Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:05AM

#7/7 Kansas Jayhawks (15-3 overall, 5-0 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (12-6, 2-3)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: CBS
LRT Consecutive Game #205

The Longhorns return to the Erwin Center after a difficult two-game road trip, but simply returning to a friendly arena won’t make things any easier. This afternoon, Texas has the unenviable task of squaring off with the league-leading Kansas Jayhawks, who arrive in Austin on five days’ rest and riding high after an authoritative win over previously-undefeated Baylor.

We’ve made much of the tough six-game stretch that Texas is currently in the midst of, but this afternoon marks the first of three home games out of the team’s next four contests. While knocking off Kansas, Iowa State, or Missouri won’t be easy — even at home — if the Longhorns are to add to their weak NCAA résumé, the Erwin Center is the most likely place to do it.

Bill Self has silenced the doubters this year
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

The Jayhawks have won all three of their true road games so far this season, but all three wins came against rather weak competition. Southern Cal, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech have an average KenPom rank of 154 in D-I hoops, while the Longhorns currently check in at 25th in Pomeroy’s rankings. Kansas has knocked off big-name teams already this year in the likes of Georgetown, Ohio State, and Baylor, but none came in a true road environment.

By the numbers

For the last seven seasons, the Jayhawks have either won or shared the league’s regular season title, and have added five conference tournament championships during that same stretch. Many observers, myself included, thought that this year would be the season Kansas was finally knocked off of its throne atop the Big 12. Kansas lost four of five starters from last year’s Elite Eight team, but Bill Self has done a phenomenal coaching job to keep his team among the nation’s elite.

Kansas is one of just three teams to have both their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies ranked in the top ten of Ken Pomeroy’s metrics. That unstoppable offense and suffocating defense add up to a scoring differential of +0.331 point per possession. Even in their first five conference games, which included contests against Baylor and Kansas State, the Jayhawks still have an impressive differential of +0.274.

Kansas has a Player of the Year candidate in Thomas Robinson down low, and his imposing presence is a big reason why the Jayhawks have one of the nation’s five best marks in two-point field-goal defense. On offense, his dominance also has helped Kansas post a 54.4% shooting percentage inside the arc, and allowed the Jayhawks to reclaim 37.1% of their missed shots. When a team shoots as well as Kansas does and gets a lot of second and third chances, it is very difficult to get a stop.

That rebounding advantage extends to the the other end of the court, as well, where the Jayhawks check in just outside the top 20 in defensive rebounding percentage. KU opponents snag just 27.5% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, making it very important for teams to be shooting well if they want to beat the ‘Hawks. Texas has actually done a very good job on the offensive glass so far this year, with a 39.7% mark that is 11th-best in the nation. If the Longhorns want to pull off the upset, they will have to continue to crash the glass and extend possessions against a tough Kansas D.

Meet the Jayhawks

When you introduce a guy as a contender for national Player of the Year, it goes without saying that he’s the star of his team. Already a dominant player as a sixth man last year, Thomas Robinson (No. 0) has taken over the role vacated by the Morris twins and has put up eye-popping numbers all season long.

T-Rob has logged thirteen double-doubles on the year, and actually averages one as well, scoring 17.8 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. Lest you think those numbers were built against creampuff opponents, it should be pointed out that his stats are even better against Big 12 foes. In five conference games, Robinson is averaging 18 points and 12.6 boards.

Robinson is nearly unstoppable on the glass, and has both a solid face-up game and quality post moves, making him a tough match-up for centers and and forwards of all types. The junior also can handle the ball pretty well, giving Kansas an additional player who can push the tempo and try to establish the break after turnovers and missed shots.

Tyshawn Taylor has been tough to stop this season
(Photo credit: Stephen Spillman/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)

The only returning starter from last year’s team is senior Tyshawn Taylor (No. 10), who has had an up-and-down career in Lawrence. After a win over Kansas State, Coach Self said of his point guard, “He makes plays you can’t coach. And then he makes plays where it looks like he’s never been coached.”

That polarity has extended beyond the court, where Taylor has fought members of the football team, said he wanted to transfer on Facebook, and called out his critics on Twitter. Add all of those issues to the fact that sometimes Tyshawn struggles with turnovers, and there are times where the ever-obsessive Jayhawk Nation has been quite critical of their senior leader.

Last season, Taylor put up double-digit scoring lines in sixteen games, including a masterful 20-point, five-assist effort that powered Kansas to revenge and a Big 12 tournament title against Texas. This year, he’s turned those flashes of brilliance into a consistent scoring threat, chipping in 16.2 points per game. Taylor can slice through the defense with the dribble, drills nearly 45% of his long-range attempts, and always seems to come up with big buckets in the clutch.

Joining Taylor in the backcourt is Elijah Johnson (No. 15), who is also an adept ballhandler that can handle point duties. A highly-regarded recruit out of Las Vegas, Johnson struggled to find consistent playing time on an incredibly-loaded Kansas roster during his first two seasons. Now an everyday starter, he’s averaging nearly 10 points a game and provides excellent perimeter defense. While Johnson has only made 30% of his threes, he can heat up in a hurry, as evidenced by his 4-of-8 and 5-of-7 performances from long range against UCLA and Ohio State.

