keys to the game

1) Limit transition points – In the first meeting between these two teams, the Longhorns were clearly concerned with Kansas’ ability to put up points on the run, as they completely abandoned the offensive glass in an effort to get back on D. That concern is sure to be an even bigger point of emphasis at Allen Fieldhouse, where the nation’s best home-court advantage is on display any time the Jayhawks score on the break. Visiting coaches always have to burn timeouts to kill the momentum when the KU transition game starts cranking up, so the Longhorns have to be wary of that constant threat in tonight’s game.

Still, completely conceding offensive rebounds isn’t necessarily the only approach. Oklahoma State found a lot of success on the offensive glass against KU, with many of their boards coming from 6’4″ guard Marcus Smart. If the Longhorns focus on their weak-side rebounding opportunities, it’s still possible to earn some second chance points while still having three or four players ready to stop the transition attack.

2) Push the tempo wisely – Texas was able to play at a faster pace with Kabongo at the helm on Wednesday, but the Horns must be careful with their tempo tonight. The Longhorns need to look for opportunities to push the tempo when the defense isn’t ready to stop the break, but they shouldn’t be trying to slam on the accelerator all night long.

A slower pace helps to keep the Allen Fieldhouse crowd out of the game, and it limits Kansas’ ability to put together quick scoring runs. Still, scoring in the halfcourt against the Jayhawks and their block-machine of a center is very difficult. If and when Texas can score easy points and avoid the half-court grind, it has to take advantage. The young Horns just have to be careful not to get caught up in the moment and play right into the hands of the Jayhawks.

3) Knock down perimeter looks – This key is much easier said than done for a Texas team that is dead last in the Big 12 when it comes to long-range shooting. The Horns have made only 26.2% of their threes in conference games, including an ugly 28% success rate against Iowa State on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, Kansas has the strongest interior defense in the country, limiting opponents to 38.5% shooting inside the arc. If Texas is to have any hope for a monumental upset tonight, the team will have to knock down some triples.

There is some reason for optimism, however. After shooting 28.5% from the field in the three games prior to Wednesday, Julien Lewis was much more selective against the Cyclones. He took and missed only one shot in regulation before hitting two huge three-pointers in overtime. Point guard Javan Felix showed off a great spot-up jumper from the perimeter, something fans never saw when he was on the ball for the first 23 games of the season. Add in Ioannis Papapetrou and his 38.6% mark from long range, and there’s reason to believe the Longhorns could knock down some triples. If they do, the Horns could hang with the Jayhawks until crunch time. If not, they will likely find it hard to score inside and could be in a deep hole very quickly.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:18AM

#4/4 Kansas Jayhawks (15-1 overall, 3-0 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (8-8, 0-3)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 1 P.M. CT | TV: CBS
LRT Consecutive Game #237

The last time the Texas Longhorns started conference play with an 0-4 mark, the team missed the NCAA tournament and Coach Tom Penders lost his job. It has been more than 14 years since that disastrous season, and the Longhorns have appeared in every NCAA tournament since then under Coach Rick Barnes. With this year’s squad sitting at 0-3 in the Big 12 and an incredibly talented Kansas team coming to the Erwin Center this afternoon, the chances are good that the Horns will be matching that disappointing start.

Although the Longhorns suffered a pair of their conference losses in overtime, they have yet to face a team as skilled as Kansas. The Jayhaws have won 14 straight games after losing to Michigan State in the Champions Classic, with their 12 non-conference wins coming by an average of more than 20 points.

While the number alone is impressive, considering the strength of KU’s non-conference schedule only makes it more extraordinary. Although the non-con slate included the likes of Southeast Missouri State, American, and Chattanooga, Kansas also knocked off good mid-majors in Belmont and Richmond, blew out Colorado, and defeated Ohio State on the road.

Jeff Withey anchors KU’s imposing interior defense
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

By the numbers

As is to be expected with a Bill Self team, the Jayhawks are stout on both ends of the court. Their adjusted offensive efficiency is ranked 17th in the country by Ken Pomeroy, as the Jayhawks score 1.136 points per possession against the average defense. They are also fourth-best when it comes to stopping opponents, allowing an adjusted 0.838 points per possession.

There has been a slight drop-off for the Jayhawks on the offensive end in conference play, with the team scoring 1.047 points per possession. Their stifling defense has more than made up for slight dip in production, as the Jayhawks are limiting Big 12 foes to 0.85 points per possession, and held Baylor to 23.2% shooting from the field on Monday night.

