The shot heard
round the basketball world. All the Texas Tech Red Raider faithful know what
I'm talking about. Of course, I'm referring to Darryl Dora's heart stopping,
buzzer beating 3 pointer that defeated #2 Kansas, 80-79, the last time the
Jayhawks were in Lubbock. I'm certain no one was more stunned than the Jayhawks.
They got some revenge last year, 85-58, but that was against a team that for
various reasons wasn't early as good as the previous team, nor any of the other
four Knight coached teams. So it is easy to understand why Kansas would dearly
love to beat a pretty good Tech team on their home ground, preferably by a big
margin. That would go a long way to expunging the hurtful memory of the defeat
Here comes more of my usual suspenseful comments. The bad news is that Kansas, on its best day, seems to be capable of beating any team in the country. The good news is twofold. Kansas, as we shall see, has shown itself to be mortal, even beatable by teams that in my estimation are not as good as Tech. Secondly, Tech has proven to be a tough out at home, even for the best of teams.
By the Numbers
In terms of relative strength, my own Composite Power Rating indicates that despite Kansas having a substantially higher CPR, due to Tech's home advantage, the game is a virtual tossup, with Tech a miniscule one point underdog. Tech took a major hit in my RPI calculation by losing to Baylor with its substantially higher than #100 RPI, although the damage was mitigated because the loss was on the road. Despite losing about 9 points to hover in the high twenties, Tech's RPI continues to remain in the NCAA
Tournament friendly range. To repeat previous warnings, the NCAA home loss penalty would still inflict some damage even though Kansas is ranked #5 in both major polls. Of course a win would be greatly preferred. In addition to helping the old RPI, it would give Tech one of those "quality" wins of which the NCAA is so enamored, come NCAA Tourney selection time. That is of course only if Tech were not to get an automatic bid by winning the B12 Tourney.
Per Game Statistical Comparison (Rounded Off)
starting to wonder why I include this Comparative Chart in my Scouting Report.
I guess it's because my SR guru told me it's de rigueur, required by the Sports
Analysts Guild. However he didn't say I had to use it much or give it much
credence, so I won't. The more I look at these things, the more I realize that
after so many games, once an average is established, it is hard to make it move
very much unless a team diverges radically from the average for a substantial
period. A good example is Tech's recent performance in shooting 3's. When they
played Bucknell, the average was a superlative .485. As mentioned in my last
SR, since then until Baylor, other than a good 6/11 against New Mexico, Tech had
made a meager 11/44 in four other games. Yet their overall average was still a
seemingly impressive 44.1%. With a very good 6/13, once again Tech found the
range against Baylor. Their new slightly higher average of 44.3 seems to
indicate that Tech is a consistently good shooting team, which it is not at this
What does this have to do with the price of tea in China ? What it has to do with is that I am trying to explain that statistics do not adequately determine what makes Kansas so good. Yes, their stats do accurately reflect that they rebound well and block a lot of shots. However, in my estimation, they are very good beyond such stats and not just because they are 16-2 and have destroyed some pretty good teams. I try to find a theme or common thread that describes a team and the best description for Kansas is versatile. It may be trite, but they can beat you in many different ways, which seems to be the mark of many great teams. That is, they find a way to win, even when not playing at their best. Are they a great team? The jury is still out.
I described Kansas State as having great athleticism. The Kansas players as a whole are bigger, badder, and even more athletic. They have had some all world recruiting classes recently. There are some constants with these athletes. First of all, there are some excellent rebounders. Albeit some by a narrow margin, Kansas has out-rebounded all but one of their opponents Perhaps coincidentally, that was one of the two teams to whom they have lost, De Paul. Another area of consistent performance is TO's. The Jayhawks have had fewer TO's than all but two of their opponents. The first opponent was Oral Roberts, one of only two teams to beat them. In that loss at home, 71-78, Kansas had 18 TO's to 16 for Oral Roberts, as well as only making only 2/10 3's versus 11/19 for OR. Even though out-rebounding OR 41-29, those deficits as well as shooting only 43% to 47%, were too much to overcome. The second opponent was Missouri in a very tight game that went to the wire. Kansas outTO'd Missouri, 17-12, but still found a way to win with defense, even though, uncharacteristically, Missouri took 73 shots to Kansas' mere 57. Eight blocks to three didn't hurt. Their rebounding skill as well as ability to get more steals and blocks than virtually all opponents has enabled Kansas to get more shots than all but four adversaries. Florida outshot Kansas 65 to 56. Kansas still beat the then #1 Gators on neutral ground in a nail biter, 82-80, by among other things making 54% of their FG's to Florida's 45%, barely out-rebounding them 37 to 35, having only 12 TO's to 14., and making 5 more FT's. Rhode Island and Detroit also shot more FG's than did Kansas. Kansas still beat them handily, mainly with a stifling defense that limited them to 37% and 30% FG averages respectively. Against Rhode Island, 10 blocks certainly helped the cause. Kansas has also shot more FT's than all but three foes. Against De Paul in losing on the road, 57-64, making only 9 FT's to 19 for De Paul, along with the rebounding deficit, was decisive. On the other hand, since so few games have been close, it is hard to delineate games in which FT's made a significant contribution. However in an 80-69 win against Rhode Island, a 6 FT margin seems significant as was the same 6 FT margin against Iowa State in an overtime win, 68-64. Those FT's and 3 more baskets by Kansas was the difference, given that Iowa State held a large edge in 3's 10 to 2.