The third guard for Coach Self is Travis Releford (No. 24) a redshirt junior who is yet another slashing threat in the backcourt. At 6’5″, he’s also a quality rebounder at the guard position, snagging more than four boards per game to go with his 10 points. Like Johnson, Releford also plays solid defense on the perimeter, using his height and length to frustrate other guards and post a steal percentage of 2.7%.

In the middle, 7-footer Jeff Withey (No. 5) is the epitome of a role player. Playing only about 22 minutes per game, he still leads the Big 12 with more than three blocks per game and is a big part of Kansas’ dominance in the paint. Even when he’s not blocking shots, his simple presence in the lane can affect opposing offenses, and his 12.2% offensive rebounding percentage is tops on the team. One struggle for Withey this season has been foul trouble, but thanks to his limited minutes, he rarely actually fouls out of the game.

The sixth man for Kansas is Connor Teahan (No. 2), who makes a living on the perimeter. Although he is not the team’s best three-point shooter, he still takes 80% of his shots from behind the arc, and has knocked down 37.5% of them so far this year. Texas has to stay close to the senior guard and make him drive the basketball. Unfortunately, the Jayhawks are great at moving the ball quickly and crisply, so sticking in Teahan’s shirt will be a difficult task.

Kansas also uses a trio of reserves sparingly, getting a combined 26 minutes out of Kevin Young (No. 40), Justin Wesley (No. 4), and Naadir Tharpe (No. 1) in conference play. Young is an athletic forward who has rebounded very well after transferring from Loyola Marymount. Wesley is also a transfer forward, coming to Lawrence by way of Lamar. The younger brother of former Jayhawk Keith Langford, he’s a stout 6’8″, 220 pounds and excels at shot blocking. Tharpe will be the point guard of the future for KU and is extremely quick with the ball. For now, he is simply used to spell Taylor and Johnson for a few minutes each game.

Keys to the game

Texas needs to keep Thomas Robinson on the sideline
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

1) Attack Robinson – There isn’t as much depth on this Jayhawk roster as in years past, and there’s certainly nobody on the bench who can match the skill level of Thomas Robinson. Texas benefited from getting K-State’s Jamar Samuels in foul trouble on Wednesday night, and they would see huge returns from doing the same against T-Rob this afternoon. The caveat here is that Myck Kabongo and J’Covan Brown must be smart about this approach, as both Robinson and Withey can easily block ill-advised shots.

2) Rattle Taylor – While Tyshawn has been a scoring machine as of late, he still has issues controlling the ball. When he is clicking and can dissect a defense, Kansas is practically unstoppable. The Longhorns must force Taylor into mistakes and keep him from feeling comfortable. If not, he and Robinson will likely put up video game numbers en route to an impressive road win.

3) Make it count behind the arc – Texas isn’t one of the best in the country when it comes to three-pointers, but against a stout interior D from Kansas, the Horns will have to knock down some outside shots. The Longhorns were a hot 9-of-16 from long range against Missouri last Saturday, but followed that up with an inefficient 7-of-22 against K-State on Wednesday. Brown was a big part of those long-range struggles against the Wildcats, so he and the Longhorns not only need to knock down their threes, but also make sure that they aren’t forcing up bad looks.

4) Build momentum early – The Frank Erwin Center has been more like a library the last two seasons, but the building has certainly been home to some electric atmospheres in the past, particularly when Kansas was in the house. Texas fans are the type to only cheer when given a reason to do so, which means the Horns need to come out hot if they want to get the full advantage of home court. Fall behind early — which is always a big danger against Kansas — and the apathetic Texas fanbase will likely start chatting about football recruiting news.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:48PM

[2] Texas Longhorns (27-6) vs. [1] Kansas Jayhawks (31-2)
Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO | Tip: 5 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
LRT Consecutive Game #184

Before the newspaper ink was even dry on January 23rd, people were already taking about March 12th. Jayhawk fans, still stinging from a shocking home loss to Texas the night before, were eager for a rematch in the conference tournament.

That rematch seemed all but destined, as the teams continued their march through conference play, with the Longhorns sprinting out to an 11-0 start and the Jayhawks staying just a game behind them. Texas stumbled on the road in the final weeks of the season, opening the door for Kansas to claim a seventh-straight league title and raising questions about the Longhorns’ moxie.

Texas hopes to hook its first Big 12 tourney title
(Photo credit: Shane Keyser/Kansas City Star)

A win in Waco to close out the regular season was a step in the right direction for Texas, and they built upon that with solid tournament victories over Oklahoma and A&M to set up the long-awaited championship re-match. Beating the Bears, Sooners, and Aggies definitely bolsters fan confidence, but this game with Kansas gives Texas a chance to prove that their earlier win was no fluke, and that this year’s team won’t be collapsing in March.

Then there’s the big picture. When the weekend started, Texas was fourth in line for the final two 1-seeds in the NCAA tournament. Pitt, Notre Dame, and Duke all had stronger résumés, and adding to those with victories in the conference tournament would only solidify their elite status. Longhorn wins over the mediocre middle of the league wouldn’t do much to help their profile, so a 2-seed was practically assured.