Kansas’ interior defense is the toughest in the nation, as opponents make just 36% of their shots inside the arc. The team also has the second-best block rate in the country, swatting nearly 22% of the two-point attempts taken by their opponents. The dominant Big Monday win over Baylor drilled this point home, as the very tall Baylor lineup shot just 21.4% inside the arc and struggled to score the entire night.

Offensively, the Jayhawks have gradually become one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams despite a slow start behind the arc. Kansas has made 36.8% of its threes this season, ranking the team 50th out of 347 in Division I. In the Jayhawks’ first six games, they hit just 29.6% of their three-pointers, even with an impressive 7-for-13 performance behind the arc against Saint Louis. Although the team has seen its average dip once again in conference play, its scorching-hot 47.8% mark in December has shown just how quickly Kansas can light it up from outside.

Meet the Jayhawks

The team’s leading scorer is freshman Ben McLemore (No. 23), who is far more experienced than most first-year players. He was deemed a partial qualifier last season and had to get his grades in order before he could even practice with the team. Naturally, Kansas used McLemore’s redshirt and kept him out of game action in the spring semester. That gave him a chance to practice with and against last year’s Final Four team, easing his adjustment to the college game.

Ben McLemore is one of the nation’s best freshmen
(Photo credit: Stephen Spillman/Associated Press)

McLemore is a smooth scorer with an excellent jump shot that has been compared to that of Ray Allen. He elevates well above the defense and has perfect form, even when coming off a curl or taking a quick shot after the kickout. Although McLemore’s handles are not good enough to put him in a facilitating role, he can still drive from the perimeter and get to the rim. He has also shown some incredible athleticism on highlight reel dunks this season, so the Horns will have to put a body on him in offensive rebounding situations, unless they want to show up in a supporting role on Sportscenter.

The other player getting all of the press this year is senior Jeff Withey (No. 5), who is definitely worthy of all the attention. At 7-feet, he is the nation’s second-best shot blocker, swatting more than 17% of his opportunities. What makes him such an excellent defender, though, is that he does it all without fouling. Withey stays vertical and jumps straight to the ceiling, seriously altering any shots that he cannot block. His sound defensive fundamentals mean that he has been whistled for only 20 fouls in 16 games.

The other thing that Withey does remarkably well on the defensive end is keep his blocked shots in play. The Jayhawks are not a team that force an excessive number of turnovers, but they still have a very efficient transition game. A large part of that success is due to Withey’s ability to block shots inbounds, in addition to his willingness to immediately look up after securing defensive boards.

On the offensive end, Withey is a great passer in the post, allowing Self to use him in the high-low game. It also leads to easy buckets when Withey passes from block to block when opposing bigs help across the lane. The Jayhawks also love to use their big man in the pick and roll, setting him up for elementary finishes at the rim when defenders key on the Jayhawk drivers.

One of those drivers is Elijah Johnson (No. 15), who is the team’s point guard in title. Coach Self has pointed out that his team’s offense doesn’t have a true point after the first pass is made in the half court set, and Johnson’s game bears that out. EJ is a skilled slasher with slippery moves, but is also a great catch-and-shoot guy who will can it from outside on the drive-and-kick or quick ball reversals. He has also shown an affinity for the skip pass, frequently using it to set up McLemore in the far corner for threes.

The other guard in the starting five is senior Travis Releford (No. 24). Although he has been known throughout his career as a lockdown perimeter defender, Releford has upped his offensive game this season. He has hit more than 62% of his shots this year, and his true shooting percentage of 73.9% is best in the nation. Releford has made almost 42% of his threes, developed a midrange game, and consistently gets out and runs the floor well in transition to earn easy hoops.

At the four spot is Kevin Young (No. 40), the fourth senior in the team’s starting five. At 6’8″ and just 190 pounds, Young lacks the size of most four-men, but still manages to scrap on the glass. He is ranked in the top 100 for both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, with his 14% mark on the offensive glass slotting him 54th in the nation.

Young’s other major impact is as a great interior passer. He has a nice, soft touch on his passes from the high post and knows where and when to hit Withey with the feed. Opponents such as Texas Tech have tried to force Young to beat them as they double down on Withey, with varying degrees of success. He doesn’t possess a consistent midrange shot, but will put the ball on the floor to drive from the free-throw line when opponents play off of him.

