KANSAS JAYHAWKS (22-6)
TEXAS LONGHORNS (10-18)
Frank Erwin Center – Austin, TX
Tip-off: Saturday, 6:00 pm ET
#3 Kansas tries for their sixth straight win when they visit Austin against the reeling Longhorns, losers of four straight.
Kansas, having just wrapped up an NCAA-tying 13th straight regular season conference title, takes their #3 ranking into Texas looking to continue their dominance over the Longhorns. The Jayhawks have won the last nine out of 10 meetings in this series, including a 79-67 (UT +16.5) win in Lawrence on Jan. 21 of this season. The Jayhawks come off five straight wins -- six of their last seven (3-4 ATS) – and carry an 8-1 (4-5 ATS) road mark on the season. Kansas enjoyed huge top 10 wins over West Virginia (84-80, KU -5) and at Baylor (67-65, KU +2) before taking down TCU at home (87-68, KU -12.5) on Wednesday to seal another conference title. With Villanova’s loss to Butler this week, Kansas is likely to move to #2 in the nation if they can keep Texas in the losing column. Losing is what Coach Shaka Smart’s Longhorns have done best this season, as the former VCU coaching star is still trying to put the pieces together of a massive rebuild in Austin. The Longhorns are winless anywhere except the Frank Erwin Center (0-13) this season, with their last win coming at home against Iowa State (who beat Kansas) 67-65, UT +2.5, on Feb. 7. Texas has not only lost their last four contests, but is 0-4 ATS as well in those results, which includes a road loss to Oklahoma – the only Big 12 team sitting below them in the conference standings. Texas has only been a favorite in two conference games this season and is 4-3 (4-3 ATS) at home in Big 12 play. Longhorns leading scorer G Tevin Mack (14.8 PPG) was booted from the team by Coach Smart prior to Texas’ Jan. 14 game against West Virginia. There is no indication Mack will return to the team this season, and Texas is 3-9 (6-6 ATS) without the 6’7” sophomore in the lineup. As mentioned earlier, Texas has only beaten Kansas once in their past 10 tries (81-69, UT +4) which happened in Feb. 2014. Texas is 6-4 ATS in those 10 games, however. In total trends, the Under is 7-1 in Texas’ last eight games, while the Under is also 9-4 in Kansas’ last 13 contests.
Coach Bill Self’s Jayhawks are coasting, and should continue to do so as favorites against the struggling young Longhorns. Coach Self is now 3-0 against Coach Smart as a Big 12 rival, although Smart’s 2011 Final Four VCU team did take down Self’s #1 Kansas team in the elite eight of that season’s NCAA Tournament. Outside turmoil has rumbled around the Jayhawk basketball program this season, but on the court, Kansas is playing as well as ever, most recently clinching another conference title on the strength of solid shooting (47.5% FG, 43.5% 3PT) and smothering defense (39.1 % FG, 26.1% 3PT) in their 87-68 win over TCU on Wednesday. Kansas put four players in double-figures in their 79-67 win over Texas in January, while shooting a blistering 48% from beyond the arc in the win. They also forced Texas into 19 turnovers (versus just nine assists). The Jayhawks boast one of the best backcourts in the nation, so it should be no surprise that the three-point line is a key weapon for them in every game (40.8% 3PT, 6th in NCAA). G Frank Mason III (20.3 PPG, 5.0 APG, 51% 3PT) is amongst the favorites for the Wooden Award this season. The senior is looking to be the first player ever in Big 12 play to average 20 points per game to go along with five assists per game in a season. On Mason III’s wings are G Devonte Graham (13.1 PPG, 4.4 APG) and G Josh Jackson (16.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 3.0 APG). The junior, Graham, has six or more assists in three of his last five games and has played 34+ minutes for Coach Self in 12 straight. The 6’8” freshman Jackson, a surefire lottery pick in June’s upcoming NBA Draft, has really heated up in conference play. Jackson owns six double-doubles (all points-rebounds) in his last eight games (54.0 % FG), and is playing well on both ends of the court, (2.0 SPG in that stretch). Jackson will be needed to help crash the glass along with F Landen Lucas (7.6 PPG, 8.3 RPG) and F Carlton Bragg (5.8 PPG; 15 points, seven rebounds against TCU), as Kansas has struggled to defend talented frontcourt players all season long. Texas’ Jarrett Allen dismantled Kansas in the paint to the tune of 22 points and 19 rebounds in the first meeting between these two teams.
Texas faces an uphill battle against the Big 12’s best team, but conference play has shown nothing to be impossible. Oklahoma went into Morgantown and pulled out a victory earlier this season and Ohio State just took down Wisconsin on Thursday. All these teams are still playing hard, and Texas’ young core can gain a lot for next season by taking Kansas to the wire at home. The Longhorns played hard in the January loss in Lawrence, ultimately bowing out by 12. Kansas jumped on them early, creating turnovers and hitting threes, but ultimately Texas never truly waned, playing Kansas to a 38-34 second half on the road. In order to pull the upset Texas will have to establish their mismatch with F Jarrett Allen (13.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 58% FG) early on. As mentioned earlier, Allen tore apart Kansas’ weak interior defense for 22 points, 19 rebounds (9-for-14 FG). Allen did commit six of Texas’ 19 turnovers, but you have to think Coach Smart will live with his big freshman being aggressive. The issue is that Texas’ perimeter players were mostly silent. Sophomore guards Eric Davis Jr. (8.0 PPG) and Kerwin Roach Jr. (10.0 PPG, 3.8 APG) combined to shoot 4-for-19 from the field for 12 points. The emergence of freshman G Andrew Jones (11.3 PPG, 3.4 APG) should help Texas the second time around. Jones had 15 points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench against Kansas, and has since ascended into a starting role and 30+ minutes per game for Coach Smart. Jones has double-figures in 11 of his last 12 games (9 points in the non-double figure outing) and is averaging 13.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and 4.5 APG since Mack’s suspension (12 games). While the message on offense against the Jayhawks will be to get the ball to Allen and 6’8”, 275-pound senior Shaquille Cleare (8.1 PPG), on defense Texas must defend better beyond the arc. At 253rd nationally defending the three (35.6%), the Longhorns are behind the eight ball against a team with the wealth of perimeter talent such as Kansas. Two of Texas’ last four opponents have shot better than 52% from three.