Equally skilled at scoring and rebounding, Seton Hall senior forward Angel Delgado presented one of the toughest matchups for Kansas big men all season.
Heading into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks could face more players like him.
Clemson, KU’s opponent in the Sweet 16 on Friday (6:07 p.m., CBS), is led by 6-foot-9, 237-pound junior Elijah Thomas but he’s not as prolific as an offensive rebounder as 6-foot-10, 245-pound Delgado. Thomas does average 10.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, ranking fourth in the ACC with 2.24 blocks per game.
If the Jayhawks advance to the Elite Eight, they could face prolific scorers and rebounders like Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. or Syracuse’s Oshae Brissett. Bagley is fifth in the nation with 21 double-doubles this season, only one behind Delgado. Carter, a more traditional center than Bagley, has recorded 15.
The 6-foot-11 Bagley and 6-foot-10 Carter combined for 26 rebounds (seven offensive) against Texas center Mo Bamba in November.
With the benefit of already facing Delgado, their second-round win gives the Jayhawks a blueprint of how they will need to attack some of the top forwards remaining in their region. Of course, it’s unlikely any of those forwards will have as much success as Delgado. He became the fifth player in the last 40 years to record 20-plus points and rebounds in an NCAA Tournament game.
What saved Kansas, in the eyes of coach Bill Self, was Udoka Azubuike’s performance to fight strength with strength.
“If Udoka wasn’t able to come back from his injury, we don't win,” Self said afterward.
Delgado had 12 points (5-for-9 shooting), 11 rebounds and one turnover when matched up against Lightfoot. Seven of his 11 rebounders were on the offensive end, tormenting the Jayhawks with second-chance points.
In four minutes against De Sousa, Delgado had four points, three rebounds and a blocked shot. Self said the game was a “little bit too big” for De Sousa. At this point of the season, the Jayhawks can’t afford wasted offensive possessions when players are out of position.
“We obviously couldn’t guard (Delgado),” Self said. “Angel had 12 and 12 at halftime. This isn’t a knock to Mitch, but Mitch physically is going to have a hard time with that.”
Azubuike limited Delgado to eight points and nine rebounds — only one offensive board. The Dominican Republic native shot 4 of 6 against Azubuike but opted to attempt more jumpers and short hook shots.
“Second half, I thought Dok actually defended him pretty good,” Self said. “Of the 24 he got, he probably got six or eight on Dok and the rest were on our other guys. We thought that our best chance was to put a big, heavy body on him.”
Afterward, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said he wished the Pirates would’ve fed the ball more to Delgado when he was guarded by Azubuike. They went away from him, looking for other scoring options, because Azubuike’s size took so much energy out of Delgado.
In December, Syracuse’s Brissett had 13 points and nine rebounds against KU, but only one rebound was on the offensive end.
“You just gotta give him credit,” Delgado said of Azubuike. “He's an unbelievable player. He did a great job with his bad knee. You just gotta give credit to great players.”
Wichita — Hoping to receive 20 minutes from Udoka Azubuike on Saturday, Kansas coach Bill Self said he thought Azubuike was the team's most valuable player with the way he provided offense in the post and defended Seton Hall center Angel Delgado in a 83-79 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
"We won the game because of Dok," Self said. "That kid would've had 35 and 34 if Dok didn't play. I'm really, really thankful and proud of him for his attitude and coming back so quick."
Advancing to the Sweet 16, Self said he doesn't want to get caught up in how the team played as long as the Jayhawks continue to win.
"We have to win two more games to get where we want to go but so proud of our kids and certainly nobody can say they haven't had a great season," Self said. "Now we have to go make great (turn into) special."
Wichita — In the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004, Seton Hall’s basketball players were going to be confident against any team they were matched up against.
With experience against No. 1 seeds Villanova and Xavier during Big East play, they know what it’s like to play the top teams in the country. The Pirates had an 0-4 record against the top two teams in the Big East, taking Villanova to overtime on Feb. 28 at home. They lost both road games against eventual top-seeded opponents by double digits.
Preparing to take the floor versus top-seeded Kansas at 6:10 p.m. Saturday (TV: TBS) at Intrust Bank Arena, the Pirates expect they’ll be loose when the opening jump ball is tossed in the air.
