Texas was, in a word, dominant against Kansas in their last meeting in Austin. The Longhorns controlled the game from the word go and never gave Jayhawk Nation any hope of a comeback. Their bigs were to big, their guards too fast, their defense too stout. Now, Kansas has a chance to atone for the shellacking that Texas dished out as the burnt orange come into Allen Fieldhouse to the rematch. A win, and KU is one win over Oklahoma away from securing their 10th straight Big 12 title. A loss, and the next couple of weeks become very interesting . Here are the keys to the game:
1. Getting to the foul line/not fouling. Texas’ free throw rate in tlhe first meeting was 80.4%. The longhorns shot 45 free throws in the contest to KU’s 19. Neither team shot them very effectively, both coming in under 70%, but Texas outscored KU at the line 30-13. That difference is greater than the final margin of victory (12). KU was called for 31 personal fouls to Texas’ 19. KU’s starters had a combined 16 fouls. Part of Texas winning was that they were just a step faster just about everywhere. Faster to the glass, faster to attack, faster to lose balls, and the list goes on and on. This meant KU’s defense was in a chronic state of mal-position. leading to a metric ton of fouls. KU will need to clean this up and come out with the energy they need in order to stay in position and out of foul trouble.
2. Finding seams in the Texas defense. Texas held KU to 38.5% from the field compared to their season average of 50.2%. Their effective field goal percentage was 43.1% compared to a season average of 55.2%. Part of the problem was bad offense. KU kept taking it right at Texas’ packed interior defense and then getting themselves into bad position. Texas blocked 12 Jayhawk shots and forced 12 Jayhawk turnovers. Kansas needs to work the ball side to side and create some movement in that defense so they can find seams and exploit them with their superior offensive firepower. Specifically, hitting some threes to soften them up, and letting Andrew Wiggins drive one-on-one to force help situations and Longhorn fouls.
3. Stopping Taylor. Isaiah Taylor had himself a game against KU last time around. In 36 minutes, he put up 23 points on 50% from the field. More than that though, he seemed to be playing at another speed entirely. Regularly beating his man and wreaking havoc on the Jayhawk defense. KU’s guards need to have some pride and keep him uncomfortable on the road in his first trip to the Phog.
4. Rebounding. If you had to point to one area that KU struggled the most, it was on the glass. Texas out-muscled KU all night long last time, out-rebounding them 44-37. More importantly, Texas’ offensive rebounding percentage was nearly 10% higher giving them more second chances and better offensive efficiency. KU needs to have some pride, box out their man and snatch the rock.
Prediction: Make no mistake about it. This is a game Kansas can lose. That being said, I don’t think they are going to. These players have the benefit of having been smacked around by their opponent this year already. If that doesn’t light a fire in your belly I don’t know what will. This is also a huge league implications game so the players are playing for more than revenge. In the same light, I expect the Fieldhouse to be juiced the whole game. Allen fans tend to rise to the occasion better than any other home fans in the nation. Finally, there is no way Texas gets the kind of foul differential they enjoyed at home, so they shouldn’t be able to pick up a ton of free points at the line, at least not so many more that KU that it makes a difference. If KU can settle in on defense, be their usual efficient selves on offense, and avoid foul trouble, they should get the win today and I will be there to take it in.
Give me KU 82-76.