But the way forward Shaquille Cleare sees it, the fact that they’ll be expected to lose most of them isn’t a bad thing.
“They’re under more pressure than we are,” Cleare said of Kansas. “We can just go hoop.”
Just like VCU did.
KUAD: Kansas hosts Texas Pregame Notes
LJW Smithology: Get to know surging Longhorns
Watching the important league game will be two of the top high school basketball players in the country — Josh Jackson, a 6-foot-7 senior wing from Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif., who is the No. 1-ranked player in the recruiting Class of 2016 (by Rivals.com), as well as DeAndre Ayton, a 6-11 junior forward from Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix, who is the No. 4-rated player in the Class of 2017.
Ayton’s Hillcrest team will be playing Sunrise Christian Academy at 7 tonight at Lawrence’s Free State High, tickets for sale at the door.
As if all that was not enough ... KU football legend John Hadl will be recognized at halftime of the KU-Texas game — a game that, if KU wins, would mark the 200th victory (against just nine losses) in Allen during the Bill Self era.
That’s a lot of stuff going on — the game, as usual, taking top billing.
Shaka Smart has a bigger budget than he did five years ago. He coaches in a better conference, at a school with a higher profile, with players who received more scholarship offers.
But he’s still just as good at being an underdog.
As he prepares to face Kansas for the first time since the game that made him a star, Smart realizes the stakes aren’t as high as when his Virginia Commonwealth team stunned the Jayhawks at the Alamodome to advance to the 2011 Final Four. But more and more these days, Texas is starting to embrace the Rams’ mentality from that season.
…The day he was hired at UT, he recalled the details of VCU’s momentous victory over the Jayhawks and vowed the same kind of achievement would be possible in Austin.
“On that day, we had a competitiveness, a belief, and a connectivity that allowed us to beat them and reach the Final Four.” Smart said. “To me, as a coach, what you’re constantly trying to do is replicate that and that’s what we’re going to work toward here.”
They’ve worked toward it even after an injury to their best player — center Cameron Ridley — made them look doomed. With Ridley out indefinitely because of a broken foot, Smart had to change almost everything about what the Longhorns do at both ends of the floor. And somehow, they’ve won four of their last five games without him.
It won’t get easier, though. Saturday’s game at No. 3 Kansas is the first of nine remaining contests against teams listed in the top 30 of the Ratings Percentage Index. To make the NCAA tournament, the Longhorns probably will need to win a couple of those.
The defensive assignment for KU doesn’t get any easier Saturday, as Texas enters with one of the quickest players in the nation in 6-foot-3 junior Isaiah Taylor.
The UT guard, whom Self describes as a “jet,” has given KU problems in the past, averaging 20 points in two contests against the Jayhawks a year ago.
“We haven’t been pressuring as well as we can,” KU guard Frank Mason said of his team’s defense. “We’ve got to get back to that, start taking the point guard out, getting high on the floors, just creating havoc so we can get out in transition.”
Mason is correct in that the Jayhawks have eased up on the defensive end.
KU, which soared into the top 25 in defensive turnover percentage in non-conference play, has been the second-worst Big 12 team at creating giveaways since league play began.
“We’ve just got to be better as a whole, especially on defense,” KU guard Devonte’ Graham said. “We’ve got to communicate and have more fun out there. The guys have just got to be more aggressive, and not knocking down shots isn’t an excuse not to win again. But we’ve just got to do the little things to help the team win.”
• Ball security: Texas ranks 26th nationally in offensive turnover percentage while greatly improving this number recently. UT has turned it over on 12 percent of its conference possessions (first in league) and had only eight turnovers at West Virginia on Wednesday.
• Rim protection: Texas is 34th in block percentage and 39th in 2-point percentage defense. With Cameron Ridley out, Prince Ibeh has emerged as the Longhorns' defensive player to fear inside.
• Drawing fouls: The Longhorns are 64th in offensive free throw rate, and that number is helped most by athletic guards Isaiah Taylor and Kerwin Roach, who are top two on the team in their ability to create contact off the dribble.
…Vegas is waiting for the breakout.
KenPom has a projection of KU by nine in this game, so the line moving up to 12 shows just how much faith bettors are putting in the Jayhawks turning their recent poor play around.
The main concern I see for the Jayhawks is Texas' style. Not only have the Longhorns played the slowest pace in Big 12 play, but their lack of turnovers lately also should limit the Jayhawks' potential transition opportunities.
There are still reasons to like KU here. Allen Fieldhouse should bring about a friendlier whistle, and that could potentially hurt UT in two areas. For one, it can't afford to have Ibeh in foul trouble, as the rim protection drops off significantly without him. For two, guys like Taylor and Roach are awful field goal shooters, so if they're unable to get to the free throw line, almost all of their offensive value is zapped.
Kansas 77, Texas 62
TCJ Quick Scout
Earlier this week, ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla told our own Kirk Bohls that if Texas — which was 11-6 at the time — could win at least nine more games to get to 20, they’d end up making the NCAA Tournament.
That was before Wednesday night’s 56-49 win at No. 6 West Virginia in Morgantown. Today, the Longhorns visit historic Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Since 1994, the Jayhawks are 297-15 there, a .952 winning percentage. It’s the last chance for Texas’ seniors to experience what it’s like to win at the Phog, our own Brian Davis wrote in his advance. The Longhorns’ last won there in 2011.