Then the Big East Tournament mixed things up. Pitt lost in its first game, falling victim to Kemba Walker and his heroics. Notre Dame looked impressive in thumping Cincinnati, but stumbled in overtime against Louisville last night. Throw in the toe troubles for Duke’s Nolan Smith, and suddenly Texas is back in the conversation.

Of course, that all becomes irrelevant if the Longhorns can’t top the Jayhawks for a second time.

Meet the Jayhawks

If you aren’t already familiar with the Kansas roster or style of play, we invite you to re-visit our in-depth game preview from the first meeting in Lawrence.

The first meeting

Kansas jumped out to an early lead in Lawrence, riding the hot hand of Tyrel Reed to a 12-2 lead at the first media timeout. The Longhorns had not even scored their first bucket until three minutes had elapsed, and it looked like another KU rout was in progress.

The Longhorn defense quickly stiffened, though, limiting dribble penetration from the Jayhawk guards and turning them into a one-dimensional team. Kansas settled for a simple high-low game with Thomas Robinson and Marcus and Markieff Morris constantly being fed inside. The three big men combined for 28 points, but did it at inefficient rate. Marcus was 6-of-17 from the field, while Markieff managed to sink just two of seven attempts.

J’Covan Brown sparked Texas to their win in Lawrence
(Photo credit: Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star)

Texas was able to keep the Jayhawks within striking distance, heading to the locker room trailing by just 12 points. Coach Rick Barnes then broke out his magic sharpshooter sauce, and gave a healthy dose to the entire team. The Longhorns shot an incredible 63.6% from the field in the second half — including 4-of-6 from behind the arc — and dropped 51 more points on Kansas.

With J’Covan Brown playing like a man possessed and Cory Joseph banking in three-pointers, it seemed like there was no way to stop Texas. But in the face of those long odds, Kansas displayed the poise of a champion down the stretch. Trailing by 12 with 3:45 to play, the Jayhawks sliced the lead to five with just over 90 seconds to go. Responding to the challenge, Gary Johnson drilled a clutch jumper from the baseline on the next possession to stop the rally and clinch the win for Texas.

Since then…

The Jayhawks had a close call in their next game at Colorado, but looked practically unstoppable after that. Kansas won nine of their next ten games, all by double digits, with six of those wins coming by more than 20 points. If not for an uncharacteristically poor game in Manhattan, the Jayhawks would have finished the conference season on a 12-game winning streak.

In Kansas City, though, the Jayhawks have once again looked human. Poor shooting against a packed-in Oklahoma State defense nearly led to a quarterfinal exit for Kansas. Against Colorado in last night’s semifinal, poor perimeter defense let the Buffaloes hang around in a game they had no business competing in.

Just like Texas, the Jayhawks have had some bi-polar tendencies. And just like the Longhorns, Kansas has won based on pure talent in some of their poorer performances this season. If both teams show up tonight, we are in store for a highly entertaining championship game. But if either team lets their bad habits peek through the armor, you can be sure that their opponents will take full advantage.

Keys to the game

Unlike our typical game previews, there’s no way to limit ourselves to three keys for this one. Against a team as talented, deep, and disciplined as Kansas, the Longhorns have a lot of things to worry about if they expect to leave Missouri with the tournament title.

Texas will have its hands full with the Morris twins
(Photo credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Most importantly, Johnson and Thompson must avoid foul trouble. In their win over Colorado last night, Kansas immediately put the Buffalo big men in foul trouble, leading to a revolving door of ineffectiveness that let Markieff and Marcus combine for 40 points and 21 rebounds. Not only do the Longhorns need Gary and Tristan for their scoring punch, but also to contain the big, athletic Kansas frontcourt.

Unfortunately, the Jayhawks are a team that can score in a variety of ways, which is precisely what makes it so hard to beat them. They move the ball incredibly well, which often leads to open looks when opponents choose to double down on the Morris brothers in the post. Just like in Lawrence, Texas needs to play conservative defense and avoid the temptation to jump passing lanes or double down from the guard positions.

The Longhorns will also need Good Jordan and Good J’Covan to show up this evening. Both players poured on the points in the first game, combining for 40 points. Brown was 3-of-6 behind the arc and provided the spark for Texas’ second-half surge. Late in the season, both players struggled for the Longhorns, but have picked it up in the team’s first two tournament games. If they can avoid forcing things and continue to take smart shots, Texas has a chance to pull off the sweep.

In Lawrence, the Longhorns were able to limit the damage from the Brothers Morrii thanks to a solid effort from Hill. His lack of scoring was more than made up for by the fact that he used all five fouls, and most of his fouls were hard enough to avoid and-one situations. The Longhorns don’t need much from Hill and Alexis Wangmene, but they need adequate minutes from the post reserves. Avoiding defensive lapses against the Morris brothers and limiting turnovers on the offensive end are really the only things Texas needs from them.