“There’s no pressure,” Seton Hall sophomore guard Myles Powell said. “We’ve been doing this all year. We’ve been tested all year. It’s nothing new. They tie their shoes just like we tie our shoes. We’re not looking at them like they are something special and we’re not. We’re just going to come out and play our game.”
Seton Hall’s players agreed that Kansas plays a different style than what they saw against Villanova and Xavier, but they value the experience of playing a top team.
Instead, several players said the Jayhawks reminded them of Texas Tech. Seton Hall beat the Red Raiders, 89-79, at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 30.
“It doesn’t put no fear in our heart or anything because we’ve been here before and we know we can play with anybody in the country when we’re playing our game,” Powell said.
Sophomore guard Eron Gordon added: “I think that it’s given us the experience to be prepared and make sure we stay composed.”
After a first round victory over North Carolina State, the Pirates turned their attention to Kansas with two film sessions and a walkthrough before their early afternoon media sessions. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said players probably weren’t happy with him with an early wake-up call.
“When you're playing as good a basketball team as you are in Kansas, you need to do all the little extra things to try to give yourself a chance to win,” Willard said. “You just can't treat it like you're playing any other team. They're just too good.”
Confident in their preparation to play Kansas, the Pirates hope their experience in road games against Xavier and Villanova, along with other big crowds at Creighton and Louisville, will only benefit them in front of a pro-KU crowd in Wichita.
Sitting inside of a cramped visitor’s locker room at Intrust Bank Arena — home of the Wichita Thunder minor league hockey team — the Pirates said they are entering their second-round game like many of their other games.
“Regular road game,” Powell said. “We expected something like this. Yesterday they had us in the nice locker room, now look where we’re in. It’s just little stuff like that just helps fuel the fire. I feel like we’ve played better at road games than home. We’re definitely going to be ready.”
Led by a talented senior class, Seton Hall finished third in the Big East and earned its first NCAA Tournament victory in 14 years.
The reward of Thursday’s 11-point victory over North Carolina State is a second-round matchup against top-seeded Kansas (6:10 p.m., TBS) on Saturday at Intrust Bank Arena. The Pirates have won five of their last seven games following a four-game losing streak at the beginning of February.
Kansas players compared Seton Hall’s style of play to West Virginia. Delgado provided a strong post presence and he’s surrounded by physical guards.
“The way they go about doing their business is different,” Self said of the comparison between Seton Hall and WVU. “But I think from a physical standpoint they certainly kind of look that role.”
Playing Texas Tech, its only Big 12 opponent this season in non-conference play, the Pirates (22-11) earned a 10-point victory at Madison Square Garden in November.
Fun fact: With a victory against Seton Hall, Bill Self will pass Roy Williams for the most wins among KU coaches in the NCAA Tournament. Self owns a 34-13 record in the tournament while Williams went 34-14.
Series history: The series is tied, 1-1. Seton Hall won the first meeting in 1988 in the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout. Kansas followed with a win in 2001 in the fifth-place game of the Maui Invitational.
BREAKING DOWN SETON HALL
No. 20 — F Desi Rodriguez | 6-6, 220, sr.
A second-team all-Big East selection, Rodriguez is averaging 17.9 points on 50.5 percent shooting from the field. He’s a 37.7 percent shooter from the 3-point arc, adding 4.9 rebounds per game. According to hoop-math.com, Rodriguez makes 67 percent of his shots that he takes at the rim.
Rodriguez missed three games at the end of the regular season with an ankle/foot, suffering a bone bruise. He’s scored at least 20 points in 12 games this season. Rodriguez ranks 14th in school history in scoring.
In the NCAA Tournament: Scored 20 points on 8 of 14 shooting with three rebounds and two steals in 29 minutes.
- “I'm a fan of Kansas,” Rodriguez said. “But now I'm not no more, just for this game. But I watch their games a lot. Their games come on TV a lot. Just going through a variety of games, that's the best game on TV. They always give you a good game. Other than the other scouting report my coach is going to give me, I got a great scouting report myself.”
No. 31 — C Angel Delgado | 6-10, 245, sr.
A double-double machine and second-team all-Big East choice, Delgado has 21 double-doubles this season. The Big East’s all-time leader in rebounds, Delgado is averaging 13.3 points and 11.5 boards, shooting 50 percent from the field.