“They’ve really got to protect their home court, and they’ve got to win a road game,” Fraschilla said of Texas. “They’re capable of shocking someone somewhere.”
…Saturday’s key guys? For Texas, watch Isaiah Taylor. He went 0 for 8 in Morgantown, which can’t happen again. But he did have three assists, and two steals, and was 4 of 4 at the line. And he didn’t have a single turnover. But he’s got the best game résumé against Kansas than any other Longhorn — last year, Taylor led all scorers with 23 points in the game in Austin, and led Texas with 17 points along with eight assists and six rebounds in Lawrence. And in 2014, his freshman season, Taylor had 23 points in Austin. He struggled in Lawrence, though (five points on 1-of-14 shooting, and five assists).
How other Longhorns have fared in past Texas-Kansas games: Demarcus Holland has been hot and cold — in 2015, he had six points, four rebounds and four turnovers in the home game, but then a season-high 15 points in Lawrence. In 2014, he matched a career high with 11 rebounds in Austin, but then had only two points and two rebounds in 21 minutes in Lawrence. Prince Ibeh had four rebounds in eight rebounds at home last year, and had four blocks in Lawrence; in 2014, he had four blocks at home, then matched a season high with eight rebounds in Lawrence. Javan Felix has a bad history vs. KU. In 2015, he had no points, one rebound and one assist in 17 minutes at home, and then no points, four assists and three rebounds in 16 minutes in Lawrence; in 2014, he scored nine points against Kansas at home, but was only 2 of 9 from the field in Lawrence.
Texas fan blog
“Certainly, Shaka is one of the more gifted guys we have in our profession,” Self said Thursday.
Few would disagree. And nobody could disagree that Smart’s career serves as the best illustration of the difficulty of winning a conference title in basketball.
Smart coached six seasons at VCU after taking over for Anthony Grant, who left to head Alabama’s program. VCU played in the Colonial Athletic Association in Smart’s first three seasons, the Atlantic 10 in his final three.
His finishes in the regular-season conference standings: tied for fifth, fourth, second, second, second, tied for fourth. That’s right, Smart’s next celebration of a regular-season title will be his first.
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“Pay Heed. The game you love began here. Respect those who came before you. Make their legacy your own. Because destiny favors the dedicated. And rings don’t replace work. In this game you don’t get what you want. You get what you earn. We are Kansas. Together we rise. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!”
Big 12/College News
“It’s nuts,” Georges Niang said. “Who’d have thought Kansas would go to Oklahoma State and get beat like that (86-67)?”
There’s still plenty of time for more wackiness, considering just 25 conference games are in the books, and 65 are left before everyone does this all over again at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
There’s still time for a correction — when teams finally start living up to their preseason headlines, but ...
It’s more interesting this way.
All of which makes Saturday’s Iowa State-TCU game intriguing.
This one has trap written all over it. Potential trap, at least.
Knock off top-ranked Oklahoma on Big Monday. Host Kansas on the next Big Monday.
Visit last-place TCU in the middle.
“After Saturday, we’ll figure out how to beat Kansas,” Niang said.
…Niang and his teammates know, too, that this league is anything but a Kansas stroll to that program’s 12th consecutive regular-season title. Shoot, the Jayhawks aren’t even in first place.
Iowa State is back in the title hunt ...
Along with about five others.
Des Moines Register
Jackson, who is originally from Detroit, is on his official KU campus visit. He’s also considering Michigan State, Arizona, Maryland, UCLA and UNLV.
ESPN’s scouting report on Jackson describes him as “the ultimate finisher.” Also ... “a tough and athletic forward that is a fearless competitor ... a tenacious rebounder who plays with a never ending motor. ... explosive ... utilizes his physical tools to protect the rim with his shot-blocking prowess and is a high steal guy anticipating passing lanes.”
Jackson’s mom, Apples Jones, played college ball at Allen County Community College in Iola.
...Bahamas native Ayton, meanwhile, who is on an unofficial visit, is considering KU, California, Duke, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, San Diego State, UCLA and others.
“He is playing hard every game, and he’s got his body in the best condition it has ever been in,” Rivals.com’s Eric Bossi told jayhawkslant.com. “There is a really good chance that he is going to make his way back to No. 1 when we update the rankings. He’s attacked the glass, worked from rim to rim in transition and has really made himself a beast around the basket. DeAndre can also step out and shoot — I mean, he can really shoot for a big guy,” Bossi added. “You talk about his size, his athleticism, his ability to protect the rim, his ability to finish at the rim and now he’s a 7-foot guy that can trail in transition, take a pass and hit a 22-footer. How on earth do you defend that?”
Fans will find out at 7 tonight at Free State High.
“We are very excited about the game on Saturday,” Ayton’s mentor, Larnelle Johnson told jayhawkslant.com. “I can tell you that the kids (on team who all will attend KU-UT game) are very excited. Being able to watch Kansas play is a big thing for the kids.”
Recruiting Calendar (updated for 2016)
Late Night in the Phog
Bill Self Camp KU Alumni games
60 Years of AFH Celebration
Legends of the Phog game
2011-12 Final Border War
KC Prep Invitational
and more, now on YouTube