Finally, Texas must fight through the crowd. The Sprint Center is essentially Allen Fieldhouse East, and today will be no exception. Although the roof isn’t touching the top row like at the Phog, there are 2,000 more seats in the Sprint Center, and 99% of them will be occupied by folks in blue and red.

While this Longhorn team seems to feed off of the energy of road crowds, there’s no doubt that Jayhawk Nation will be exceptionally loud as they look for revenge tonight. When Kansas makes their runs — and rest assured, they will have a few — Texas cannot let the energy in the building lead to more mistakes.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:47PM

#11/10 Texas Longhorns 74, #2/2 Kansas Jayhawks 63

Things were different in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon. There was no “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk.” There was no waving of the wheat. There was simply stunned silence and a mass exodus that began with more than a minute left on the clock. The air was filled with a mix of confusion, dejection, and disgust. One of the things taken for granted in the Midwest, a certainty on par with the sun rising each day, was suddenly turned on its head. Kansas had finally lost at home.

Bill Self and KU suffered their first home loss in four years
(Photo credit: Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star)

There is a banner that greets all opponents when they arrive to Allen Fieldhouse. “Take heed, all who enter,” it warns. “Beware the Phog.” It’s a place worthy of the cautionary signage. Texas’ 74-63 win was the first by a visiting opponent in the last 70 games, and just the second in the last 90 games.

Beyond the historical implications, the win was huge for the Longhorns because it left them as the sole undefeated team in Big 12 play. One quarter of the way through the league schedule, Texas is one game ahead in the loss column of both Texas A&M and Kansas, both teams that the Longhorns now hold the head-to-head advantage over. The Aggies and Longhorns will meet again in College Station a week from Monday.

In terms of NCAA seeding, the win also gave the Longhorns their third big road victory, and fourth win over a team ranked 25th or better by statistician Ken Pomeroy. The Bracket Project’s Bracket Matrix shows that of the seven bracket projections which have been updated since the win, four have the Longhorns moving onto the 2-seed line.

Inside the numbers

The initial moments of the game were soul-crushing for even the most optimistic of Longhorn fans. Kansas took a dominating lead early behind the hot shooting of three-point gunner Tyrel Reed, while the Longhorns couldn’t even sink a basket for more than three minutes. By the first media timeout, the Jayhawks were up 12-2, and even added a free throw coming out of the break.

Matt Hill had a big defensive game for Texas
(Photo credit: Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star)

But after the initial turbulence, the Longhorns settled in and imposed their will on the Jayhawks. The stout Texas defense deterred the Kansas guards from even attempting dribble penetration, and they settled for a simple high-low game with no wrinkles. Bring the ball down the court, dump it in to the post, hope that Robinson or a Morris twin could score. Rinse. Repeat.

Fortunately for Texas, Matt Hill had the best zero-point performance in Texas history. He grabbed four defensive rebounds and used every one of his five fouls, forcing the Kansas bigs to earn their points at the line. As it is for Texas, the charity stripe is more like a demented carnival funhouse for Kansas, and the Brothers Morrii combined to sink just 9 of 16 from the line.

The most telling statistic came in the form of efficiency numbers. Heading into the game, the Jayhawks were scoring an adjusted 1.182 points per possession. They were coming off of an absolute drubbing of Baylor, a road win in which they put on an offensive clinic and scored an insane 1.337 points each time down the floor. Against the Longhorns, the Jayhawks managed just 0.879 points per trip, a loss of more than 25% of their typical offensive production.

The story was the exact same on the other side of the basketball. Kansas was limiting opponents to just 0.829 points per possession heading into yesterday afternoon’s game. For the first five minutes, it looked like the Longhorns would suffer the same fate. As the Jayhawks built an early fifteen point lead, Texas managed just three points in ten possessions, due in large part to three turnovers and an inability to rebound their misses.

The Texas defense stifled Kansas down the stretch
(Photo credit: Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star)

That would be the end of Kansas’ dominance, however. Texas stayed within arm’s reach of the Jayhawks until halftime, and then dropped 51 second-half points on the home team, the most Kansas has allowed in a half since February 9th, 2008. Despite the inauspicious start, the Longhorns finished the game with 1.033 points per possession, nearly 25% more than what the Jayhawks had allowed their previous opponents. On both sides of the ball, the Longhorns dictated the flow of the game.

Grading the players

Following a win like this, it’s tough to hand out anything but positive marks to the entire team. Even Gary Johnson, who had one of the toughest shooting games of his career, managed to fight through the adversity and hit a pair of clutch baskets. While Gary allowed the Morrii to grab a few key rebounds down the stretch, his jumper from the corner iced the game with 1:05 to play, and it came after he had started the game just 1-of-7.

Feeding Gary on that jumper was Jordan Hamilton, who had the quietest 17-point performance in recent memory. He earned seven of his points at the line, but perhaps made the biggest impact by leading the team with nine rebounds. Following a technical foul called on him for taunting, Hamilton sat on the bench for nearly six minutes in the second half. It says a lot for this Texas team that with their star on the bench, they were still able to turn a seven-point deficit into a four-point lead.

