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Lost in the Fog: A Closer Look at KU-Texas

Finally, something that got my blood roiling as we start this important week of hoops for the Horns. Over at the Phog Blog, which is truly an outstanding blog devoted to Kansas hoops (well, and other sports, occasionally, which don't matter in KU's case), one of their authors, Mark, offered a position by position break down of Kansas and Texas. While I think he did an admirable job, and made some very strong and fair points, he couldn't quite escape the KU bias he hoped to. So this isn't mean to slam his work; more of a rebuttal.

In an effort to be fair on my end, I'll publish his comments in full, followed by my rebuttal.

UPDATE: To be completely clear on the origins of this article, our good friend Jeremy, who runs the Phog Blog, notes that Mark's piece is a guest contribution. Mark received his undergraduate degree from Kansas and law degree from Texas. According to Jeremy, Mark "hates Texas Athletics." How one could spend three years at UT and hate the athletics is beyond me. Maybe it was during the Chris Simms era? Or Chris Mihm? Yikes, maybe both!

1. Kenton Paulino vs. Russell Robinson: Both are competent at running an offense, and neither makes an abundance of senseless turnovers. However, neither will invoke images of predecessors T.J. Ford or Aaron Miles in this regard. What Paulino can do is hit an open 3 pointer. What RR can do is wreak havoc defensively with both his foot and hand speed. IF RR puts his mind to it, Paulino will not get many open looks. Edge: Robinson.

Mark is correct that neither player invokes images of their point guard predecessors, but it's not clear why Robinson gets the edge in this matchup. Paulino has hit 44% of his three pointers on 119 attempts, while Robinson has hit only 30% of his 62 attempts. Statistically, they have nearly identical assist and turnover numbers, so there's no advantage here. The only remaining factor, defense, apparently gives the edge to Robinson? It's not explained how, or why, with only a vague and clichéd reference to Robinson "putting his mind to" shutting down Paulino. Without, of course, any mention of Paulino and Texas playing in a zone defense most of the time. We can be charitable and call this a push, but giving an edge to Robinson just seems to be a case of homerist wish-casting.
2. Daniel Gibson vs. Mario Chalmers: Gibson is a better scorer, although Mario has not been a slacker in that area recently. Gibson has an ultra-quick release and is better at knocking down threes off the dribble. Mario is faster and a better defender. (Not that Gibson is a slouch defensively.) Mario also has better instincts for making good things happen for his teammates-although, as a freshman, he occasionally gets carried away and makes a bonehead play. Edge: Push.

While the Paulino-Robinson comparison was mostly fair, this is where things start to get way off track. Here at BON we've been clamoring for Gibson to play up to his potential, but even in what we feel is a subpar year for Gibson, the comparison Mark is making with Chalmers is grossly inaccurate. For one thing, Gibson may be the best perimeter defender in the conference, though again, it should be noted that Texas is mostly playing zone. Mark claims that Chalmers is better at creating more chances for his teammates than Gibson, averaging 4.0 assists per game to Gibson's 3.0 per game. He fairly notes that Chalmers is more out of control, as is reflected in Gibson's better assist-to-turnover ratio. But that's where the equality ends. Gibson is scoring 14.8 points and grabbing 3.9 rebounds per game. Chalmers is at 10.8 and 1.7. That's not a push, Mark. Gibson is hitting 41% of his threes; Chalmers 33%. There's an edge in this matchup, and it goes to Gibson. It's not even "slight."

3. P.J. Tucker vs. Brandon Rush: Almost a meaningless comparison. They have entirely different roles. Tucker is a power player who cleans the boards, and, because he is a great finisher, gets a lot of garbage points. He is averaging 15.5-9.9 in league play. Rush is a perimeter player, a legitimate scorer, who also has a knack for running down rebounds. He is 15.9-7.1 in league play. Tucker is stronger. Rush is faster and a better shooter. Tucker is the ultimate competitor--a warrior. Rush is fast becoming a great competitor. Slight Edge: Tucker.

