Somehow Kansas has won 17 of its last 19 games and managed to do it quietly. Maybe it’s the overall perception that the Big 12 is down, maybe it was the back-to-back losses to Kansas State and Missouri, or maybe it was the early season hiccups on national television that put the Jayhawks out of sight, and out of mind.
“I think when everyone saw them in Maui. Their highest profile games they had they weren’t playing well. Then when they left Maui they played St. Joe’s in the Garden and that hurt them. It hurt the perception of them,” according to ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas who is in Austin as part of the ESPN Gameday crew.
The Jayhawks are a different team now and will have a chance to show the nation, and Texas, what’s led to this impressive stretch of basketball.
If you’ve followed Kansas basketball this season then you know that the strength lies at the defensive end of the floor. And if you know that, you’re probably aware that the main chink in the armor is taking care of the ball. Both will go a long way in deciding who wins this one.
Kansas On Defense
For Kansas it starts with defense. The Jayhawks continue to lead the nation in field goal percentage defense (36.3 percent) and no one has managed to shoot better than 47 percent against KU all season. But Self’s team will be tested by Rick Barnes’ versatile attack.
It begins with neutralizing the Longhorns inside game and that means dealing with 6-5 P.J. Tucker and 6-10 LeMarcus Aldridge. The duo combines for over 31 points, and 18 rebounds a game. Aldridge leads the Big 12 in rebounding (9.3) and Tucker is right behind him at 9.2 rebounds per game. Kansas must rebound well in this one.
It is the 6-5 Tucker that provides the toughest assignment for KU.
“That’s their toughest matchup. I think he can overpower a guy like (Brandon) Rush because he’s stronger. Julian Wright is a guy that I think could have some success in trying to guard him,” “You put a bigger guy on him he takes him out and drives him – you put a smaller guy on him, he posts him up and just kind of beats him up. It’s going to be a hard matchup. I’d put a bunch of guys on him and just try to find the right one but I’m not sure there is one on paper.”
Bilas believes this is the most critical matchup for Kansas.
“I think it is. I think he’s the heart and soul and is their toughest player,” Bilas stated.
With the type of quality players Self can bring off the bench, he will have options if things don’t go as planned early on. The quality defense Kansas has played as a team certainly has Bilas’ attention.
“They’ve got a lot of depth so they can run guys at them. Their first shot defense is excellent. I mean, excellent! So I think they can shut them down,” said an emphatic Bilas.
Kansas can’t be consumed with the interior because the Longhorns have quality perimeter players. Sophomore guard Daniel Gibson, much like Mario Chalmers, has enjoyed greater success this season playing off the ball. Kenton Paulino runs the show effectively (92 assists) while Gibson leads the team in three-pointers made (76) and averages just a shade over 14 points a game.
“(Kansas) also has to get back in transition because Texas scores a lot of easy baskets. If they make them play against their half court defense for 40 minutes they’ve got a great shot to win,” Bilas concluded.
Kansas On Offense
While it’s true that Kansas leads the nation in field goal percentage defense, Texas is not far behind. The Horns hold teams to 37.4 percent, that’s good enough for third. The stingy Longhorn defense only allows opponents to shoot Texas also leads the Big 12 in scoring defense allowing only 59.8 points per game.
Kansas also has to contend with a good defensive team in this one. A win will largely be determined by how well Kansas combats its Achilles Heel– turnovers.
“Kansas is going to guard. They’re really good defensively, so they’ll be fine there. The main thing they’ve got to do is take care of the ball and rebound. They don’t want to be turning it over. They turn the ball over way too much. If they didn’t turn it over, there’s no telling how good they would be,” Bilas continued.
In all likelihood, Kansas will see a 2-3 zone from Texas. Last season Barnes used the 2-3 in Lawrence and was forced to play man after KU destroyed his defensive scheme. The same holds true this year – if Kansas can effectively deal with the zone then eventually they will force Texas to play man.
The reason Kansas has been effective against zones has been the play of freshman Julian Wright. Wright is a terrific passer at the high post area. Getting in the middle of a 2-3 zone is the key and Julian has become quite adept at making good decisions from that position.
Odds are Self won’t need to concoct a motivational pregame speech for this game. This one speaks for itself. In fact, the toughest thing the Jayhawks may have to deal with is being too pumped up. Self felt that his team was too “geeked up” for the Oklahoma game and it affected KU adversely. The KU head coach is well-aware of that and will try to keep his young team level-headed going into this one.
Jay Bilas believes Self has done a notable job this season at KU and should easily take home Coach of the Year honors in the conference.
“He should,” Bilas stated when asked if Self would get Coach of the Year in the Big 12. “I think he should be up for national coach of the year. It seems like people are just handing it to Bruce Pearl. I don’t think anybody’s done a better job with a young team than Bill has done.”