The one area of weakness for this Kansas team is its depth. The starting five account for 74.1% of the team’s minutes, a stat that is skewed by the blowouts in non-con play. In the team’s five games that were decided by ten points or less, the bench accounted for just 19.7% of Kansas’ minutes.

The reserve who has earned the most minutes this year is sophomore Naadir Tharpe (No. 1), who has logged about 18 minutes per game backing up Johnson at the point. Only 5’11”, Tharpe is very quick with the ball and pressures opponents well on the perimeter. His shot has been streaky this season, but it appears he is hitting his stride after a slow start. Tharpe made just six of his first 21 from behind the arc, but has upped his three-point percentage to 37.2% coming into this game.

Perry Ellis is a promising freshman for Kansas
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Highly-touted recruit Perry Ellis (No. 34) has also seen action in every game, logging more than 14 minutes each night. At times, it has looked like Ellis lacks confidence, playing tentatively despite his natural skills. Like Withey, he knows how to hold his ground and play vertically on defense, and he works hard on the glass. With time, he should iron out the wrinkles in his offensive game and play with confidence on that end of the floor.

Like McLemore, Jamari Traylor (No. 31) was deemed a partial qualifier last season and used his redshirt. He is a high-motor guy who has thrown down some ferocious follow dunks in transition, and he is constantly working on the glass. Although he sees the court for just under 12 minutes per game, he looks like one of those prototypical Self players who has a small role as a freshman and then explodes as a sophomore or junior.

The Jayhawks also give minutes to freshmen Andrew White III (No. 3) and Rio Adams (No. 2), but usually when the game is out of reach. White is a 6’6″ swingman with a deadly three-point shot, while Adams is an exciting, athletic 6’3″ guard who often plays out of control. If Texas fans see either of these players for extended minutes this afternoon, it means that things have turned very ugly for the Longhorns.

Keys to the game

1) Handle the perimeter pressure – The Jayhawks do not force their opponents into many mistakes, but they do make it a point to force opposing guards out of their comfort zone. Kansas’ defensive turnover percentage of 19.3% is actually ranked 233rd in D-I, but they will pressure the ball well past the perimeter and hedge hard on ball screens.

The Texas offense has struggled throughout the season, but has had an especially difficult time when Javan Felix is unable to get free on high ball screens. The Longhorns also have made their most frustrating turnovers when passing it around the perimeter. Texas cannot afford to give up easy hoops with dumb turnovers behind the arc, and the team has to be able to find some offensive flow despite Kansas’ perimeter pressure.

2) Avoid taking challenged shots – The Longhorns will have a very tough time scoring at the rim in today’s game, as Withey’s presence typically cleans up any dribble penetration that opponents can muster. If Texas is going to score inside, it will have to come off of smart passing as Kansas rotates. If they cannot manage to do that, the Horns must avoid wasting possessions by forcing up bad looks against strong interior defense.

Although teams can score inside against KU with crisp passing and a little bit of basketball IQ, the most likely scenario is that Texas will have to knock down their jumpers to pull off a huge upset this afternoon. For a team that has an effective field goal mark of just 30.2%, that will be a very tall order.

3) Limit second chance points – Texas has been giving up offensive rebounds at the worst times this season, allowing both UCLA and West Virginia to win key boards in the final minutes. The Bruins and Mountaineers both took advantage of those extra opportunities to mount furious late-game comebacks and snatch victory away from Texas.

Although Kansas is ranked just above the national average when it comes to offensive rebounding, the Longhorns have to crash the defensive glass on every single possession. The Kansas offense is an efficient machine, and Texas cannot afford to waste their defensive stops by giving the Jayhawks extra chances to score.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:02PM

Texas Longhorns (19-11 overall, 9-8 Big 12) at #4/3 Kansas Jayhawks (25-5, 15-2)
Allen Fieldhouse | Lawrence, KS | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
LRT Consecutive Game #217

In a busy Saturday packed full of games with huge NCAA implications, the Texas Longhorns tackle their toughest test of the season. Situated squarely on the bubble, the young Horns will be facing a top-five Kansas team on Senior Night, in front of a crowd thirsty for revenge after Texas snapped their 69-game home winning streak last January. If those subplots weren’t enough to create an electric atmosphere in Lawrence tonight, the Jayhawks are also still playing for the right to be bracketed into the geographically-favorable St. Louis regional of the NCAA tournament.