Mark offers a very fair comparison of the two players here, and correctly notes their varying strengths and weaknesses. But he may be selling Tucker a little short here, as we think he's the best player in the Big 12. He's more than a warrior, and more than just a "garbage" guy. He's a freak. Guarding him is so incredibly difficult because of his ridiculous quickness and gigantic 7'1" wingspan. Rush -may- be a touch faster (I doubt it), but there's -no one- in college hoops that's quicker around the rim than Tucker. Truly a matchup nightmare. The edge goes to Tucker, and while I won't quip over whether it's "slight" or not, we need to be clear about how good Tucker is. Foul trouble is the best weapon for stopping PJ. Not much else works.

4. LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Julian Wright: Aldridge is a likely All-Conference pick. He's in the running for AA honors. He will be a lottery pick if he decides to move on to the NBA at this season's conclusion. He is shooting 50% from the field in Big 12 games, and averaging 14 points and 8 rebounds. He is seven footer with a sweet turn around shot from the baseline, and he is effective anywhere within 15 feet. He is not a hardnosed competitor, but doesn't have to be at his size. He is an executer. And a damn good one. Which brings us to Dr. JW. He is one of two X-Factors in this game. He is not as big in either height or weight as Aldridge. Nor is he as accomplished a shooter. What he is is quicker, faster, more agile, quicker off his feet, and, most importantly, a creator. He makes those around him better a la Manning, Magic, Bird. Were he to decide to play four years of college ball, he would universally be acknowledged as being of that stature by Senior Night 2009. Slight Edge: Dr. JW.

This is the comparison that inspired this entire rebuttal. After praising Aldridge for the ridiculous talent that he is, Mark simply asserts that Julian Wright is the next coming of Magic Johnson and gives him an edge in the matchup. They love stats over at Phog Blog (which is one of the reasons it's such a good blog), but Mark completely throws out the numbers here for some good old fashioned subjective spinning. Never mind that Wright is only averaging 8 points and 4 boards per game; he's got that feel to him. Besides being an anathema to the statistical principles they generally hold dear, if we want to play that game, Wright's -still- going to lose out. Why? Because Lamarcus Aldridge is Tim Duncan. The comparison is legit and if he stays four years he'll be just as good. Of course, we won't bother trying to go down this road, as it's not instructive. There's no way around it; Aldridge has been better this year and is the best post defender in the conference. Giving the edge to Wright is just plain silly. And below Phog standards.

5. Brad Buckman vs. Sasha Kaun: Buckman is an accomplished inside player. When Aldridge and Tucker were out last year, Buckman put the team on his back and carried it with some Collison-like efforts. He can finish, knock down an occasional 15-18 footer, and is an excellent pressure free throw shooter. If there is a knock against him, it is that he will defer to Tucker and Aldridge. Sasha is trying to become Buckman, only bigger, and should be there in two years. Edge: Buckman.

No real arguments here. Buckman is what he is. Same for Kaun. If we want to get in to intangibles, the Horns offense runs much smoother when Buck's out on the court because of his above average passing ability from the high post. Still, not much to add here.

The Bench Mark then highlights the bench advantage that KU has, and he's absolutely correct in his assessment. I won't argue with Mark, or try to pump up our admittedly miserable bench. AJ Abrams is doing awfully well, but beyond that, it's been terrible. Kansas has a great bench and is clearly going to be at or near the top of the conference next year. I think they're going to be a tough team to beat in the tourney come March. I think that Bill Self has done his best coaching job to date with this group of youngsters. And I'd take the Jayhawk bench over our own on every day of the week, plus twice on Sunday.

Mark even invokes Kelvin Sampson's assessment that Texas has the best starting five in the conference, but Kansas the best first nine. I'll happily agree to that, but politely point out that barring a tightly whistled game in which Tucker or Aldridge gets knocked to the bench early, the matchup advantages all go to Texas in this one. The best matchup for Kansas is Robinson versus Paulino, and that's a push at best. Texas is better at every other position, will be playing at home, and will be playing for the same conference championship that Kansas will.

Add it all up and I'm predicting a double-digit Texas win. Nix that. I'm guaranteeing it. I've been as impressed with the development of this young Kansas team as anyone, but I'll bet my bottom dollar that they don't stand a Democrat's chance in Texas of beating the Horns on Saturday. We'll have a full preview of this game later in the week. But for now, just understand this. The matchup advantages all belong to the Horns until we get to the bench. And the bench, I'm afraid to tell Mark, isn't going to matter in this one.