J’Covan Brown was all smiles after scoring 23 points
(Photo credit: Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star)

Without Hamilton, the Horns were powered by J’Covan Brown and Tristan Thompson. Brown scored 11 of Texas’ 16 points in that stretch, and finished with 23 points for the game. Thompson had three points and two rebounds with Hamilton on the bench, and posted 12 and six for the game. Against the Kansas frontcourt, that’s a big accomplishment in its own right. What was an even bigger accomplishment for the freshman was his 6-of-8 performance at the free-throw line, a place where he had made just 49.2% of his attempts heading into the game.

Cory Joseph also played well after some initial jitters and an airball that drew a chant from the oversized Kansas student section. He finished with eleven points and made two three-pointers, including one that banked in off the glass as the shot clock expired. Just two weeks after Kemba Walker hit a miracle shot to beat the shot clock in Austin, it was as if the basketball gods just wanted to even things out for the Longhorns.

With Brown and Joseph playing well, that left Dogus Balbay on the bench for much of the team’s furious rally. In conference play, Dogus is averaging just 15.5 minutes, while Brown has seen his playing time increase to more than 24 minutes per game. This new approach seems to give Texas the perfect two-headed guard, as Balbay provides excellent defense — he helped hold KU star Josh Selby to just four points — while Brown brings in the offensive spark from the bench. If these two continue to play at this level down the stretch, the Horns will be tough to beat.

Next up: at Oklahoma State (14-5 overall, 2-3 Big 12); 6:30 P.M. CT, Wednesday

Posted by Ryan Clark at 11:28AM

#11/10 Texas Longhorns (15-3 overall, 3-0 Big 12) at #2/2 Kansas Jayhawks (18-0, 3-0)
Phog Allen Fieldhouse | Lawrence, KS | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: CBS

It would be a bit of an understatement to say that Allen Fieldhouse is a tough place for road teams to win. Just ask the last 69 teams that have come into the historic building, all of which left with a loss. The home-court advantage is so strong in Lawrence, in fact, that the second-longest active home winning streak in the country isn’t even half as long as the one the Jayhawks enjoy. The Duke Blue Devils — a dominant home team in their own right — have just a measly 30 consecutive wins at Cameron Indoor Arena.

It could go without saying, then, that the Longhorns enter today’s big game as underdogs. Texas is 0-9 all-time in Lawrence, a streak that dates back to 1941. Break that curse, however, and the Longhorns will be sitting atop the league standings as the lone undefeated squad left in the Big 12.

Teams have had a tough time against the Jayhawk D
(Photo credit: Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)

The odds are long, but there is certainly a chance it could happen. Kansas has played a handful of close games this season, including three home contests that came down to the final minute. None of the visitors could overcome the Phog in the end, but UCLA, USC, and Nebraska all made valiant efforts. For such a talented, athletic team, the Jayhawks have seemed, at times, to have chinks in the armor.

By the numbers

The Jayhawks are so difficult to beat namely because they are incredibly efficient on both ends of the court. Their offense scores at a clip of 1.182 points per possession, which adds up quickly at Kansas’ brisk pace of 71.4 possessions per game.

Bill Self’s team is highly efficient with the basketball because they refuse to take bad shots. They are constantly pushing the ball in transition, resulting in a ton of easy fast break buckets or good looks on the secondary break. When the open shot isn’t there, the Jayhawks are disciplined enough to pull the ball out and set up the offense.

In the half-court, they move the basketball well, and are patient enough to wait for the right shot. That commitment to passing and good shot selction shows in the mountains of assists the Jayhawks pile up night after night. They have assists on more than 60% of their buckets, a number that ranks the team 34th in the country. If you could remove the team’s numerous fast-break layups that don’t require any passes, that percentage would climb even higher.

In terms of adjusted tempo-free numbers, Kansas has the best defense in the country. They allow opponents to score just 0.829 points per possession, a number built upon the stingiest perimeter defense in the nation. Kansas opponents are shooting just 25.6% from behind the arc.

The Jayhawks are also doing a great job forcing turnovers, causing miscues on 23.5% of opponents’ possessions. This will be an interesting stat to track this afternoon, as the Longhorns are one of the most disciplined teams in the country when it comes to controlling the basketball. Texas is coughing it up on just 17.1% of their possessions, good enough for 19th-best in the land.

The starting five

Marcus Morris is playing like an All-American
(Photo credit: Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)

Kansas is led by their twin brothers from Philadelphia, Marcus and Markieff Morris. Marcus is the leading scorer for the Jayhawks, putting in more than 17 points per night. As Luke Winn wrote in this week’s Power Rankings, Marcus is also the nation’s most efficient scorer in post-up situations. What makes things even more difficult for Jayhawk opponents is that the big man can also step out and knock down jumpers from just about anywhere on the floor.

Markieff, meanwhile, is much more of a low-post player. He’s certainly capable of scoring from outside — he’s shooting 33.3% from behind the arc — but he’s most useful to the Jayhawks when he’s positioned down low, cleaning up the glass. Markieff is averaging 8.7 boards per game, and his rebounding percentages are dominant on both ends of the court. On the offensive glass, he swipes 12.9% of the opportunities, good for 133rd in the nation. Defensively, he keeps opponents from getting second chances by grabbing 27.2% of the team’s rebounding opportunities. That impressive percentage is actually 14th-best in all of D-I basketball.

