No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks (13-3 overall, 3-1 Big 12) vs. Texas Longhorns (12-4 overall, 2-2 Big 12)
Time: 1 p.m. Saturday | Location: Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas
TV: ESPN | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
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1. Play with personality
With just a couple of minutes remaining in Tuesday night’s win at Oklahoma, Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji threw a lob that proved to be the icing on the cake of a tough road victory and followed it up by bouncing back on defense with a smile plastered on his face.
The expression looked a lot like those Agbaji came to be known for as a freshman, after ripping off his redshirt midway through the season and immediately injecting life into the Kansas lineup.
After every made 3-pointer, Agbaji celebrating with hand gestures and big smiles, often bringing the KU bench into the fun.
But as the season went on and Agbaji began to slump a little, the smiles disappeared a little. This season, with expectations ramped up and more responsibility on his shoulders, Agbaji has rarely celebrated with the top of eruptions that filled his freshman season. And his head coach would love to see some of that come back.
“I'll be honest with you,” KU coach Bill Self said Thursday afternoon before heading to Austin. “I think that our team lacks personality. It’s OK to show some emotion out there and smile and do these things, but we’re kind of stone faced, and I don’t really like that a lot.”
Self was in no way calling out Agbaji, merely pointing out that he is one of the few players on this KU team equipped to bring that kind of vibe to the floor on game nights. In fact, Self went down the list of regular contributors and pointed out how most of them rarely show much fire. Agbaji is one who can and does, and Self would like to see that return.
“Ochai plays better when he’s playing with more joy,” Self said. “Some guys can play with joy and not smile. Some guys need to smile with joy, and I think Ochai’s just one of those guys that needs to show some personality when he’s out there playing.”
2. Win at the free-throw line
With KU’s overall scoring and pace of play down a bit since the start of Big 12 Conference play, the Jayhawks constantly find themselves in search of more scoring wherever they can get it.
In this one, that might be at the free-throw line — if the Jayhawks can make their free throws.
Kansas is shooting just 65.7% from the free-throw line on the season (280th in the country) and 68% since the start of Big 12 play.
Some of that, of course, is owed to senior center Udoka Azubuike’s numbers. But even Azubuike has been better of late, hitting 6 of 7 from the line in his last three games and 11 of 17 (65%) since the start of Big 12 play.
During nonconference play, Kansas averaged 72 possessions per game. That number has dropped to 63.5 per game in Big 12 play, only magnifying KU’s need to find consistent scoring when they can get it.
Texas, meanwhile, enters this one shooting 64.3% from the line and ranks last in the nation in percentage of points from the free-throw line. Just 11.7% of Texas’ 67.1 points per game come from freebies.
Given Texas’ tempo rating (275th in the nation per KenPom.com), this one could be another low scoring affair and the Jayhawks, if they’re hitting, could help their chances tremendously at the free-throw line.
3. Contest outside shots
A year ago, Texas came into Allen Fieldhouse and hit 13 of 34 3-point attempts in a near upset of the Jayhawks.
A couple of weeks later, the Longhorns hit double-digit 3-pointers again in a 10-point home win.
Fast-forward to this season, when the Longhorns are shooting 34.1% from behind the arc and you’ll see that a red-hot night from 3-point range is certainly possible again for Shaka Smart’s team.
“We better be comfortable matching up that way,” Self said of defending teams that fire away from 3-point land. “Because that’s how everybody’s going to play for the most part.”
In Wednesday’s 76-64 win at Oklahoma State, the Longhorns hit 15 of 32 3-point tries, pushing their total to 36 makes in four conference games. UT also hit 10 in a win over Kansas State last weekend.
In all, 39.1% of the Texas offense’s points come from 3-point range, a number that ranks 26th nationally.
KU’s point guards vs. Texas PG Matt Coleman
Whether KU point guard Devon Dotson (hip pointer) plays or not, Kansas will have its hands full with Texas point guard Matt Coleman.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior from Norfolk, Va., currently leads the Longhorns in scoring (12.1 points per game), assists (70), steals (27) and 3-point shooting (44.8%). He’s also the engine that makes the entire Texas offense go.
Self this week called Coleman “an all-league player” and added that he might be “the most experienced guard in our league.”
KU junior Marcus Garrett, who filled in for Dotson at point during the Jayhawks’ win at OU earlier this week, certainly is in that conversation as well. And Garrett’s ability to help contain and control Coleman will no doubt play a huge role in the outcome of this game, whether Dotson plays or not.
Coleman is just 1-4 all-time against the Jayhawks (1-2 against his former Oak Hill Academy teammate David McCormack) and has averages of 9.8 points, 3.8 assists and 33.4 minutes per game against the Jayhawks.
He has shot 44.4% from the field against KU while knocking in 50% of his 3-point attempts.
“He’s very athletic,” Garrett said of Coleman. “He’s very effective with the ball in his hands, too. He’s a speedy guy, and he can get to the rim. The best thing he does is pass the ball, so I’ll be trying to take away passing lanes from him.”
Kansas leads the all-time series with Texas 33-9 but owns a record of just 10-7 at the Erwin Center.
The Jayhawks have won 11 of the last 12 meetings, 16 of the past 18 and 19 of the last 22, dating back to their win over Texas in the 2008 Big 12 Tournament championship game.
Kansas is 29-8 against Texas since the inception of the Big 12 Conference, 24-7 in regular season matchups and 5-1 in Big 12 Tournament games.
Self is 23-9 all-time against the Longhorns (23-7 while at KU) and Texas coach Shaka Smart is 2-8 all-time against Kansas, 1-8 during his time at UT.
Despite all of those past advantages and the fact that Texas, in junior Jericho Sims, has the player who Self says might be the best athlete in the entire conference, Self knows that the athletic Longhorns, who favor the four-around-one style and can shoot it and get out and run at multiple positions, are more than capable of competing with Kansas on any given night.
“They’ve got a good team,” Self said. “They’re like OU. They’re an NCAA Tournament team if things fall right. They’re also a team that probably needs to have some good things happen, too — just like everybody in our league. We need good things to happen. Baylor’s the only one right now that can really afford to take an unexpected hit. So we know they’ll come ready to play, and they’re more than capable. Last time we went down there, Shaka and their guys got us pretty good.”
KenPom pegs Kansas as an 8-point favorite, with a 76% chance of winning.
No. 6 Kansas
G – Marcus Garrett, 6-5, 195, Jr.
G – Isaiah Moss, 6-5, 208, Sr.
G – Ochai Agbaji, 6-5, 210, Soph.
F – David McCormack, 6-10, 265, Soph.
C – Udoka Azubuike, 7-0, 265, Sr.
G – Matt Coleman, 6-2, 185, Jr.
G – Jase Febres, 6-5, 195, Jr.
G – Courtney Ramey, 6-9, 195, Soph.
F – Kamaka Hepa, 6-9, 225, Soph.
F – Jericho Sims, 6-9, 240, Jr.