Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns picked up an impressive -- and unexpected -- win in Morgantown on Wednesday night. But basketball never stops, and this weekend the Horns head to Lawrence to face the 15-3 Kansas Jayhawks.
Kansas has run the Big 12 for years, but this season, Bill Self's team find itself in a tough, multi-team race for the conference regular season title.
Make no mistake, this greater degree of competition is not because the Jayhawks have weakened -- in fact, this iteration of Kansas basketball is every bit as good as the teams Self has run out over the last decade. The Jayhawks are hunting an NCAA title as well as another Big 12 championship.
A look at Kansas
In a Big 12 season that is being dominated by senior stars, the Jayhawks have one of their own. Perry Ellis is Kansas' best offensive player, and the man who is likely to challenge Texas' somewhat thin front line.
Ellis does all of the same things that he has always done, finding ways to score around the basket in Bill Self's low-post heavy attack. But over his career, he has also added enough of an outside shot that he must be marked defensively anywhere that he sets up.
Along with Ellis, there is a cast of players who are also rather familiar to Big 12 observers. Wayne Selden is finally living up to his potential as a junior -- perhaps he is finally fully healthy. Selden is a real menace; he has connected on 47 percent of his threes this season, and his athleticism going to the basket seems to be back.
In the back court with Selden is lead guard Frank Mason. Mason is dynamic with the ball, but where he really excels is shooting from the perimeter. He is an all-conference level player who is protecting the ball, defending, and hitting shots.
Self's third guard is 6-2 sophomore Devonte' Graham. Graham can run the show when Mason sits, but the two players have spent a lot of time on the floor together this year. Mostly, Graham has functioned as a spot-up shooter, and it is a role he has filled well. Like Selden and Mason, Graham has hit greater than 40 percent of his threes this season.
While these four guys have been locked in as starters virtually all season, and have led the team in minutes played, the fifth spot on the floor has been manned by a bunch of different guys. Highly-regarded freshman big man Cheick Diallo hasn't really earned Self's trust yet, but he did get his first start of the season in a road loss at Oklahoma State on Tuesday, playing 13 minutes.
But there is really no telling who Self will play next to Ellis inside. At various points Carlton Bragg, Landen Lucas, Jamari Traylor, and Hunter Mickelson have all gotten some run. None of these guys are high-impact offensive players (Bragg perhaps could be with more playing time), but Mickelson at least gives the Jayhawks a dominating rim protector.
The Jayhawks also run a few additional perimeter shooters off the bench. 6'7 junior Brannen Greene is a career 43 percent three-point shooter. The talented 6'8 sophomore Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk hasn't shot the ball that well in games yet, but for all practical purposes we should just assume that he eventually will start dropping shots from deep.
Can Texas win?
I mean, yes, it is a theoretical possibility. But keep in mind that the Jayhawks seldom lose at home.
Kansas last lost in Allen Fieldhouse on January 5, 2014. Prior to that, the Jayhawks lost at home in February of 2013. The time before that was in January of 2011, when Texas was the victor. And then there were individual home losses in 2007, 2006, and 2005.
To beat Kansas in Phog Allen, the stars will have to align. The Longhorns will have to hit shots and not get rattled by the crowd.
Sometimes the stars align, and things just break your way. And maybe they will again on Saturday.