Texas basketball is 0-3 and one loss away from falling to 8-9 on overall on the season, which would mark the program's first dip below the .500 mark since January of 1999, when Kris Clack, Chris Mihm, Gabe Muonecke, and Ivan Wagner led the Longhorns to an improbable Big 12 title after opening the season 3-8. Could this year's team pull off something similar? What do you think, Bill Self?
"They haven't been -- I don't know if Rick's (Barnes) ever been -- 0-3. I think that's what Texas is, if I'm not mistaken. But it's early, too, it's early yet. You know, Carolina started out 0-2 in the league in '09 and they went to the National Championship. So it's not an uncommon scene -- good teams and good programs getting off to rough starts -- depending on where they are playing. But, this is different than most Texas games, I believe, because they are off to a start that isn't indicative of how great their program has been. And they'll get it back, Rick will get it back. But let's just hope that doesn't happen at our expense."
I hate to say it, Bill, but I wouldn't sweat it too much.
Although Texas and Kansas have enjoyed a spirited regular season rivalry over the past decade and Texas has been the only program that's really challenged the Jayhawks' Big 12 dominance, KU swept both games last year and it would be a shock if they didn't do so again this year.
Bill Self brings yet another outstanding team to Austin on Saturday, his squad 15-1 on the season with the lone blemish coming against Michigan State on a neutral floor in the second game of the season. Since then the Jayhawks have been a perfect 14-0, including wins versus KenPom No. 57 Colorado by 36, versus No. 23 Belmont by 29, at No. 10 Ohio State by 8, versus Temple by 7, versus Iowa State by 2, and versus Baylor by 17.
The Jayhawks themselves slot in at No. 6 in Pomeroy's ratings, thanks to one of the nation's stingiest offenses and an offense filled with excellent shooters. Texas continues to lead the nation in effective filed goal percentage defense at 37.9, but Kansas isn't far behind, rating 3rd nationally at 40%, holding opponents to a national-best 36% on 2-point shots. Incredibly, that's par for the course for Self's KU teams, who are on track to finish in the Top 5 nationally in 2-point FG% defense for the 8th time in the last 11 seasons. The other three seasons? They finished 10th, 12th, and 42nd. Bill Self can coach a little defense, huh?
Unlike Texas this year, however, Kansas isn't having trouble on the other end of the floor. The Jayhawks are one of the nation's best shooting teams at 54.3 eFG%, which ranks 18th nationally and is a full 10% better than Texas' woeful 43.9% (307th). You can see where this might make winning a bit difficult for Texas on Saturday, yes? Yes.
In terms of personnel, the names you'll remember from years past are a trio of accomplished seniors: 7-0 center Jeff Withey, 6-8 Kevin Young, 6-4 point guard Elijah Johnson, and 6-6 guard Travis Releford. Jeff Withey is a shot blocking machine on defense with a well-developed offensive game that produces high percentage shots and lots of trips to the line, where he's better than his 69% thus far indicates (he finished closer to 80% last year). Kevin Young is an ox on the inside -- nothing flashy, but he gets it done on the glass, on defense, and finishing at the rim when the opportunities arise. After being sidelined last Saturday by Iowa State's smaller, run-n-gun line up, if Texas has any prayer of begin competitive on Saturday, its two freshman paint patrollers -- Cam Ridley and Prince Ibeh -- are going to have to come up big against KU's two outstanding seniors in the frontcourt. Which pretty much says it all with respect to why the Jayhawks are heavy favorites to win, and win big.
On the perimeter, Elijah Johnson finally takes over at the point for Tyshawn Taylor and has done a very solid job as a creator of offense, with the only real blemish in his game being his high turnover rate (27.2%). And last but not least, there's Mr. Releford, my least favorite player in college basketball over the past three years -- and unfortunately, it's not because he sucks. Quite the opposite, the punk is obnoxiously effective -- one of the best on-ball defenders in the college game and more effective offensively than he looks like he should be watching him play. I'll continue to roll my eyes as he frustrates me and my team, but Rock Chalk Talk is right to sing his praises.
The newcomer to know is 6-5 super-frosh Ben McLemore, a do-it-all beast of a basketball player who can fill it up with a silky-smooth outside game and elite -- unfair, really -- ability taking it to the rim, which leads to highlights like this one:
Good grief, son...
Thank God McLemore's arriving in Austin with a bit of a tender ankle -- expected to play, but (hopefully) at least a little bit limited. Witha National Player of the Year candidate like that, you'll take anything that slows him down a little bit.
Rick Barnes could learn a thing or two from Bill Self, who is as good as any coach in the game at managing his personnel -- pushing them hard to be their best, but showing them love at the right times and in the right ways, as well. Not that Texas' head coach is likely to have much to celebrate on Saturday -- this match up doesn't look close, with KU bringing a defense just as nasty or nastier than Texas' into the Erwin Center, but with a highly efficient offense to go along with it, and a starting line up that features four seniors and the nations best freshman.
Particularly with how little firepower Texas has without McClellan scoring, it's hard to see how Texas keeps it close, let along keeps up. I'll be interested to see how our frontcourt pups do against KU's seniors on the interior, and I'm at least hoping that Texas plays well enough to deliver some much needed encouraging signs, but it wouldn't be a shock if this game got out of hand, either. Our best hope is to execute well and get some whistles, forcing the Jayhawks to rely on some young players of their own. Well, that and find someone who can make a jump shot. Sigh... Yeah. That's a problem. KU 74 TEXAS 59