What? Was the headline misleading? Did you think college basketball's best newly emerging rivalry was strangely being renewed in the middle of March Madness? A baseball is also round, you know.
We don't want to take up much front-page space during the Greatest Sports Weekend of the Year, so follow us through the jump for a quick preview of the Longhorns' first conference road series of the season.
For just about as much Kansas baseball analysis as anyone could possibly want, you must read some of John Quinn's stuff at Rock Chalk Talk and Big 12 Hardball. One interesting point that he makes is that while KU's hitting numbers look respectable so far, when analyzed based on competition the Jayhawks look like the type of team that will struggle with the best pitching they face. Luckily, Texas has some of the best pitching they will face.
On the face of it, Kansas can best be described as "streaky" thus far--and right now they're in a bad one. After a seven game winning streak (admittedly against less-than-stellar competition), the 'Hawks have now lost four of their last five against high-quality opponents from the West. They lost two of three against Arizona State last weekend and then traveled to SoCal to take on San Diego State for a pair of midweek matchups. They lost those contests by one run each, both in somewhat heartbreaking fashion. They wasted a seven-inning, three-hit performance by Lee Ridenhour on Tuesday to lose 1-0, and were victimized on Wednesday by a pinch-hit, walk-off RBI single to lose 9-8 on Wednesday. The Aztecs are not a bad team by any stretch, and the Sun Devils are excellent.
So at a second glance, it actually stands to reason that Kansas is playing pretty decent ball right now and has been playing pretty decent ball consistently. The term "streaky" would better describe a team that plays alternately well and poorly; Kansas' runs of wins and losses have been more a function of scheduling than a reflection of the team's performance.
Kansas, then, is a pretty good baseball team that has trouble with its best opponents. By that logic, Texas ought to have no problem getting two out of three this weekend and having a shot at a road sweep. However, there is one factor that sometimes works decidedly in KU's favor when Texas visits Lawrence: the weather. But the homestanding Jayhawks couldn't cook anything up this time, as it will be quite pleasant.
The Jayhawks do have three players--Buck Afenir, Casey Lytle, and Tony Thompson--who are hitting over .400. However, the fourth-highest average on the team is .286. Texas and Kansas have almost identical team batting averages, with KU hitting .279 and Texas at .280. Opponents have hit .225 against Jayhawk pitching, as compared to the Longhorn staff which has held hitters to an unreal .182 average so far.
The keys to watch for Texas is whether they can keep up the remarkably consistent starting pitching and whether they can get the bats going in big situations. Timely hitting is all a pitching staff like this one needs to build a special season. Also, will Austin Wood and his crazy 0.50 ERA continue to be lights-out?
Probable pitching matchups (KU pitchers are strictly guesses):
Friday: Texas: Chance Ruffin: 2-1, 2.27. Kansas: T.J. Walz: 2-0, 2.79
Saturday: Texas: Brandon Workman: 3-1, 0.63. Kansas: Shaeffer Hall: 1-1, 1.37
Sunday: Texas: Cole Green: 2-0, 1.65. Kansas: Lee Ridenhour: 3-1, 1.61