In addition to the Brothers Morris, the most well-known name on the Jayhawk roster is freshman superstar Josh Selby. After sitting out the first nine games of the year as a result of accepting impermissible benefits, Selby made an immediate impact in his debut game, sinking the game-winning three against USC on December 18th.

Since then, Selby has established himself as the team’s primary backcourt scoring threat, putting in more than 12 points a game. He’s absolutely deadly from long range, where he’s hit more than 42% of his attempts, and he simply knows how to create looks for himeself and his teammates. While he’s turned it over more times than he’s logged an assist so far this season, Selby’s ability to create with the basketball fits perfectly into KU’s crisp passing attack.

Joining Selby in the backcourt are senior Tyrel Reed and junior Tyshawn Taylor. While Reed is a spot-up shooter who has made 37.4% of his threes so far, Taylor is a slashing threat that can get to the rim in a moment’s notice. While Taylor is probably known more for his off-court incidents with Facebook and the school’s football team, his skills on the court are nothing to be ignored. His quick moves with the ball force defenses to help and rotate, and it leads to a ton of assists to wide-open teammates. Taylor’s length also makes him an excellent defender on the perimeter.

Off the bench

With Kansas running up and down the floor, the Jayhawks have to utilize a bench that is ten or eleven men deep on any given night. Fortunately for Coach Self, the first five guys on the Kansas bench could probably comprise a starting five at many other schools. As Luke Winn illustrated in his January 13th Power Rankings, the Jayhawk bench actually posts Player Efficiency Ratings that are higher than some of the team’s starters.

Thomas Robinson brings a ton of energy from the bench
(Photo credit: Ed Zurga/Associated Press)

Thomas Robinson is the big man of the future for Kansas, but he’s already doing a heck of a job as a sophomore. In just 15 minutes per game, he’s grabbing more than six boards. If he played enough minutes, Robinson’s 20.6% offensive rebounding percentage would actually be third in the nation.

While Coach Self has compared Robinson to Dennis Rodman thanks to his uncanny knack to grab boards, he’s also a high-motor guy who runs the floor well in transition and provides an imposing defensive presence inside. On a team that doesn’t block shots like the Cole Aldrich-led squads, Robinson’s 7% block rate is a huge boost.

Since arriving in Lawrence, juco transfer Mario Little has had a more convoluted storyline than a telenovela character. In his first season with Kansas, he missed much of the year with an injury, but chose to forgo a medical redshirt and rejoined the team in conference play. Last year, he did burn the redshirt thanks to Xavier Henry’s stranglehold on playing time, but then missed significant time this season after a December arrest for battery, criminal damage, and trespassing.

When Little is actually on the court, however, he provides a great mismatch for Coach Self and the Jayhawks. He can be used as an oversized guard or an undersized forward, and he excels in both roles. He can knock down the long-range and mid-range jumpers, and can scrap inside for points and boards against much bigger players.

Travis Releford is another tough match-up coming off the bench for the Jayhawks. At 6’5″, he’s taller than most guards, and it’s allowed him to can 46% of his threes so far this season. As pointed out in Winn’s column, Releford is incredibly efficient when he is on the court, and his 124.3 offensive rating puts him among the top 90 players in the country.

Also in the backcourt, senior Brady Morningstar will provide key minutes from the bench. He’s a lockdown defender who also provides a steady hand on the offensive end.

Sophomore Elijah Johnson is another guard option for Coach Self, and he’s even more reliable with the ball than Morningstar. Johnson, who was a five-star point guard prospect out of Las Vegas, has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.75-to-1.

Seven-footer Jeff Withey could also see a little action in this one, but is averaging just 7.5 minutes and 2.8 boards per game so far this season.

Keys to the game

The number one thing Texas must do this afternoon is stop the basketball. Kansas is always looking up the court after they force opponents into missed shots, so the Longhorns can’t let the Jayhawks rack up easy points on fast breaks and secondary breaks. It’s no secret that Texas has had some defensive lapses this season where no one stops the ball, and it resulted in far too many easy buckets. That simply cannot happen if the team has designs on a huge road upset this afternoon.

Texas also will need to dictate the tempo in this one. While the Longhorns have looked good when they are pushing the basketball, they don’t have the horses to compete in a sprinting match with Kansas. The Jayhawks run nine or ten deep on any given night, and the talent coming off their bench is significantly better than the reserves on Texas’ bench.

Texas will need another solid defensive effort today
(Photo credit: Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)

It’s also worth nothing that stat guru Ken Pomeroy has calculated a correlation coefficient of -0.33 between tempo and Texas’ offensive efficiency. To put that in layman’s terms, it means that while the direct link between tempo and offensive efficiency isn’t incredibly strong, it does indicate that the Longhorns benefit slightly from slowing the game down. Combined with the depth issues we just touched upon, these numbers indicate that the Horns need to control the pace this afternoon.