Delgado, from the Dominican Republic, takes 55.5 percent of his shots at the rim, according to hoop-math.com. He ranks second on the team with 22 blocks.
In the NCAA Tournament: Recorded 13 points (4 of 7 shooting), nine rebounds and four assists before fouling out in 25 minutes.
No. 13 — G Myles Powell | 6-2, 195, so.
Capable of heating up at any time, Powell is averaging 15.5 points on 37.8 percent shooting from the 3-point arc. But he’s been in a funk, making 9 of his last 45 attempts from deep. Beyond his shooting, Powell is second on the team in assists (2.8 per game) and steals (1.0 per game).
In the NCAA Tournament: Making 10 of his 12 attempts at the free-throw line, he scored 19 points (1 of 7 shooting from 3) with nine rebounds.
No. 0 — G Khadeen Carrington | 6-4, 195, sr.
Seton Hall’s top free throw shooter (83.6 percent), Carrington has scored 15.2 points per game while shooting 35.3 percent from the 3-point line. The dean’s list student leads the Pirates with 36 steals and dishes 4.5 assists per game. He’s scored more than 20 points in five of the team’s last six games.
In the NCAA Tournament: Scored a team-high 26 points vs. N.C. State, making 6 of his 14 shots (3 of 5 from deep) while earning 13 trips to the free-throw line in 32 minutes.
No. 14 — F Ismael Sanogo | 6-8, 215, sr.
Playing off of the bench, Sanogo has produced 5.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Focusing on defense, he leads the team with 29 blocks and ranks second with 33 steals. When he does look to score, he’s shooting 54.9 percent from the field (45.8 percent on 24 attempts from 3).
In the NCAA Tournament: Finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes, snagging two steals while shooting 4 of 6 from the floor.
ONE THING SETON HALL DOES WELL
It’s no surprise with such a talented rebounder like Delgado, but Seton Hall entered the NCAA Tournament ranking 29th in the nation in offensive rebounding rate. The Pirates snagged 34.1 percent of their misses, tops in the Big East.
ONE AREA SETON HALL STRUGGLES
The Pirates have trouble forcing turnovers, ranking 196th in the nation in turnover percentage defense. That allows opposing teams to settle into their offenses. In their eight losses against Big East opponents, the Pirates failed to force more than seven turnovers in three of them.
MEET THE COACH
Kevin Willard is in his eighth season at Seton Hall, guiding the team to its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. He’s led the Pirates to four 20-win seasons. Prior to his time at Seton Hall, he was the head coach for three seasons at Iona.
Described as a player’s coach, Willard spent time as an assistant at Louisville and with the Boston Celtics. Willard’s father, Ralph, was a former head coach at Holy Cross, Pittsburgh and Western Kentucky.
Kansas by 4. I don’t think it’s a particularly great defensive matchup for Kansas, especially if Udoka Azubuike is still limited from his knee injury. But the Pirates have struggled against high-scoring offenses this season and aren’t among the top teams in defending the 3-point line.
My prediction: Kansas 81, Seton Hall 72. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 16-13.
Wichita — Playing tough road games is nothing new for Seton Hall. That’s life in the Big East, which included games at Butler, Creighton, Villanova, Xavier and Providence.
After traveling to play those NCAA Tournament teams, the Pirates plan to have the same road game, us-against-the-world approach when they play Kansas in the second round at 6:10 p.m. Saturday (TV: TBS) at Intrust Bank Arena.
“We’re in Kansas aren’t we? It’s a road game,” senior forward Ismael Sanogo said. “The NCAA did a good job of making it easier for them but we’re a tough team and we can handle it.”
The Pirates (22-11) advanced with a 94-83 victory over North Carolina State in the first round of the tournament Thursday. In true road games this season, they’ve posted a 5-6 record with victories over Louisville, Butler and Providence.
Kansas has certainly felt the home-state advantage in Wichita, drawing more than 13,000 people to an open practice on Wednesday. Intrust Bank Arena announced 14,390 people attended KU’s 76-60 win over Penn in the first round, a majority cheering for the Jayhawks.
“The fans really did a good job of getting them back in it,” Penn guard Darnell Foreman said. “You know what I mean? Their support was never wavering.”
