18 games into the season, there’s little left to say about the 7-11 Texas Longhorns. As the record indicates, Shaka Smart’s second season on the Forty Acres has quickly transformed into a rebuilding year as a byproduct, a rotations top-heavy with freshmen and sophomores are learning first-hand just how difficult successfully navigating the Big 12 can be. For the future, this experience will prove invaluable, as Smart’s roster littered with baby-faced prospects is taking noticeable strides in the right direction each game.
But simple progress is rarely ever enough to beat the Kansas Jayhawks, much less inside of Allen Fieldhouse.
The fact that Bill Self Jayhawks are on pace for their 13th straight Big 12 title is no fluke: Kansas has been the model of consistency for the past decade and a half and the roster is rarely in shortage of elite talent, depth and experience. Self’s 2016-17 crop is no exception.
Unlike many Kansas teams of the past, the current Jayhawks are headlined by a slew of high-level and even elite guards, rather than a dominant big man or two. Led by senior Frank Mason III’s 20.3 points, 5.3 assists and 4.5 boards each time out, along with potential No. 1 pick Josh Jackson’s 15.1 points and 6.8 boards, the bulk of Kansas’ production has come from the backcourt.
With each of Kansas’ five leading scorers being guards, 79 percent of the Jayhawks points come from just Mason, Jackson, Devonte’ Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick. Mason, Jackson and Graham make up arguably the most lethal backcourt trio in the entire nation. Saying Texas’ guards Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr. and Andrew Jones will have their hands full in The Phog is a fairly significant understatement, though Jones has heightened his level of play against increased competition, scoring 32 total points against No. 10 West Virginia and No. 6 Baylor.
Meanwhile, in the frontcourt, Jarrett Allen has began looking like the lottery talent he entered the season as, averaging 18 points, 8.6 boards and 2.3 blocks during his last three games, while Shaquille Cleare put 26 points and 10 boards against West Virginia and Baylor. The battle down low will pit Texas’ improving bigs against Kansas’ Landen Lucas and NBA prospect Carlton Bragg Jr.
Individually, the Allen-Bragg matchup appears to be the only one the ‘Horns can find an edge with and it’s unlikely that proves to be anywhere near enough to upset the nation’s No. 2 team on the road.
As has become the norm, expect to see more improvement from a feisty Texas team that continues to scrap and compete, despite having lost 11 of the last 15 games, six of the last seven and each of the last four.
The Jayhawks have won 17 straight games following a season-opening overtime loss to then No. 11 Indiana.