For the Longhorns, the one positive is that there is practically no one outside of the team and staff that is giving them much of a chance to win tonight. With other bubble teams dropping games this afternoon against much weaker competition than Kansas, a loss tonight would not be crippling for Texas. On the other hand, a victory that shocks the nation would almost certainly punch a ticket to the NCAAs for the Horns.

Meet the Jayhawks

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

J’Covan Brown couldn’t get going against KU
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

The first meeting

The Longhorns fell behind early when they hosted Kansas on January 21st, managing just nine points in the game’s first 12 minutes. The Jayhawks carried a 12-point lead to the locker room, powered by Tyshawn Taylor’s 12-point, four-assist first half. On the other side of the ball, J’Covan Brown struggled for Texas, going just 1-for-8 from the field in the first half.

After the break, Kansas built their lead back out to 15 points on a pair of free throws and a three-pointer from Taylor, but the Longhorn defense dug in their heels after that. Texas held Kansas to just 33% shooting from the field in the second half and slowly chipped away at the lead, finally taking an advantage of their own when Clint Chapman sank two free throws with 5:39 to play.

The Longhorns extended the lead to four points on a Brown triple with 3:21 to go, but they could not manage another basket the rest of the way. Kansas, meanwhile, executed down the stretch, going ahead for good on a Jeff Withey three-point play with 37 seconds left. Brown had two chances to tie the game in the final minute, missing a leaner with 15 seconds left and a three-pointer with less than two seconds to go.

Kansas escaped Austin with a 69-66 win and moved to 7-0 in conference play, while the Longhorns missed one of many opportunities to log a signature victory.

Since then…

The Jayhawks have been practically unstoppable en route to their eighth-consecutive Big 12 crown, falling only in road games at Iowa State and Missouri. Junior big man Jeff Withey has been a big part of that success, as his offensive game has developed nicely in Big 12 play. Already known for his shot-blocking abilities, Withey has upped his scoring average to 11.4 points over his last 14 games. If not for two terrible performances against Missouri — he scored a combined two points and grabbed just five boards versus the Tigers — those numbers would be even more impressive.

Last weekend, Kansas was down 19 points at home to Missouri in what might have been the final installment of the Border War. In front of a frenzied home crowd, the Jayhawks stormed back to force overtime and knock off their hated rivals, locking up another league title as Thomas Robinson made a strong case for national Player of the Year honors. T-Rob posted a mammoth 28-point, 12-rebound line, while Taylor scored 24 points, including four big triples.

While the top two seeds in the Big 12 Championship have already been decided, Mizzou and Kansas are still battling for the right to play their second weekend of the NCAA tournament in St. Louis. Thanks to the pod system, both teams will get to play close to home in Omaha for the 2nd and 3rd rounds, but only one can land the coveted St. Louis regional. A potential rubber match between the two rivals in the conference tournament could be the deciding factor.

Tyshawn Taylor sliced up the Texas D in Austin
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Keys to the game

1) Weather the storm – The Longhorns have dug themselves some big holes this season, and almost always rally back to make things interesting. In an environment like Allen Fieldhouse, that could be very difficult, especially for a young team like Texas. The closest thing to the Phog that these six freshmen have seen was the Dean Dome, and things got out of hand quickly in that blowout loss to UNC. If Texas wants to have any chance at an upset, they’ll have to avoid getting punched in the nose in the game’s opening minutes.

2) Draw fouls – The only weakness for Bill Self and the Jayhawks is a rather thin bench. If Texas can somehow get Taylor, Withey, or Robinson in foul trouble, there’s not anyone comparable on the Jayhawk bench that can fill those shoes. If Texas can get some of the key Kansas players on the bench while also manufacturing some points at the line, perhaps the Horns can stay within striking distance for crunch time.

3) Slow down Tyshawn Taylor – The mercurial junior has shown that he can be rattled and will often make questionable decisions in high-pressure situations. Unfortunately, he’s rarely shown those tendencies against the Longhorns. When Texas won in Allen Fieldhouse last January, the Horns were able to limit Taylor to just four points, but didn’t force him into any turnovers. In the two Kansas victories since then, Tyshawn has averaged 21 points, shot 60.9% from the field — including 62.5% behind the arc — and posted nine boards and nine assists. If the Longhorns fail to contain him again tonight, it will be nearly impossible to pull off the improbable road upset.

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