KU coach Bill Self believes there’s some added pressure playing close to home, referencing last season’s Elite Eight loss to Oregon at Sprint Center in Kansas City — "I think the guys felt like that every fan was holding their breath every possession" he said.
The Jayhawks have a 5-0 all-time record in Wichita, winning their first NCAA Tournament game in the city since 1981 on Thursday.
“It's definitely more positive than not positive, without question,” Self said. “But I don't think it plays a huge role in certain segments of a game. But when you get rolling or you get on a little roll, it definitely gives you momentum, the fans do.”
In the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, they picked up their first tournament win in 14 years. Minutes after playing N.C. State, most of the Seton Hall players said they were unfamiliar with Kansas and knew they would be logging several hours of watching film when they weren’t practicing.
But they are confident that they can avoid allowing the crowd to affect them in any negative way.
“It’s like you are going to another away game,” Seton Hall senior center Angel Delgado said. “We’ve been doing this for the whole year. It’s kind of easy for us to have the (road) mindset.”
Wichita — Throughout the last few seasons, Penn’s basketball players have noticed a trend inside of the Ivy League: the league is becoming tougher and tougher.
No, this isn’t a case of smart kids just playing basketball in their free time.
Recruiting is at a higher level than ever in the Ivy League. Penn players insist the grind of league play is as tough as anything they saw in non-conference games.
“One of the big misconceptions, I think, people have with our league is that we’re all just brainiacs and we’re all just looking forward to getting back to library and studying after the game,” said Penn sophomore AJ Brodeur, a first-team all-Ivy selection while averaging 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Of course, studying and the library are still a part of the equation of being an Ivy League student athlete. Brodeur admitted he had to complete a Corporate Finance assignment Wednesday night.
When the Quakers (24-8) tip off against top-seeded Kansas (27-7) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at 1 p.m. Thursday (TV: TBS) at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, they are ready to prove that they aren’t your typical No. 16 seed.
Penn earned an automatic bid into the tournament when it won the Ivy League’s conference tournament — a four-team tournament that has only existed for two seasons.
In the Ivy League, schools typically only play on Fridays and Saturdays in an attempt to make it easier on their academic studies. But when the ball is tipped in the air, there’s no question that those teams can compete with just about anybody.
“People understand how hard it is to be a Division I athlete, regardless of where you are,” Penn freshman Jelani Williams said. “I think doing that in the Ivy League makes it even harder. I do think the athletic part of it is a little bit underestimated.”
Sophomore Ray Jerome added: “I think there’s a lot of guys who do have a chance to go play professionally after the Ivy League. I don’t think a lot of people outside of it realize it.”
Several players across the Ivy League had opportunities to play basketball at more basketball-centric schools. Brodeur, a three-star recruit out of high school, had offers from Notre Dame, George Washington and Davidson.
“You look at guys who the league is pulling in like Seth Towns, who had high-major offers (Michigan, Xavier, Ohio State) and chose to go to Harvard,” Penn sophomore Ryan Bentley said. “You see that all through the league. It’s really changing and it’s awesome. It’s as much of an athletic decision as it is an academic decision.”
In the last 10 seasons, Ivy League schools have 4-6 record in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, usually as a No. 12 seed.
Preparing to play Kansas, even with the history of No. 16 seeds, the Quakers just hope they can prove themselves — and their league — to rest of the country.
“The league as a whole has done a great job of recruiting and done a great job on this stage of the past few years of proving that,” Bentley said. “We are good basketball players. We are athletic. I think that is one of the biggest misconceptions but I think the league has done a great job of proving that to be wrong over the past few years.”
If anybody found it difficult to look away from the TV during the Big 12 Tournament championship game, you weren’t alone.
The Kansas basketball team’s 81-70 victory over West Virginia at Sprint Center was the most-watched Big 12 championship game in 16 seasons, according to an ESPN press release. It drew the third-highest ratings on ESPN’s networks during conference tournament week, producing a 24 percent rating increase from last year’s Big 12 Tournament title game.
The Big 12 title game delivered 2.85 million viewers, according to Nielsen. The game even outdrew Duke-North Carolina’s matchup in the ACC Tournament semifinals (2.82 million).