Thanks to those depth issues, the Texas frontcourt must avoid foul trouble. While Alexis Wangmene had a quality game against A&M on Wednesday night, the Longhorns are going to need some serious minutes from Gary Johnson and Tristan Thompson this afternoon. If they pick up cheap ones early and force Wangmene or Matt Hill to have to defend the Morris twins for an extended period of time, things will likely not end well for Texas.

Finally, the Longhorn defense must stay home. The quick Kansas ball movement means that any overpursuit or unnecessary gambles will immediately result in open looks. The Jayhawks are very fond of a high-low game that sets up the Morris brothers on the blocks, but if Texas tries to front those passes, it opens up the easy lob. Try to jump passing lanes on the perimeter, and the Jayhawks will nail a wide-open three. If Texas plays sound, vanilla defense, they can limit the number of easy looks Kansas will find this afternoon.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:23PM

#1/1 Kansas Jayhawks (22-1 overall, 8-0 Big 12) at #14/14 Texas Longhorns (19-4, 5-3)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN

Just one month ago, fans of Texas and Kansas were eagerly looking forward to tonight’s match-up. Their teams were undefeated and ranked in the top two slots nationally. The winner of the sole match-up between the two schools would likely have the inside track to a Big 12 title and a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. Everything seemed to be aligning for an epic showdown.

Things certainly haven’t gone according to plan. First, Kansas stumbled with a road loss against a horribly depleted Tennessee team, propelling the Longhorns to their first-ever No. 1 ranking in school history. Texas was only able to hold on to that spot for one week before hitting a horrendous skid where they lost four out of six games.

Sherron Collins has blown by the competition all season
(Photo credit: Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star

After all those speedbumps, February 8th is finally here. But the day that was once circled on so many calendars is now just another Monday in conference play. The game has lost most of its luster, with Texas sliding down the polls and the bracket projections. The Jayhawks hold a commanding 2.5-game lead in the conference standings, and will likely cruise to yet another Big 12 title.

But for Texas, this game is huge. It’s not big because of seeding or even important for the conference standings. The Longhorns desperately need a win tonight to restore some confidence. It’s been crystal clear on the faces of the Texas players for the last few weeks — this team is looking for answers, and they are getting desperate that they have been unable to find them. What better way to re-instill some swagger than a gut-check win over the nation’s top team?

By the numbers

Unfortunately for the Longhorns, that will not be an easy task. The Jayhawks come into the game with the 2nd-most efficient offense and 4th-most efficient defense in the country. Kansas is just one of two teams that has efficiency rankings in the top ten on both sides of the ball, with the other being Syracuse. That all-around dominance gives the Jayhawks a differential of +0.361 points per possession. That may seem like a small number, but when you multiply it out by 60 or 70 possessions per game, you quickly realize just how good Bill Self‘s team has been.

The main reason KU is so efficient on offense is that they are loaded with talent from top to bottom. They can score in a variety of ways, and from anywhere on the floor. If you take away their inside game, they kill you from long range. Sell out to stop the perimeter attack, and you’re decimated by the frontcourt. The Jayhawks are hitting 41% of their threes on the year, and nearly 50% from the field. It’s certainly a matter of picking your poison when trying to defend Kansas.

When Texas has the ball, they are going to have to deal with a defense that simply does not allow teams to score inside. For the Longhorns, that can mean all sorts of trouble. It’s no secret that Texas has been absolutely stymied when opponents force them to settle for long-range jumpers, so Rick Barnes will have to find a way for his team to attack the stingy interior defense. Unfortunately, the ‘Hawks are 12th in the nation when it comes to blocks, typically because big man Cole Aldrich is often waiting as a secondary defender to swat away any ill-conceived shots.

Meet the Jayhawks

Cole Aldrich is nearly unstoppable inside
(Photo credit: Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star

Aldrich is not just a phenomenal shot blocker. He also is a beast on the boards, and is the perfect compliment down low for Kansas’ excellent outside shooting. Self often has Cole setting screens in the high post or on the perimeter, and his height makes it very easy for him to catch a pass on the pick-and-roll before flushing it home. The only real knock on Aldrich’s offensive game is that he has a bizarre shooting motion that makes it far too easy to defend him on pick-and-pop plays.

As we’ve already mentioned, Aldrich gets a ton of blocks when he rotates over on help defense. That leaves the Jayhawks susceptible to dribble penetration by guards who then dump it off to open players on the blocks. Last year in Lawrence, Texas rode this strategy to an early lead. If the Longhorns can actually capitalize on the easy one- and two-foot looks they have been missing in the last few weeks, that type of attack should keep them in the game tonight.

The other big-time star joining Aldrich in the starting five is All-American senior Sherron Collins. He’s an incredibly quick guard with really long range, so teams have to decide whether they prefer to give up the blow-by when they crowd him, or give him looks beyond the arc when they sag to prevent the drive. He’s the team’s leading scorer with more than 15 points per game, but he also is a good distributor, logging more than four assists each night. Quite a few of those assists come when he drives the lane and kicks it out past the collapsing D, resulting in a wide-open three from one of Kansas’ many long-range gunners.

