The three-ring circus that has become Big 12 men’s basketball this season continues with another big-top attraction on the hardwood this weekend when two conference heavyweights currently headed in opposite directions collide in Manhattan, Kan.
Defending confere nce co-champion Kansas State (15-7, 5-4) hosts the red-hot Texas Longhorns on Saturday. This will be the second meeting between these two teams this season. Texas won the first game, played Jan. 21 in Austin, by the close score of 67-64. Prior to the loss at Texas last month, the K-State record stood at 14-4 overall and 4-1 in the conference. Since then, the Wildcats have lost three of four, all on the road, and have fallen from second in the league standings into a tie for fifth with Iowa State, which itself was once 14-0 on the season.
That’s the way things have been going all season long in the Big 12 this year. Everybody has been beating each other, or so it has seemed, as the conference race now swings into exciting home stretch of the season. Evenly highly talented and deep Kansas has shown some vulnerability in the past week. The Jayhawks were dominated by Texas last Saturday, and the Longhorns (18-4, 7-2) stretched their winning streak to seven games by downing TCU on Tuesday.
A pair of winning streaks will be on the line Saturday at Kansas State. The Wildcats have won 11-stright games at home and are undefeated at 4-0 at Bramlage Coliseum in Big 12 games this season. On the line for the Longhorns is their Big 12-best seven-game win streak. Texas has not lost in the Big 12 since suffering back-to-back defeats to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in its first two conference games. The Longhorns have already surpassed their overall number of wins from last season (16).
Kansas State leads the overall series with Texas 16-11 and is 8-3 in games played in Manhattan, including a decisive 83-57 victory last season.
Texas, ranked 15th in this week’s Associated Press media poll, has unleashed a fierce defensive effort in its seven-game winning streak. The Longhorns held Kansas, which had been averaging over 50 percent from the field for the season, below 40 percent shooting last Saturday. Texas leads the Big 12 in several defensive categories, including field-goal shooting percentage defense, rebounding, rebounding margin, offensive rebounds and blocked shots. The Longhorns have outrebounded their opponents in 17 of their 22 games, and earlier this week at TCU, they had a 31-rebound margin over the Horned Frogs.
Kansas State is the second-best shooting team in the Big 12, right behind Kansas, averaging 45 percent as a team. The Wildcats’ home-court advantage has proved to be large when ranked teams come calling. KSU has won seven of its last 10 games at home against ranked teams, including two this season over Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
Texas has one of the most balanced teams in the conference, with five players averaging eight or more points a game. The Horns are led on the offense end by junior Jonathan Holmes and sophomore Javon Felix, both averaging 14 points a game. When Kansas State gets the ball close to the rim, the Cats will have to contend with 6-9, 285-pound Cameron Ridley, who leads the league in blocked shots and is a giant load near the basket.
Three Keys To Watch For In This Game
- Where Texas hurts opposing teams the most is on drives to the basket and second-chance shots because they are such a strong rebounding team. K-State must keep the Longhorns off the offensive glass and hold them to first-chance opportunities only.
- Free throws become increasingly important when the games tend to get more closely contested this time in the season. Neither of these teams shoot free throws particularly well (both are under 70 percent as a team in conference play). This could become an important factor in the game is close at the end.
- Bramlage Coliseum, or the “Octagon of Doom,” as Wildcat fans like to call it, is not an easy place to play for visiting teams. Kansas Stay tends to play much better at home than on the road. The Longhorns will be fortunate to steal a win in Manhattan.
My pick: Kansas State 78, Texas 71 - I believe Texas is the better team based on overall talent, but the Wildcats rise to an entirely different level at home. They have to avoid at all costs, though, looking ahead to “Big Monday” and Kansas coming in.
Other Big 12 Picks This Weekend
TCU 68 @ Iowa State 85 - The Cyclones get somewhat of a break this weekend after playing so many game in succession against ranked conference teams.
Baylor 79 at Oklashoma 86 - The Sooners have found wins hard to come by their past two games. They should be better rested for this one at home, however, after an exhasting trip battling the weather that got them to their Wednesday game at West Virginia 90 minutes before the tip off.
West Virginia 72 @ Kansas 84 - The Mountaineers’ three-game winning streak comes to a crashing halt.
Oklahoma State 77 @ Texas Tech 65 - This could be one of the upset-alert games this weekend in the Big 12, but I just think Oklahoma State is too good a team (the Cowboys were the preseason co-favorites with Kansas to win the league this year, after all) to lose three games in a row.
Last week’s recults: 4-5
For the season: 29-15 (.659)