Of course, it’s no surprise that the Jayhawks can draw a big crowd. Among ESPN’s college basketball games, Kansas City ranked as the No. 2 market throughout the season with a 2.6 rating, slightly ahead of the Raleigh-Durham market (2.3 rating). Louisville remained the top local market for college hoops for the 16th straight year with a 4.2 rating.
During the conference tournament week, the most watched game on ESPN platforms was the ACC championship game (UNC vs. Virginia, 3.435 million viewers).
Watching practice from the baseline at Sprint Center on Wednesday ahead of the start of the Big 12 Tournament, injured Kansas sophomore Udoka Azubuike constantly tried to help coach the players who would be filling his minutes.
Whenever freshman Silvio De Sousa wasn’t involved in a play, Azubuike stood beside him to offer pointers. When De Sousa was back on the court, Azubuike yelled reminders to him and clapped when he successfully rolled to the basket after a screen or pinned his defender with a move in the low post.
The Jayhawks are hopeful that Azubuike — sidelined with a Grade 1 medial-collateral ligament sprain in his knee — will be healthy enough to play in next week’s NCAA Tournament. But they noticed that he’s handling this injury better than his season-ending wrist injury last year.
“When he broke his (wrist), it messed with him,” KU coach Bill Self said.
Devonte’ Graham added: “He’s actually had a pretty good attitude since (Thursday) morning. At shoot-around, he was out there clapping and stuff like that. He didn’t seem as down as he was last year.”
When Azubuike tore ligaments in his wrist last year, it was the first time he’s ever suffered a season-ending injury. He felt like it came at a time when he was just starting to figure out the speed of the college game.
As a 17-year-old freshman, Azubuike started started in six games and averaged 5 points and 4.4 rebounds.
“It was a bit frustrating for me not being able to play my freshman year,” Azubuike said earlier this season. “Sometimes stuff happens for a reason."
Azubuike credited his family for trying to help him stay positive through the rehab process. He watched and learned from Landen Lucas, but he was disappointed that he couldn’t help the team more.
His roommate Clay Young — matching the oldest player on the team with the youngest player — suffered a torn ACL injury before he transferred to Kansas. It gave Young a way to relate to Azubuike and he tried to help him cope with his teammate’s first injury.
“My mom is really religious, she’s like real Christian,” Azubuike said. “Each time she talked to me, she always read a Bible verse or tried to encourage me. That really, really helped me a lot just to stay the course and keep my head straight.”
In the offseason, Azubuike was healthy and tried to improve his own game. He added a hook shot to his offensive arsenal. He’s worked to become a better defender.
But one of his proudest achievements was something he accomplished away from any game. It happened without any fans watching. Before the start of his sophomore season, he completed all eight days of the team’s boot camp.
“I think he was pretty nervous to have to go through it all but he did well and he ran pretty well,” Young said. “I was happy for him.”
Azubuike is expected to be re-evaluated by doctors Sunday, which should give him and the Jayhawks a clearer picture if he will be available for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
But his teammates are proud of the way Azubuike has handled his latest setback.
"He's maturing," Self said.
Firmly on the bubble with Selection Sunday rapidly approaching, Texas is desperate for signature wins in the final weeks of the regular season.
On the other side, Kansas will try to maintain its spot as a potential one seed and win the Big 12 title outright when the two schools meet at 8 p.m. Monday (TV: ESPN) at Allen Fieldhouse in the Jayhawks’ last home game of the season.
The Longhorns (17-12, 7-9 in Big 12) have won two of their last three games but they could be shorthanded against KU. Starting guard Eric Davis Jr. was sidelined in Saturday’s win over Oklahoma State after he was named in a Yahoo Sports report. The school is investigating whether he received an improper $1,500 payment from a sports agency.
Plus, Mo Bamba was forced to sit out the second half against Oklahoma State because of a sprained left toe.
“It wasn’t a hard decision,” Texas coach Shaka Smart told the Austin American-Statesman of sitting Bamba. “You could tell by the look on his face he didn’t have it. We’ll have to evaluate him moving forward.”
Fun fact: Texas sophomore guard Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia in early January. A fund to support Jones and his family has raised more than $180,000. “I’ve been in a great place lately these last couple of weeks,” Jones said in his first interview since his diagnosis on the Lone Star Sports Network. “I’m going to be back soon.”
