Big 12 Weekend Hoops Preview: Can The Horns Corral Kansas In Austin?

The calendar turns to February on Saturday, and there are three huge games on the Big 12 men’s basketball schedule.

Jan 25, 2014; Waco, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns forward Jonathan Holmes (10) grabs a rebound in front of Baylor Bears forward Rico Gathers (2) during the first half at The Ferrell Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Anymore, it seems as if every Big 12 basketball game is big in terms of its potential impact on the conference standings. On Saturday, all eyes will be on Austin, Texas, where the two hottest teams in the conference meet head on. Kansas (16-4, 7-0) will be Texas’  fourth straight ranked oppoenent, and for the Jayhawks, UT represents the ninth ranked opponent this season. and the sixth they have faced in Big 12 competition in their seven league games to this point.

The Longhorns (16-4, 5-2), who come into the game with the identical overall mark as the visitors from Kansas but are a full two games back of the Jayhawks in the league standings, have held three of their last five opponents under 40-percent shooting. The Horns will have their hands full against the explosive Jayhawks, who are averaging better than 50 percent accuracy from the floor. Texas has won five straight Big 12 games, and the Jayhawks are undefeated at 7-0 in conference play.

As stifling as the Kansas defense has been in recent games, especially in the paint where Jayhawk seven-footer Joel Embiid likes to operate with his size and length, Texas has better defensive stats. The Longhorns also have been bulls on the backboards, leading the Big 12, averaging 41 boards a game. This is a statistical edge Texas will have to maintain if it wants to make the Jayhawks its sixth straight victim in league play. Kansas’ big frontline has paid off this season, with the Hawks outrebounding 17 of the 20 teams they’ve gone up against.

The last two games for Kansas, the country’s No. 1 recruit Andrew Wiggins has upped his game, firing in 27 and 29 points, respectively, in successive victories at TCU last Saturday and Iowa State on Wednesday. That raised Wiggins’ season scoring average to 16.5, eighth best in the conference. Texas’ top scorer is 6-8 forward Jonathan Holmes, averaging 12.9 a game, but the Longhorns have gotten big scoring boosts help recently from sophomore guard Javan Felix and freshman guard Isaiah Taylor.

Kansas leads the all-time series with the Longhorns 22-7. Jayhawk head coach Bill Self is 12-7 against Texas, and the Longhorns’ Rick Barnes is 6-16 lifetime in games against Kansas.

Turnovers is one aspect of the Kansas team this season that is highy uncharacteristic of a Bill Self-coached team. The  young Jayhawks are making some improvements in this area, but they are still the worst team in the league at protecting the basketball. They are going to have to do a better job against Texas, because the Longhorns’ quick-handed guards average almost seven steals per game, third best in the conference.

Three Keys To This Game

  • Kansas has outshot 18 of its 20 opponents this season and has shot 50 percent or better in six of its seven conference wins. Ku is 13-1 this season when it exceeds 50-percent shooting. If the Jayhawks are able to maintain that kind of production efficiency from the field vs. the Longhorns, they will win this game rather handily.
  • Home court won’t be that much of an advantage in this game. The Jayhawks play well on the road and they are 6-5 in games at Texas. The Longhorns have already lost one at home in the Big 12 this season, their conference opener against Oklahoma.
  • Texas was just two of 11 and three of 12 from beyond the three-point line in its last two games. The Longhorns can’t count on dominating in the paint against Kansas like they’ve been able to do with other opponents. If they don’t shoot better from three-point range, the Horns will have trouble getting to 80 points, which they will need to do to beat Kansas.

My pick: Kansas 86, Texas 75 - Texas is playing very good defense of late and good basketball in general, but their best isn’t going to be good enough against thus uber-talented group from Kansas.

Other Big 12 Picks In This Weekend’s Games

Oklahoma 72 @ Iowa State 83 - The two best scoring teams in the Big 12 and the two worst defensive teams. You kind of see where this game is going. The Cyclones are at home and need this game more than the 6-2 Sooners.

Baylor 75 @ Oklahoma State 79 – You know that Baylor’s uncanny five-game losing streak has to end sometime. Unfortunately, Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater isn’t the place to get things turned around if you’re the visitor.

Kansas State 70 @ West Virginia 58 - Kansas State pounded the Mountaineers by 22 earlier in Manhattan. The game in Morgantown will be much closer. West Virginia has been playing very good basketball. The mountain men won at Baylor on Tuesday, but they won’t get by K-State at home on Saturday.

TCU 68 @ Texas Tech 73 - If this game were being played in Ft. Worth, I would pick the Horned Frogs to get their first league win of the season. But it’s not going to happen at Texas Tech. Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders are starting to show some spark and spunk in league play.

Last week’s results: 7-2

For the season: 25-10 (.714)

Topics: Andrew Wiggins, Baylor Bears, Big 12 Basketball, Big 12 Basketball Picks, College Basketball, Iowa State Cyclones, Joel Embiid, Jonathan Holmes, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas Jayhwks, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Rick Barnes, Texas Longhorns

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