When they are on, how good can Kansas be? Well against outclassed Dartmouth in a romp, 83-32, the Dartmouth coach said it could have been a lot worse except Coach Self called off the dogs early. After beating a pretty good South Carolina on the road, 70-54, Coach Self, pleased with his team's performance over the past month prophetically said, "I think we're playing a lot better. Depending on how you spin it about our team, we still haven't shot the ball from the perimeter like we're capable of shooting." A week later, #10 Oklahoma State, a pretty good team in its own right at 15-1, ran into the perfect storm at Allen Fieldhouse in Kansas. They were beaten every way that you can be beaten, 87-57. Kansas shot 58%, had 13 TO's to 20 for OSU, made 5/9 3's, blocked 9 shots and had 17 steals to 2 for OSU. However OSU has not had all that much luck for a while against ranked teams on the road, losing a mere 32 in a row, dating back to Jan.2, 1958, when it beat none other than a #2 Kansas team in OT, 52-50. Brandon Rush, the star of Kansas, had a nice game with 18 points including 9/10 FT's, 6 rebounds and 1/1 3's. I will talk more about Rush shortly. In another exhibition of just how good Kansas might be, they annihilated highly regarded 13-4 Boston College, 84-66, in Lawrence, Kansas at their home gym. By the way, against BC, Kansas strayed from their usual script on defense, much to the surprise of their knowledgeable fans. They went to a 3-2 zone from their normal man to man when several of their starters got into early foul trouble. It worked admirably well, perhaps something for Tech to keep in mind. It definitely came as a surprise to BC.
The individual Jayhawks reflect the same versatility as the team as a whole. This is best exemplified by the quintessential Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside, Brandon Rush and Julian Wright. For starters, preseason they were voted Big 12 Co-players of the Year. Without excruciating detail, Junior 6' 8" Forward Julian Wright has been consistently good this season, a number of times pulling down 9 rebounds or more. He had a nice double double against BC, with 13 points and 12 rebounds. On the downside, while Wright had a solid performance against Iowa State including 12 rebounds, he also had 7 TO's. Such a propensity for TO's has also occurred in other games, such as 6 against Oral Roberts and 5 against BC.
I don't know whether Aaron Bruce read my Report on Baylor and it drew his ire. Unfortunately something stirred him out of his scoring lethargy. True to his pattern this year, he was inconsistent once again, unfortunately inconsistently good, as he did a number on Tech. That number was 24, as in points. Like Bruce, the talented sophomore Rush has had his ups and downs offensively, even though he did have that excellent game against OSU. He also had 15 points against BC, 13 points and 5 rebounds against the Gators, an OK 14 points against Oral Roberts, but on 4/14 FG's, and 12 against South Carolina. On the downside, he was in what the press described as an "offensive funk" in a three game stretch against USC, De Paul, and Dartmouth. In that interval, Bruce only made 7/29 FG's. Specifically against De Paul, in a losing cause he only scored 3 points on a 3 pointer while only making 1/7 shots. He also had his offensive woes in his last two games with Iowa State and Missouri, even though he scored 12 and 16 points respectively in those 2 games. That is because he scored those points on 4/14 shots against Iowa State and on 5/14 against Missouri. However, unlike Bruce, Rush has made several significant contributions that show up on the stat sheet as well as some intangible ones that have his coach practically gushing. At 6'6" Rush is long, quick, and active. Against Ball State, a game in which Kansas struggled more than the 64-46 score indicates, he chipped in with 9 rebounds. He also had 9 rebounds against Iowa State, another game in which Kansas struggled, as well as 6 against South Carolina, and 7 against Missouri. Rush is also considered the team's best defender by Coach Self. Routinely he is assigned to guard the other team's best offensive threat and he just as routinely shuts them down. He put the clamps on N Arizona's Steven Sir who last year had the best 3 point average in the country, limited Nick Young of USC to 8 points below his season's average kept Tre Kelly of South Carolina to 7 below his, and in perhaps his best effort of the year, shut down Mike Taylor of Iowa State who scored 21 points but missed his last seven shots with Rush guarding him. In addition, Rush made the play of the game by stealing the ball from Taylor and then scoring on a coast to coast to break the final tie of the game at 63. He did this after knotting the game at 63. Kansas had trailed much of the game. Interestingly, Coach Self commented that he didn't usually assign Rush to the best player for the whole game, apparently thinking that it required so much energy that it might detract from Rush's offensive performance. With regard to Tech, I speculated to what degree this might possibly have such an effect on Martin Zeno who seems to routinely draw the toughest defensive assignment for the whole game - not that Coach Knight has the same luxury of picking and choosing that Self may have.
