Before we continue the totally appropriate (eyes rolling) debate as to whether Julian Wright is the next Wilt Chamberlain or the next Magic Johnson, let's at least take a look at the Horns' next opponent. Hint it's the only Big 12 team to win at Kansas this year.
The #7 Horns (22-4, 10-2) actually play Kansas State (14-9, 5-7) on ESPN2 tonight 7 PM CST. Texas is currently tied for the Big 12 lead, while KSU is a half game back of sixth place in the conference. The Wildcats have lost five of their last seven but did manage to upset the NCAA hopeful Colorado Buffalos on Saturday. The Wildcats best win was clearly their win at Kansas early in the Big 12 schedule. Their worst loss is more difficult to identify. They lost in their non conference schedule at N. Illinois. They also lost to Baylor. The Bears were on a 20 game losing streak at the time. Or maybe it was their three point loss at hapless Missouri. I will go with the loss in Waco by a hair.
All kidding aside, KSU is not to be taken lightly. While the Horns are 6-3 against the Wildcats in Big 12 play, they have dropped their last two in Manhattan. The home team has won the last five contests between these two but Texas is an eight point road favorite. Their record is far from stellar but KSU has played nearly every opponent tough. Seven of their losses have been by a total of 18 points.
Kansas State has one stud, Cartier Martin (6'8" 220 lbs). Martin is the Big 12's fourth leading scorer averaging 18.7 points per game and the Big 12's seventh leading rebounder with 7 boards per game. Marin also leads the league in free throw shooting (84%), so fouling him is not a good option. Shutting down this All Big 12 performer will be a key to a Texas victory. The Wildcats also get double digit scoring from sophomore David Hoskins (12 ppg) and junior guard Lance Harris (11 ppg).
Both teams have won this season with defense. Texas is second in the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense at 37%. Kansas State is not far behind in third at 39%. The Wildcats have held 20 of 23 opponents below their season scoring average. While similar in their defensive successes, Texas has been more proficient on the offensive end. Texas is second in the Big 12 in scoring at 78 ppg. KSU is eighth averaging just 69 ppg. The Wildcats prefer to play at a slower pace than the Horns. Texas has been winning most Big 12 games 80-60 while Kansas State prefers to play games in the sixties. Watch the pace of play tonight. If the Horns can get out in transition or jump out to an early lead, Kansas State might be forced into a faster and less comfortable pace.
- Energy: Texas played in Stillwater like they expected OSU to just give them the game. Watch the Horns energy level. Are we pounding the glass? Are Kenton Paulino and Daniel Gibson taking the ball to the basket? Are we winning battles for loose balls?
- Half Court Offense: Oklahoma State played excellent half court defense. Their ball pressure forced turnovers and also took us totally out of rhythm. Watch to see if Texas is moving better without the ball on offense and feeding Lamarcus Aldridge and PJ Tucker in the post more consistently. One of them should be touching the ball on the low blocks on every possession.
- Rebounding: For the first time in ages, the Horns were outrebounded on Sunday. Kansas State is not particularly big. They have no starters over 6'8". Texas should be able to dominate the glass on both ends. Offensive rebounds should lead to easy putbacks.
- Open Jumpers: Which team is able to knock down the open jumper? Texas will probably play a lot of zone to limit Martin's touches and to keep our frontcourt out of foul trouble. The guards from both teams should get open looks. Both teams shoot the three ball well. Will Paulino or Gibson get hot or just jack threes instead of feeding the post?