Collins is also very strong for a guy his size, so he’s able to finish through contact at the rim. Texas really can’t afford to have their frontcourt in foul trouble tonight, so if they do have to burn some fouls when Collins is driving, they have to make sure he doesn’t finish for an and-one.

Brady Morningstar has once again cracked the starting lineup after missing the first month of the season due to a DUI arrest in October. He’s a lockdown defender that will give the Longhorn guards a headache all night. As if his defense wasn’t enough, Morningstar is a capable ballhandler that can allow Collins to work himself open off the ball, and he’s also a heck of a three-point shooter. He’s making nearly 45% of his attempts from long range, and will surely make some daggers against the Longhorns tonight.

Xavier Henry is an all-around star for KU
(Photo credit: Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star

Joining Collins and Morningstar in the backcourt is freshman phenom Xavier Henry. At 6’6″, Henry is anything but just a guard, and he will make plays all over the court tonight. He’s left-handed, which always seems to make players harder to defend, and he can shoot from anywhere. Give him space, and he’ll calmly knock down a three. Cut off his driving lane, and he’ll pull up to kiss it off the glass. Give him an uninterrupted path to the basket, and he’ll throw down a dunk that will show up on Sportscenter’s Top Ten after the game.

In addition, Henry’s tall frame allows him to get many more rebounds than your typical guard. And against a Texas team that often runs three-guard looks and sometimes uses Gary Johnson in the power forward role, Henry is likely going to have a good night on the glass. He’s averaging four boards a game from the swingman role, and there’s a very good chance he’ll exceed that tonight.

The only forward in the starting lineup for KU is Marcus Morris, one half of the twin duo from Philadelphia. Like brother Markieff Morris, Marcus added about twenty pounds in the offseason and his inside game has improved as a result. He’s finishing more baskets inside and is pulling down 6.3 boards per game, second only to Aldrich. He’s always had three-point range — although it’s been overshadowed on a team with shooters like Collins and Morningstar — but Marcus has also developed his midrange game this year. Now he has a nice baseline jumper to compliment his skill set, and it’s typically good out to fourteen feet.

Brother Markieff is coming off the bench for about fifteen minutes per game, but isn’t quite as polished as Marcus. He still has a tendency to pick up dumb, frustration fouls that limit his minutes, and his offensive skill set isn’t as refined as his brother’s. Markieff is averaging six points and five boards per game, so he should still make an impact in his time on the court tonight.

Guard Tyshawn Taylor has been relegated to the bench since Morningstar’s return to the starting lineup, and at one point he was apparently so frustrated that he voiced a desire to transfer on his Facebook. The post was immediately removed and Self was testy with reporters who brought it up, but questions still linger about the chemistry in the locker room between the guards.

When Taylor is on the floor, he’s a very quick guard who can speed past defenders off the dribble. The key is to give him enough space that he’s forced to beat you with a jump shot. Like Collins, Taylor is a combo guard who earns his fair share of assists (3.3 in 22 minutes per game), but is not as good of a jump shooter. He’s still serviceable in the midrange and behind the arc, but if the Longhorns can keep Taylor in front of them and put a little bit of pressure on him while shooting, it will certainly help their chances tonight.

Tyrel Reed is the only other Jayhawk who plays significant minutes, and he’s another guard that is deadly from long range. He’s making more than 44% of his three-point attempts this year, so Texas must always be aware of his location when he’s on the court.

Bill Self’s coaching has Kansas atop the league again
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Keys to the game

While the Kansas half-court offense is highly efficient and can beat you in a variety of ways, the Jayhawks also earn a lot of points in transition. They don’t force a ton of turnovers — Pomeroy has them ranked just 157th in that category — but they do push the tempo off of rebounds and made buckets. Texas must limit fast break points, and has to set up their defense quickly enough to limit the secondary break points as well.

In addition, the Longhorns have to break through the interior D. The Jayhawks are nearly impenetrable inside, and Texas is not the most reliable outside shooting team. If the Horns can attack like the rim like they were in the second half of the OU game, perhaps they can create foul trouble for Aldrich and the Morris twins. And of course, we all know that consistent inside play will open up the midrange and outside games, as well.

Finally, the most simple of our keys to the game is that Texas must execute. During this tough three-week stretch, the Longhorns have been plagued by simple errors, be it missed shots from point-blank range, stupid turnovers, or poor shot selection and possessions. I’ve purposely left free-throw shooting off this list, because it’s perfectly clear that this will not get better any time soon.

Obviously, if the Longhorns shoot 37% from the line again, as they did on Saturday, they have absolutely no chance to win tonight. But if they hover around their season average of 61% and actually do the other things correctly, they should be within striking distance during the final minutes of the game. And for a team that has struggled as much as Texas has lately, that’s pretty much all you can ask for.

While Kansas is a very scary team that plays well on both sides of the ball, they are certainly beatable. They were taken to overtime in road games against Kansas State and Colorado, and even let Nebraska — the worst team in the league — hang around with them at Allen Fieldhouse. The Frank Erwin Center is rarely a home-court advantage, but when Kansas comes to town, it always is. The Longhorns haven’t played very well as of late, but they have the talent needed to win this game and perhaps enough desperation to play like they cannot lose.

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