As in several other games, I place special emphasis on players like Wright and Rush whose performance could possibly decide between Tech winning or losing. Of course, Tech might well win on the merits of its own performance, but it is well to keep a wary eye on the those players that I call difference makers. One must also keep in mind that "the merits of its own performance" also relates to the defensive side and Tech's ability to shut or not to shut these players down. One can't really depend on any opposing player's bad performance, whatever the current trend.
So Kansas looks unbeatable, right? Wrong! They appeared to be quite beatable and in fact they were against Oral Roberts. The defeat against a pretty good 12-7 De Paul, as a road defeat, may just be reflective of how difficult it is to beat almost any team, ranked or not, on their home court. Just ask Tech about Baylor. More inexplicable than losing on the road was the fact that Kansas had De Paul down by 14 at one point. Worse, they had them down 57-50 late and permitted De Paul to score the last 14 points of the game. Kansas pulled a real Jekyll and Hyde against Toledo, shooting a scorching 73% in the first half and then missing 23 of their first 26 in the second half. To say it again, don't count on a repeat.
Kansas also looked quite mortal in their most recent game against Missouri and that one was at home. Also showing the perils of the road was the close call the Jayhawks had winning in OT at Iowa State. It was a game in which Iowa State had a substantial lead and it might be said that Iowa State should have won it. Speaking of home court, that may well be Tech's best advantage. Tech has been tough at home. In 2005, #2 Kansas bit the dust, as did #3 Oklahoma State in 2004 and but for a miracle shot so would have #11 Texas in the same year. Likewise they have played other ranked teams tough, such as #4 Oklahoma also in 2003, and #6 Texas in the same year.
Without beating a dead horse bloody, certainly rebounding may be a problem. Kansas is very good, Tech not so good. However one interesting note is that in looking at what Tech might have done to overcome a talented Kansas team in 2005, I was struck by one detail. That is the fact that Tech was out-rebounded in that game by a whopping 45 to 25 and still won. Not to recommend doing the same again, but Tech was able to overcome that margin by having 10 TO's to 15 for Kansas, one more steal, 2 more blocks, outshooting them by 46% to 41, and perhaps most importantly making 19/26 FT's, while holding Kansas to 11/18. This even though Lankford went off for 24 points. Kansas also shot 13 more shots but only scored 2 more because of the percentage differential. Also in an interesting parallel to this season, Tech had three excellent guards that year who among them scored 64 of 80 points. Including Dora's 11 and Gile's 3, that means there weren't too many bench points. Given Tech's increased depth, I believe there is substantial hope that could be improved upon this time.
I believe this has been more than adequately covered already.
Wright and Rush may be the dynamic duo, but they are far from being the whole show. To start with, there is 6' 11" Sasha Kaun, the starting Junior Center. He missed the first 3 games but showed his grit and determination by coming back much more quickly than expected. Ominously he seems to be getting better, scoring a season high 16 against OSU and leading Kansas with 13 on 6/8 shooting against Iowa State. He has 1.4 blocks/game. Kaun has been characterized as being extremely tough and an intimidating presence. Also among a bunch of youngsters, the Junior is almost venerable in comparison and is seemingly a
leader, perhaps the leader, on the team.
