Kansas and Texas match forces in a huge Big 12 showdown; which team will continue their hot start to the season?
TV schedule: Saturday, January 2, 12:00 pm ET. ESPN2
Arena: Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas
As has often been the case the last few seasons, Texas (7-1) opened with high expectations in the preseason, but this might be the year Shaka Smart’s team finally lives up to those expectations. The Longhorns won the Maui Invitational and have taken care of business in every game, aside from a close loss to a tough Villanova squad.
Four Longhorns average double figures to this point, with the play of top freshman Greg Brown (12.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) standing out on both ends of the court. Matt Coleman (13.9 ppg, 4.5 apg) had 22 points in Texas’s big win over North Carolina, while Courtney Ramey (13.1 ppg, 3.6 apg) has had great offensive moments, especially from beyond the arc.
Seemingly always a disappointment, the Longhorns sit at 8th in the AP Top 25, 9th in KenPom, and 4th in defensive efficiency. Their balanced offense and their firm defense make them a certain contender this season, though they’ll face plenty of tests as Big 12 play gets going. They took care of business against Oklahoma State a few weeks ago, but there are three other top 10 teams in this league.
One of those teams is Kansas (8-1), who have answered every test since a hard loss to Gonzaga more than a month ago. The Jayhawks have already knocked off four ranked squads, including top 10 wins over Creighton and West Virginia over the last month.
There’s a lot of talent on this Kansas roster. Ochai Agbaji (14.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg) had 23 points in the win at Texas Tech, while Christian Braun (11.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg) led the way last week against West Virginia. Forward Jalen Wilson (14.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg) has helped fill the hole left behind by Udoka Azubuike, while players like David McCormack and Marcus Garrett continue to contribute at a high level.
The Jayhawks sit 3rd in the AP Top 25, 7th in KenPom, and 7th in defensive efficiency. It’s easy to say that this Kansas team isn’t as great as last year’s dynamic squad, but their performance this past month says otherwise. Kansas is riding a hot streak into Big 12 play and will be a force in the league, as they’ve already shown in their first two conference wins.
The metrics look pretty similar for these two squads; they even play at a similar pace and depend on their defense. Though it won’t be the normally raucous Allen Fieldhouse, the Longhorns will need to find their footing early. There’s more talent on this Kansas roster, but the Longhorns defense can greatly affect the outcome of the game. For the Jayhawks, they’ll need Wilson and the other bigs to win their battles down low against Brown.
Texas has been great this season, but can they win a big game like this on the road? The hot start is helping Smart win his way off the hot seat, and a win at Allen Fieldhouse would help cement Texas as a national championship threat this season. However, Kansas has played inspired basketball in recent weeks and cannot be taken lightly. I find it difficult to see them losing at home, but Texas should give them quite the game.