Texas (19-4, 6-2) gets a shot tonight at 8 pm on ESPN to beat the best team in the country, in my opinion. I’m not going to go through Kansas’ entire schedule but will make a few points about what makes them so good and then get to the keys to the game.
#4 Kansas is 23-1 overall, 7-1 in the Big XII, and rated as the top team in the country by Pomeroy. If you don’t think the Jayhawks are loaded, then you haven’t been paying attention. Bill Self’s club has four future pros among their starting five in Darnell Jackson, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, and Darrell Arthur.
Darnell Jackson is a 6-8, 250 pound bruiser who is averaging 12 points per game and a team leading seven rebounds per game. Darnell is much more active this year that he was last year and will be a tough, physical match-up for the Texas bigs.
Mario Chalmers is the best defensive guard in the Big XII, if not the nation, and not too shabby on the offensive end either. Super Mario can light it up from three on a given night (47%), is quick enough to take his man off the dribble, and is an excellent passer at five assists per game. Chalmers doesn’t have to score to control the game. The best match-up of the night will be Chalmers on DJ Augustin in the half court.
Brandon Rush can’t seem to get out of Lawrence. He toyed with the idea of turning pro two years ago and did turn pro a year ago before a knee injury forced him back to college. Texas fans will wish that he was already in the NBA. Rush is a streaky shooter who leads the team in made three-pointers. He has also improved his mid-range game and his ability to get all the way to the rim. Limiting Rush’s transition three-pointers will be crucial for the Horns. It will also be interesting to see if Rush draws the defensive assignment on AJ Abrams or if Self elects to have Rush guard Mason and play help defense on all dribble drives. If Rush does guard AJ, Abrams will have to find a way to get clean looks over the 6-6 underrated defender.
The fourth future pro is also, in my opinion, the most dangerous. He will be coming off a
33 23 point, 10 rebound performance in the win over Baylor. Darrell Arthur is a true back to the basket forward who also has the ability to step out and knock down the mid-range jumper. Arthur is listed at 6-9 but has a much longer wingspan which allows him to rebound outside of his area and block shots. I don’t think Damion James has the height to guard Arthur on the low blocks. I expect to see Barnes use Dexter Pittman, Alexis Wangmene, and Gary Johnson instead, but, honestly, Texas doesn’t have anyone that can guard Arthur one-on-one.
The fifth starter is senior Russell Robinson. Robinson is another tremendous defensive player. He can score as well but usually doesn’t have to. He is averaging over two steals per game and will probably give AJ fits.
If the starting five wasn’t formidable enough, the Jayhawks have more. 5-11 sophomore Sherron Collins comes off the bench for 20+ minutes and provides KU with another gear in their transition game. Other than maybe North Carolina’s Ty Lawson, there isn’t a faster player with the basketball. Collins averages nearly ten points per game and is another solid defender on the perimeter. 6-11 Sasha "Caveman" Kahn provides another big body off the bench while 6-4 senior Rodrick Stewart adds even more depth at guard.
The Jayhawks are deep, talented, and balanced. Eight Jayhawks average more than 13 minutes per game; four of their starters will be playing in the NBA next season; and they have four players averaging in double figures, with their top scorer (Arthur) at just 13 ppg.
KU can score inside and out, in transition and in the half-court. They can beat you with their prolific offense or simply by shutting down yours. Memphis may be undefeated but the Jayhawks are the best team in the country.
So, how do the Horns win? Here are a couple of things that must go right for Texas to pull off the upset.
Keys to the Game
Their half-court execution is good enough, but if Texas allows the Jayhawks transition points off turnovers, poor shots, or long rebounds, then this one could get ugly quickly. Barnes has a dilemma though. If he goes with three guards and two bigs, then Texas will get very few second looks off offensive rebounds unless they send an extra person or two to the offensive glass. But if three or four are crashing the glass, then the transition game will be wide open for KU. I expect Barnes to play three bigs for most of the game. I won’t be surprised if James, Johnson, and Atchley all start. Texas will also need quality minutes from Dexter Pittman and Alexis Wangmene as well, especially if anyone gets into early foul trouble.
AJ and DJ are getting better at this but defending the long ball remains a weakness. KU scored 100 points against Baylor without making a single three-pointer. If Rush or Chalmers or Collins or Robinson get hot from three, look out.
This one is a little odd considering Texas turns the ball over less than anyone in the nation. However, the Horns haven’t faced anyone as good as the Jayhawks are on defense. They are especially talented on the perimeter. Chalmers, Robinson, and Rush will all have size and length advantages on the perimeter. The Texas guards cannot afford to get sloppy with the ball.
Abrams has shot the ball well recently while DJ has not. Hopefully, the Texas coaches have pointed out to DJ that he has been over-penetrating and needs to look for the pass instead of forcing tough shots in the lane. Abrams should be the recipient of some of those passes. Texas is so much better when AJ is shooting the ball well and probably not good enough to beat KU if he is not.
It may sound like I don’t think the Horns have a chance. That is not true, but I don’t feel like Texas has too many advantages in this one, outside of the home court. A lot of things will need to go right for the Horns but playing at home makes this one possible.