The college basketball doubleheader on ESPN for Tuesday concludes with a Big 12 battle between two nationally-ranked teams.
Kansas won their fifth in a row with their 67-61 win against Texas Tech as a 3-point favorite on Saturday. David McCormack scored 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. The 6’10 junior is scoring 13.0 points-per-game while adding 6.1 rebounds-per-game. Chai Agbaji poured in 14 points and grabbed another 13 rebounds. The junior leads the team with a 13.7 points-per-game scoring average. Jalen Wilson contributed 11 points. The freshman is scoring 12.7 points-per-game and leads the team with an 8.0 rebounds-per-game mark.
The Jayhawks’ improved play stems from a change in defensive tactics by Bill Self. After losing five of seven games, Self instructing his players to be more aggressive in their ball screen coverage. Kansas has held their last five opponents to just 0.81 points-per-possession, which would be the stingiest in the nation if extended to the entire season.
Kansas can struggle to score baskets. Their 48.9% shooting percentage inside the arc this season is 201st in the nation. The kenpom adjusted offensive efficiency numbers still rank the Jayhawks 54th in the nation. They pull down 31.7% of their misses, 66th in the country. They rank 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency, with their interior defense leading the way. Kansas leads the Big 12 by holding their opponents to just 44.5% shooting inside the arc.
The Jayhawks have climbed to 17th in the nation in the Associated Press poll with a 17-7 record. Their 11-5 conference record puts them in third place in the rugged Big 12. Kansas has quality victories against Creighton, West Virginia, Texas Tech (twice), Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. Their five conference losses are against Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and these Longhorns. The Jayhawks have also lost to Gonzaga and Tennessee in non-conference action.
Texas lost their fourth game in their last six contests on Saturday in an 84-82 upset loss at home to West Virginia as a 4.5-point favorite. The loss is troubling for Shaka Smart for several reasons. The Longhorns blew a 19-point second-half lead. Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones got into a verbal altercation on the sidelines in the final 20 minutes of that game, with the team getting outscored, 34-18, after the dustup. This loss was the fourth loss in their last six games at home in Austin.
Ramey did score a career-high 28 points in the loss on the strength of hitting seven of his eight shots from 3-point land. The junior is second on the team with a 14.1 points-per-game scoring average. Jones leads the team with a 15.6 points-per-game clip.
The Longhorns returned twelve players, including all five starters from last year. Smart added a likely one-and-done freshman in Greg Brown, who is contributing 10.6 points-per-game and 7.6 rebounds-per-game. Texas has six players scoring at least 8.1 points-per-game.
Texas ranks 12th in the AP poll with a 13-6 record. They have several impressive victories against Indiana and North Carolina en route to winning the Maui Invitational while adding wins against Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and these Jayhawks. Their six losses are against Villanova, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State, and the Mountaineers on Saturday. Their 7-5 record in the Big 12 puts them in fifth place.
The Longhorns had their games with Oklahoma and Iowa State last week canceled because of the winter storm in Texas. Smart’s team has also had several games lost this season due to the COVID, with both the players and the coaching staff missing time.
Smart’s job was in jeopardy last season. The team hit a low point in an 81-52 loss at Iowa State. Yet Smart rallied his team to win five of their last six games to finish with a 19-12 record in a season interrupted to COVID. Texas was on the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament. Smart's team has won 18 of their last 25 games since that drubbing to the Cyclones.
Texas ranks 19th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency at kenpom. On defense, the Longhorns are 33rd in adjusted defensive efficiency fueled by their half-court defense as they hold their opponents to a 45.9% effective field goal percentage, 21st nationally.
Kansas suffered the worst loss at home in Self’s tenure with the program in the first meeting between these two teams, which Texas won, 84-59, as a 4.5-point underdog. Smart described this rematch as a “watershed moment” given his team's recent struggles. BookMaker
lists Texas as a 2.5-point favorite with the total set at 137.5.