The team is young and big. There are 2 seniors who don't play much, 5 juniors, 4 sophomores, and 4 freshmen. Three juniors and two sophomores start. The starting five who are pretty much set are the aforementioned Wright, Rush, and Kaun, in addition to sopohmore 6' 1" Guard Mario Chalmers and junior 6' 1" Guard Russell Robinson. The usual backups are freshman 6' 9" Forward Darrel Arthur, junior 6'9' Forward Darnell Jackson, and freshman 5' 11" Point Guard Sherron Collins. There is one player 6' 8" tall and 5 players over 6' 8". Arthur is getting greatly reduced minutes since standing in for the injured Kaun. Point Guard Collins was billed as a long range gun and he lived up to billing by putting up a career high 23 points against Missouri including 4/7 3 pointers. Chalmers is their leading assist guy, but he can light it up, scoring 22 against BC and having a couple of
other good outings.
As is my usual, I'll not suggest some trite advice that Coach Knight would know better than I. I can only suggest that in my estimation the game is winnable simply from the information I've gleaned. Tech may have a tough row to hoe, but the cupboard is far from bare. Kansas has seeming vulnerabilities that would play into Tech's strengths. For example, Tech has shown a defensive intensity at times that might disrupt the Kansas offense. The team has a great group of guards that are top quality when they are hitting on all eight and good quality depth the like of which Coach Knight has not enjoyed since he arrived at Texas Tech. There is as always the Knight factor.
In terms of intangibles, there is the normal Tech home advantage coupled with the fact that Kansas is not that road tested. It has shown vulnerability away from home. On the flip side, Tech has exhibited a toughness that only road warriors can have and hopefully will serve it ingood stead on Saturday.
From College Hoops Net preseason rankings:
Overall Rank: #3
Conference Rank: #1 Big 12
2005-06: 25-8, 13-3, 1st (t)
2005-06 postseason: NCAA
Over the last 15 games last season, Kansas started three freshmen and two sophomores. The group went 13-2, including the disappointing loss to Bradley in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. If last years team could win the Big XII, a year older and wiser, this team should dominate. Whether or not that means a victory in March is another question.Who's Out: Forward Christian Moody saw his playing time diminish with the influx of talent in Lawrence. The former walk-on earned nine starts his senior year and averaged 3.4 points and 2.9 boards. Jeff Hawkins and Stephen Vinson ended up relatively far down the depth chart by March, but still provided quality minutes off the bench. Micah Downs transferred after his first semester at Kansas. In 13 appearances, the guard averaged 4.3 points and 2.2 rebounds.
Who's In: The perimeter found some depth with Sherron Collins and Brady Morningstar. Collins is rated as one of the best point guards in the class. He's a great ballhandler, finisher and long range shooter. The only knock on the 5-11 Chicago, Illinois native is the fact that he's 5-11. However, Collins is tough enough to make that a moot point in the end. Morningstar often gets overlooked in this class, but the Jayhawks will need the guard to fill in some minutes. Walk-on Brennan Bechard, a transfer from Barton County Community College in Kansas, will use his sharpshooting to provide more depth. Darrell Arthur will battle for a starting job in the paint. The 6-9 forward is an agile big man who can face up and hit the mid-range jumper. He's a great rebounder, but needs to develop a low post move or two to add another dynamic to his game.
Who to Watch: On the perimeter, few teams can match the pure talent of Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush. Robinson, the underappreciated point guard, will have the job of making all the scoring talent around him happy. Chalmers and Rush both had tremendous freshmen campaigns. Chalmers averaged 11.5 points and 3.8 assists, while Rush added 13.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Rush has the ability to take over a game, but he usually won't have to with this roster. Jeremy Case and Rodrick Stewart will battle for minutes off the bench with the newcomers.
Final Projection: Sasha Kaun* and Julian Wright are the returning starters up front. Kaun is a solid defender and Wright is an amazing finisher. C.J. Giles** and Darnell Jackson are experienced options off the bench. Giles is a great shot blocker and averaged 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds as a sophomore; however, his status with the team is uncertain after some off the court issues. Jackson will do the dirty work under the basket and is strong on the glass. Throw freshman Arthur into the mix and the Jayhawks have a deep and talented frontcourt. An issue could be chemistry and playing time. It's never a bad thing to have so much talent, but Coach Bill Self has to keep everybody happy and make sure they understand their role on the team. They'll have until March to sort it all out, because this much talent won't be watching the tournament on the couch. If they get over the first round upset hurdle that has haunted the Jayhawks for the last two years, these guys can win the whole thing.
* - Kaun will be out until early December due to a knee injury.
** - Giles will not be rejoining the team from suspension until at least mid-December.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Russell Robinson, Junior, Guard, 9.3 points per game
Mario Chalmers, Sophomore, Guard, 11.5 points per game
Brandon Rush, Sophomore, Guard, 13.5 points per game
Julian Wright, Sophomore, Forward, 8.5 points per game
Sasha Kaun, Junior, Center, 8.2 points per game