After falling short by double digits in each of their first two Big 12 appearances, the Texas Longhorns have bounced back with quite opposite and much more optimistic outcomes, notching back-to-back double-digit wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma State to improve to 12-4 overall and climb to 2-2 in league action.
After Saturday afternoon, though, Texas will face yet another tremendously tall task if the Horns hope to continue that success, as Shaka Smart’s squad will see a No. 6-ranked foe for the second time this month after opening the Big 12 slate against then-No. 6 Baylor. That outing, of course, ended in a blowout loss — a fate Texas aims to avoid today with the No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks in Austin.
The last time Kansas arrived at the Frank Erwin Center late last January, the Longhorns sent the No. 11 Jayhawks home with a double digit loss. This time around, each roster makeup is notably different. Jaxson Hayes and Dylan Osetkowski are no longer around to lead the Longhorns with nine rebounds and 16 points, respectively, no is Kerwin Roach II to contribute 15 points as a key presence in Texas’ backcourt. Similarly, Dedric Lawson is no longer a figure in Kansas’ frontcourt, while LeGerald Vick — who was seemingly in Lawrence for an entire decade — has since graduated and former five-star guard and key Texas target Quentin Grimes is now a Houston Cougar.
Nevertheless, in terms of success, Kansas remains much of the same product, as the 13-3 Jayhawks are hovering just outside of the top five nationally with their only three losses coming and the hands of ranked competition — No. 4 Duke, No. 18 Villanova, and No. 4 Baylor.
The recipe behind this success thus far? Per usual, Kansas boasts an impressive blend of experience and an abundance of talent across the board. Bill Self has largely employed an eight-man rotation this season, but of that bunch, Kansas’ six key contributors include two seniors, a junior, a three sophomores. Where Texas could be in for a fortunate break on Saturday is that sophomore floor general and former five-star guard Devon Dotson, who currently leads the Jayhawks with 18 points and 4.4 assists per contest, is a game-time decision due to a hip pointer that forced him to miss the Oklahoma game. Of course, a healthy Dotson is a game-changer offensively, but if Dotson is unable to suit up, it would place increased pressure on the likes of junior guard Marcus Garrett (9.4 PPG), senior Isaiah Moss, a graduate transfer from Iowa who can catch fire from the perimeter, and senior center Udoka Azubuike to produce offensively. 6’5 sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji can certainly help to that end, as well.
In any case, despite Kansas’ ranking No. 13 in adjusted offensive efficiency this season, per KenPom, the Jayhawks have proven to be one of the nation’s elite teams behind elite defense, ranking No. 3 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. In Kansas’ 13 wins this season, their opponents are averaging just 60 points per contest.
Unfortunately for Texas, though the defense has noticeably improved courtesy of the addition of Associate Head Coach Luke Yaklich to the staff, the offense has often stagnated and struggled to produce. Unsurprisingly, Texas enters as six-point underdogs, despite hosting the action and Dotson’s uncertain status.
How can Texas turn that tide and steal a massive early Big 12 victory? Jericho Sims has emerged as a factor offensively and remains one of the league’s most athletic interior defenders, but foul trouble has remained an issue. It could go without saying that with Azubuike and former McDonald’s All-American David McCormack anchoring the interior, Texas will need Sims to be near his very best. Much of the same could be said of point guard Matt Coleman III, and to a lesser extent, combo guard Courtney Ramey — as Smart has often said, Texas goes how those two go. It would certainly help if Jase Febres finds his shooting touch early and often, as well, and if the Longhorns can find a a few handfuls of points from the likes of Andrew Jones and Kamaka Hepa, who has suddenly emerged as a factor offensively, contributing 23 points on 9-of-14 from the field against Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
Of course, though, Kansas isn’t KSU or OSU. Kansas is one of the nation’s very best teams thus far, and Texas will need to be at or very near its very best to top the Jayhawks at the Frank Erwin Center for the second time in as many seasons.
Tip-off between Texas and No. 6 Kansas is set for 1 p.m. CT on ESPN.