An Embiid-less Jayhawk squad will take on the Red Raiders from Lubbock, Texas on Wednesday night in Allen Fieldhouse. Joel will be sitting out the remaining two regular season games to rest his strained back. Senior Tarik Black would have gotten the start in his place either way as he is one of three seniors who will be honored on Senior Night in the Phog. Tech has been on a slide as of late, losing five in a row and eight of 11. However, Kansas escaped Lubbock with a narrow 64-63 victory, so these Red Raiders should have the Jayhawks’ undivided attention in this one. Here are some keys to this game if KU wishes to send its seniors out on the positive note they deserve.
1. How can KU’s front-court bench contribute. KU is deep at the forward and center positions. For that reason Self has the luxury of sitting Joel Embiid, a consensus top three pick, and not worry to much about a drop off with guys like Traylor, Black and Lucas waiting to back him up. Black particularly will be looking to show out given the Senior Night festivities. He will be expected to contribute more heavily like he did when Embiid took his first leave of absence earlier this season. The key for Black will to stay out of foul trouble. If he picks up two quick ones like he has a tendency to do, Self will have to go deeper into his bench than he usually does. A guy like Lucas hasn’t been relied upon in many critical possession this year, but may be thrust into that position depending on how things play out. If another KU big, like Ellis, has an off night things could get hairy down there.
2. Can KU handle Tech’s defensive schemes? Tubby Smith knows he is outmatched when he takes on a Big 12 powerhouse like Kansas. One way to combat the offensive juggernaut that is this year’s Jayhawks is to constantly shift defensives to keep the off balance offensively. Tech did that brilliantly in the first meeting, even recording a higher effective FG% than KU (53% to 50%). Kansas will need to adjust better in this one on the fly. What Tech wants is a bunch of long, dirty possessions.
3. Late shot clock defense. Another way that Tech stayed in the first meeting was taking and making late possession shots. Kansas played pretty good on ball defense throughout most of its defensive possessions, but Tech really wasn’t looking to score until it absolutely had to. They were also efficient with their shots selection. This, combined with the slow pace and decreased number of possessions, also served to take KU out of its game. Each team had only 53 possessions compared to KU’s season average of 69 possessions. Coach Smith schemed the first meeting brilliantly and it was effective. I expect them to return to the same tactics this time and KU will have to work through it. It is important to do just that. If teams see Texas Tech’s tactic of taking the air out of the ball as a super-effective way to slow KU down, others may adopt this philosophy in the tournament. Similarly to how everyone jumped on the “zone and trap them” mindset early in the year when KU didn’t handle those looks very effectively. They need to nip this in the bud.
Prediction: I think KU does just that. Tech will try to take away KU’s advantages on offense, but I don’t think they will be as successful in the Phog. I have KU with a comfortable victory in this one even without JoJo. Final Score: KU wins 82-65.