Kansas gets its biggest test of the season on Saturday when the 12th-ranked Texas Longhorns come calling to Allen Fieldhouse. This widely heralded game pits two of the Big 12’s winningest programs, not just this season but year in and year out.
The Jayhawks, ranked No, 2 in the nation in all of the major college polls this week, are 18-0 on the season, the sixth time in school history that the tradition-rich basketball team has gone unbeaten this far into the season. KU is one of only three NCAA Division I teams in the country to remain unbeaten this season through games on Wednesday this week.
The most recent season Kansas has gone this long without sustaining a loss was three years ago, in 2007-08, when the Jayhawks went 20-0 before losing at Kansas State in their 21st game on the way to a 37-3 season and a National Championship overtime win over Memphis.
In 1996-97, the first year of the Big 12 Conference, the Jayhawks, under then-coach Roy Williams started off the year 22-0 before losing at Missouri in double overtime. From there, KU lost only one more game the rest of the season, in the NCAA Tournament, in compiling an overall 37-3 record.
Head coach Bill Self feels good about the way his team is playing, but is still cautiously optimistic, knowing how difficult it is to win in the Big 12, especially with everyone gunning for you as the six-time defending conference champion. “Where we are right now is we are a team that can be really good,” said Self, who is in his eighth season at Kansas, where he has compiled an extraordinary 220-43 record.
Texas brings a pretty impressive season resume of its own into the showdown with Kansas on Saturday. The Longhorns are 15-3 overall and unbeaten in their first three conference games, the most recent of which was a 21-point smackdown of 10th-ranked, in-state archrival Texas A&M.
Texas is 3-2 this season against teams ranked in the top 25. Coach Rick Barnes’ team has victories over Illinois, Michigan State and Texas A&M, but fell short against Pittsburgh earlier this year in the 2K Sports Classic championship game at Madison Square Garden in New York and recently dropped a close decision at home against Connecticut. Despite currently sitting in the No. 2 position among the country’s elite teams, Kansas has only played one ranked team (Memphis) so far this season.
These two teams have had some close, highly competitive games as Big 12 foes. Kansas has won the last two times they have played, an 80-68 victory last season in Austin and a 10-point, 83-73 win the year before in Lawrence. Kansas owns a 14-5 advantage over the Longhorns since the Big 12 was formed. It should be noted, though, that Texas has never beaten the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in nine previous tries.
The Longhorns should not feel alone in their difficulty winning on Kansas’ home floor. Sixty-nine teams have gone down to defeat on the famed Allen Fieldhouse hardwood since the Jayhawks last lost a game there. Texas A&M was the last team to beat Kansas in Lawrence, during the 2007 season, when Acie Law sunk a last-second three-point bucket to upset Kansas in its own building.
Something is going to give on Saturday when Texas and Kansas go at each other for the 10th time on the Jayhawks home court. Both teams feature high-scoring offenses and a defensive mind-set, recognizing that good things happen on offense when you play good defense. The Jayhawks and Longhorns are holding their opponents to under 39 percent field-goal shooting and rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in scoring defense, limiting the opposition to 61 points a game. This is almost 20 points below both teams’ average scoring production. Both teams also rebound well, ranked first (Texas) and third (Kansas) in the conference through all games.
The Longhorns are led by sophomore guard Jordan Hamilton, who is averaging 19.2 points a game, including 46 percent accuracy (and 50 field goals) from behind the three-point arc. Leading Kansas are the brothers Morris (Marcus and Markieff). Marcus leads the team in scoring at 17.2 a game, but in his last four games, the 6-9 junior forward is averaging 24 points a game. His twin brother Markieff is contributing 13.2 points a game and leads the Big 12 in rebounding, pulling down nearly nine a game.
One other interesting side note about the Kansas-Texas showdown on Saturday is that CBS, the network that is televising the game, has broadcast the last four games in which Kansas has gone down to defeat, dating back to the 2008-09 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight loss to Michigan State.
In other noteworthy games around the Big 12 in the coming week, Kansas State (13-6 overall and the conference coaches’ preseason favorite to dethrone Kansas) doesn’t get much of a breather in trying to turnaround its season after seeing its record fall to 1-3 in the conference following a Big Monday loss at Missouri (16-3, 2-2). Now the Cats have to go to Texas A&M (16-2, 3-1), which is a little angry itself after the Aggies suffered their second loss of the season Wednesday at Texas.
After the Missouri loss, senior guard Jacob Pullen was one Wildcat player would hadn’t lost faith, reminding everyone who would listen that there were still 12 games left in the season, and that the team was improving and close to turning a corner.
Coach Frank Martin didn’t seem that convinced. “Who said it wasn’t supposed to be this way for us? You? You didn’t ask me,” he said when asked by the media if his formerly No. 3-ranked team was the most disappointing in the country. “If you would have asked me, I would have told you we’re young and we’re going to go through some bumps in the road here.”
And there is some rough road straight ahead for Martin’s team. Aside from all the rhetoric, the next three games on the Wildcats’ schedule will define what character is left in the K-State team and, most likely, its season. After Texas A&M, the Wildcats go home to host Baylor (12-5, 2-2) and then make the short but difficult trip to Lawrence to take on sunflower-state rival Kansas.
Across the state line, Missouri faces a difficult task of its own on Saturday as the Iowa State Cyclones (14-5, 1-3), another of the surprise teams in the Big 12 this year, bring their mojo to Columbia hoping to steal a big road upset.
5 things to watch for in the Kansas-Texas game
- Statistically, Kansas and Texas are fairly evenly matched. The Longhorns, however, have played a much more difficult schedule to this point. If the Jayhawks play like they did on Monday at Baylor, they’ll put this one away early. If they play like they did vs. Nebraska last Saturday, however, Bill Self’s squad won’t be as fortunate as it was against the Huskers.
- Guard play – avoiding turnovers and hitting 3’s – will be a major determinant in the outcome of this game. Both teams have the firepower and backcourt talent to get the job done, but will they?
- The winning team will win the battle of the offensive glass and capitalize on second-chance points.
- If you don’t think playing at home is a huge advantage for Kansas, think again. First of all, the Jayhawks have a 69-game winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse, the longest such active home-court streak in big-time college basketball. In the 56 years Kansas has been playing there, the Hawks have only lost 106 games, while winning 660 times. If that’s not enough to get your attention, consider that KU has only lost 12 games at home in the last 17 years. Plus, the noise factor is almost unbelievable. The “Phog,” to which the historic venue is sometimes referred after its legendary coach Phog Allen, seats nearly 17,000 rabid fans, almost one-and-a-half times larger than most NCAA Division I arenas.
- Five of the last six games between these two teams have been decided by 10 points or less. Don’t expect this game to be any different.
Here are the Kansas City Sports Examiner’s Big 12 picks for this week among the local area teams:
Saturday, Jan. 22
Texas @ KANSAS (KU by 6)
Kansas State @ TEXAS A&M (Aggies by 5)
Iowa State @ MISSOURI (MU by 4)
Monday, Jan. 24
Baylor @ KANSAS STATE (KSU by 8)
Tuesday, Jan, 25
KANSAS @ Colorado (KU by 5)
For more information:
Big 12 Conference official website
Additional Kansas City sports coverage & commentary
AP/USA Today college basketball polls
glowbass.com college basketball rankings