First, the good news: we're capable of beating Kansas at home, and the home team has won the last six regular season meetings in the series. Next, the bad news: we're in a deep enough rut that we just lost to an average Oklahoma team. And finally, the news that could be good or bad: the team isn't seeing the big picture yet.
I honestly don't know what to expect. The smart money is on Kansas, but let's talk about some of the things Texas will have to do to emerge victorious:
1. Balbay and Bradley control Sherron Collins' penetration. I was beginning to think we wouldn't see a single collegiate player that Balbay couldn't handle, but he was lost in the first half against Tommy Mason-Griffin's jabs, head and shoulder fakes, and vicious quick stepbacks. Collins is a more straightforward point guard, and he relies on his strength as much or more than his quickness to drive. That doesn't bother Balbay nearly so much, and so long as Collins isn't getting star treatment from the officials, I like Balbay to give us good minutes taking away some of what makes Kansas so lethal. I'd expect Avery Bradley to spend some time on Collins as well, particularly if Balbay's struggling on offense, in foul trouble, or not guarding Collins well, and after what we saw AB do with TMG, I'm more confident that he can give us quality in that defensive role, if we need it.
Take away Collins penetration and you make Collins more of a jumpshooter, which is not his greatest asset (although he's solid) and force one of the wings to step up and have a good game. Xavier Henry would be the guy you worry most about, but he's tracking Texas so far this year: awesome in 2009, fading fast in 2010. Tyshawn Taylor has the quickness and talent to be a dangerous player, but things haven't clicked for him at the college level and I'm pretty sour on his prospects -- more so than most. Still, he's certainly got the capability of making plays if tonight's his night. In any case, we'd rather Kansas beat us because other guys stepped up than because we let Collins be Collins. Easier said than done, so the defense of Balbay and Bradley are probably the single most important key to the game. That, and...
2. Play to strengths offensively. We've talked about this ad nauseum, so I won't belabor the point -- you've heard it all before -- but this team neds to work inside out, appreciate that there are 35 seconds with which to get a shot off, and run sets that get the ball to the right guys in the right positions. If we're not setting up Damion James to be a focal point of the offense, we're doing it wrong. If we're not driving to the basket and looking for buckets 12 feet and in to start the game, we're doing it wrong. If we're not attacking with an eye towards getting to the line, we're doing it wrong (miserable FT% be damned). If we're not shooting quality threes as a result of already having done the previous three things well, we're doing it wrong.
3. Get 20-25 quality minutes from Dexter Pittman. There's no way to get around this problem: we've got to have Dexter play well, play smart, and play paced for a 40 minute game. When Pittman sits, we either go with a small line up with Gary Johnson, which is terrifying against this Kansas frontcourt, or we stay bigger by subbing one of the guys who gives us absolutely nothing. I guess it's possible Chapman or Wangmene has a good game, but Wangmene has been terrible all year and Chapman's a scary defensive and rebounding proposition against Aldrich and the Morris twins. This just can't be said more plainly: Dexter Pittman has got to be a smart, solid basketball player tonight or we lose.
Hopefully, he comes with his head checked tonight, because he's been a frustrated mess of inefficiency the past month, and while some of it is the fault of others, the bulk of the blame has to go on the big guy himself. It's up to him to control the things he can control, and not take himself out of the game with dumb plays made out of frustration. Play solid, Dexter. You must.