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Kansas State vs Texas: Longhorns Basketball Looks for Huge Win Saturday

Kansas State Wildcats (17-6, 6-5) at Texas Longhorns (15-9, 5-6)
Saturday, February 11th, 1:00 pm | Austin, TX | ESPN
Opponent Blog: Bring on the Cats

Texas basketball returns to the hardwood on Saturday afternoon for a rematch with the Kansas State Wildcats, where they'll seek to avenge the Wildcats 84-80 win on January 18th in Manhattan. The Longhorns will also be trying to snap a three-game losing streak to the Wildcats in Austin, having last knocked off K-State at the Erwin Center in 2005, and even then Lamarcus Aldridge and Co. needed overtime to pull it off.

None of those games were as important to previous Texas teams as Saturday's is to this Longhorns squad, who with a win can pull back to .500 in the conference, and dramatically increase their chances of reaching the 10-win mark all-important to their NCAA Tournament chances. A loss, by contrast, would drop Texas to 5-7 and require that in addition to sweeping everyone else on the schedule the Longhorns defeat either Baylor or Kansas in order to get to 10 wins.

In looking to what Texas needs to do to pick up the crucial win on Saturday, let's start with a review of the first meeting:

Texas Offense Texas Defense
KSU 84 TX 80

The story in Manhattan was pretty straightforward. The Wildcats had an unusually hot night shooting the ball (including 7-15 from beyond the arc), won the battle for whistles (shooting 39 free throws, to Texas' 21), and were a little bit better than us with respect to both offensive rebounds and avoiding turnovers. That, and Rodney McGruder went off for a career-high 33 points on 11-17 shooting, while J'Covan Brown needed 28 shots to score his 22.

The somewhat odd thing about Kansas State is that despite being one of the easiest teams to understand in terms of identifying your path to victory, they can also be one of the most difficult teams to solve in terms of execution. The reason is that almost without fail, and perhaps better than any other team in the country, Frank Martin's Wildcats dictate the style of the game and demand that opponents play it on their terms. Some teams simply aren't well-equipped for a K-State brawl, while others can handle it but fail because they don't go after what's there for the taking. Missouri is an example of the former, but the Longhorns loss in Manhattan was in part an example of the latter, as Texas retreated from the attacking penetration that had served them so well in the first half.

That's how Kansas State has managed to be a very good team, despite the fact that they're not, well, all that good. Oklahoma provides the case in point, as the Sooners -- a good-not-great team themselves -- won both match ups with K-State, both home and away, simply by virtue of engaging the Wildcats in their style of game and taking what the Wildcats clearly offer.

In that sense this game is likely to be much more about what this young Texas team does, than what the Wildcats are able to manage. We know what Kansas State is going to do, and with that know both the opportunities and challenges the game will present. In turn, we know what the Longhorns have to do in this game, and that if they do them, in all likelihood they'll win. In other words, this Texas team isn't one that loses to Kansas State because it can't do what is required, but one that can and will lose if it fails to attack the game in the ways the Wildcats style dictates you must.

This is not something we know only with the benefit of hindsight, after playing them a first time. I was able to lay all of this out in the preview of the first match up, and all of the keys to the game were borne out by the contest in Manhattan. The only difference with Saturday's game is that Texas will be playing at home, and its young players will have the benefit of seven more games of experience, including and most importantly a first taste of Kansas State, what kind of game they demand, and what is required to succeed in such a battle.

Let's just keep it simple, then, and recycle the same four most important keys to the game:

1. How will Texas' guards respond to K-State's extreme pressure defense? In the first match up, Myck Kabongo played well overall and dished out a season-high 10 assists, but his 6 turnovers were costly. Sheldon McClellan delivered one of his strongest offensive games of the season, with 19 points on 7-13 shooting, excelling at attacking the rim as we want and need him to do. And as mentioned above, although J'Covan Brown scored a team-high 22 points, he needed 28 shots to get there, and K-State's defense clearly impacted his shot selection and offensive efficiency. All in all, Texas' three most important guards played pretty well, but there's clear room for improvement, and their most important charge on Saturday is to attack Kansas State with penetration, and aggressively try either to score at to score at the rim or rack up trips to the line. If we settle for being a jump shooting team, we play right into K-State's hands and will be in trouble. Attack and draw fouls, and we'll be in good shape.

2. Will Texas make the most of the opportunities that Kansas State offers? Again, while Texas did a very good job of attacking the Wildcats in the first half, earning 14 trips to the line along the way, as Kabongo retreated from that line of attack as the game wore on, the tide turned against us. Kansas State is not willing to sacrifice any defensive pressure, nor give up any uncontested shots. In exchange, they are willing to foul the ever living shit out of you... assuming you make them pay for that approach by attacking.

3. Will Texas get a strong game from Clint Chapman? The Wildcats' substantial size advantage makes it all the more essential that Clint Chapman play strong basketball on Saturday, which includes being smart enough to stay on the damn floor. Some fouls are routine -- desirable, even -- but some are needless, costly, and just plain stupid. This frontcourt needs Chapman on the floor too badly for him to commit any of the latter kind, and his ability to stay on the floor will be important to help out the smaller Holmes and Bond, whose physical disadvantages are pronounced against K-State's enormous front line.

4. Can Texas defend without fouling? The flipside of K-State is that while you want to rack up fouls by attacking their pressure defense, you want to make the Wildcats earn their buckets on the offensive side of the floor. McGruder is an excellent player who can create his own offense, and Will Spradling is a smart and efficient offensive player despite being a two-guard out of place running the point, but the drop off is pretty severe after that, with a roster of players who are more big and/or athletic than skilled. As noted in the preview of the first game, if you can keep McGruder in check and avoid committing fouls, the Wildcats' inconsistency and poor shooting make them prone to scoring droughts.

Prediction: We know what we're up against, and what Texas needs to do to win. I liked us well enough from a match-up perspective prior to the first game, but nevertheless wound up predicting a K-State win because of our inexperience and the challenging road environment at Bramlage. This time around, the match up is the same but our freshmen have picked up seven tough games of experience and will be playing at home. Advantage Texas, right?

In theory, yes, but let's be honest: it's Kansas State. The team that's been lighting the tower puple pretty much any time they've brought a sports team to town over the past decade. If anyone's going to burst our bubble and deliver that fatal blow to our season, of course it would be the Wildcats.

Everything in my head says that we're ready for this match up and will pick up the huge win on Saturday. But the scars on my sporting soul have trained me to expect heartbreak any time Kansas State is involved...

Nevertheless, I believe in this young Texas team even more than I do the K-State curse. The streak ends now. Texas 74 K-State 68