In Kansas, Texas faces the Big 12 leader, albeit a Jayhawk squad that's less deep that previous Bill Self incarnations. The Jayhawks are at times mistakenly identified as less talented, which seems strange in that they have the favorite for the Wooden and Naismith awards in Thomas Robinson, a point guard in Tyshawn Taylor who is among the country's best when he's playing well — as he has for the last couple contests — an elite-level athlete in Elijah Johnson and two of the Big 12's best defenders in Travis Releford and Jeff Withey.
No, talent isn't the issue on this squad, though depth of talent (a different issue) could eventually be its death knell (more of this in a minute).
Robinson is the top player on the Kansas squad, and potentially the top player in the country. His averages of 17.8 points and 12.3 rebounds per game have gone up slightly in conference play. What makes Robinson a tough matchup is that he can score on the low block with his explosive athleticism and strength, he can shoot out to three-point range — he's made 3-of-7 attempts so far, including 2-of-4 in conference play — and he excels at taking players off the dribble and creating fouls.
But while Robinson is the team's best player, Taylor May be its most important. When Taylor is on — as he has been, scoring 28 points per game over the last two contests. Taylor is actually the Jayhawks' highest scorer in league play, and he's a tough player to defend, somebody who can get to the rim on any guard and who is making almost 45 percent of his three-point shots this year. The downside is Taylor's tendency to turn the ball over, which he does an alarming 4.1 times per game.
Releford is the sleeper, the player scoring almost 15 points per game in conference play, and who serves as one of the top perimeter defenders in the league, and maybe the country. He won Big 12 Player of the Week honors two weeks ago, and he thrives offensively by driving to the basket and converting high-percentage plays without making mistakes.
Withey doesn't do as much offensively, but he blocks 3.1 shots per game and actually has a higher block percentage than Kentucky's Anthony Davis. He also has 6.2 rebounds per game and when he draws fouls, Withey is converting 837 percent of his free throws.
Johnson is Taylor's backcourt mate, one of the league's best athletes and a streaky shooter. He's making just 30.7 percent of his three-point shots, but is capable of shooting outbursts.
Foul trouble could potentially trip up the Jayhawks, because beyond the top five, they aren't very deep. Conner Teahan, a former walk-on, is the sixth man and is a threat from distance, while Kevin Young and Justin Wesley provide some cover for Withey and Robinson.
So what does all that mean for Texas? The Longhorns have some tools that could potentially give the Jayhawks trouble. Both Myck Kabongo and J'Covan Brown have shown an ability to get to the basket and draw fouls, which could even up what appears to be a mismatch down low. And if Taylor has one of his high-turnover games, Texas could find some easy baskets in transition, a must against a very good defensive team.
The Longhorns probably don't have the experience to pull this one off. But coming off one of the Longhorns' best efforts, a four-point loss in Manhattan, Texas could just give the Jayhawks a bit of trouble in Austin.