Series history: Kansas leads 30-8. The Jayhawks have won the last eight meetings with their last loss in 2014.
BREAKING DOWN TEXAS
No. 4 — F Mohamed Bamba | 6-11, 225, fr.
Bamba ranks second nationally with 107 blocks and in the top 15 with 10.6 rebounds per game. During Big 12 play, the McDonald’s All-American from Harlem is averaging 13.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. He’s shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 67.7 percent at the free-throw line.
Featuring a ridiculous 7-foot-9 wingspan, Bamba has recorded nine double-doubles in conference play. He leads the Big 12 in rebounding with 23 more boards than any other play in 16 conference games. He’s connected on 31 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Against KU this season: Nearly recorded a triple-double with 22 points, 15 rebounds and 8 blocks in 34 minutes, shooting 9 of 16 from the field.
- "I think the biggest thing is the game is slowing down for me," Bamba said. "College is night and day different than high school. One of the most important things is getting in, getting your reps shooting and finding your rhythm."
No. 21 — F Dylan Osetkowski | 6-9, 245, jr.
Playing more than 37 minutes per game in conference play, Osetkowski has a valuable role on both ends of the court. He’s averaging 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds, leading the Longhorns with 65 free throw attempts once Big 12 play began. Osetkowski (pronounced: oh-set-COW-skee) sat out all of last season after transferring from Tulane.
Against KU this season: Finished with 17 points (7-for-15 shooting) and eight rebounds in 39 minutes.
No. 12— G Kerwin Roach II | 6-4, 180, jr.
An excellent athlete and two-time Texas state champion in the triple jump during high school, Roach is averaging 12.1 points in Big 12 play with a team-high 21 steals. A strong perimeter defender, he’s shooting 36.1 percent from 3 and ranks second on the team with 49 assists against conference opponents.
Against KU this season: In 38 minutes, he recorded 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists while shooting 5 of 10 from the floor.
No. 2— G Matt Coleman | 6-2, 180, fr.
A point guard from Oak Hill Academy, Coleman is averaging 10.6 points and 4.4 assists against Big 12 teams. He’s struggled to find his shooting stroke, making 22.7 percent of his attempts from the 3-point line. According to hoop-math.com, Coleman only attempts 25 percent of his shots at the rim.
Against KU this season: Shooting 7 of 14, he had 17 points, six rebounds, five assists and three turnovers in 38 minutes.
No. 20— F Jericho Sims | 6-9, 240, fr.
Averaging 17 minutes off of the bench in Big 12 play, Sims has made 62.5 percent of his shots on his way to 4.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. From Minneapolis, he had two brothers play college basketball, including one at Kansas State. He struggles at the free-throw line, making 13 of his 32 attempts.
Against KU this season: Off the bench, Sims grabbed one rebound in five minutes without attempting a shot.
ONE THING TEXAS DOES WELL
With Bamba protecting the paint, the Longhorns have one of the toughest defenses in the country. According to hoop-math.com, Texas is holding opposing teams to 46.1 percent shooting when they aren’t in transition. That ranks second in the Big 12 only behind Texas Tech’s mark of 45.6 percent.
ONE AREA TEXAS STRUGGLES
The lowest-scoring offense in the Big 12, the Longhorns have problems shooting (42.2 percent, last in conference) and that extends to the free-throw line (69.3 percent) and 3-point arc (32.8 percent). The Longhorns have shot 37 percent or worse in five Big 12 games, all resulting in losses.
MEET THE NEW RECRUITING CLASS
Signing four players in November, the Longhorns’ Class of 2018 is ranked 15th in the country by Rivals. Texas inked 6-foot-7 small forward Gerald Liddell (ranked No. 40), 6-8 power forward Kamaka Hepa (ranked No. 48), 6-9 center Jaxson Hayes (ranked No. 109) and 6-6 forward Brock Cunningham.
Texas will add transfer Elijah Mitrou-Long, brother of former Iowa State standout Naz Mitrou-Long. Elijah Long averaged 15 points in the 2016-17 season at Mount St. Mary’s.
Kansas by 9. The Longhorns should play like a team desperately trying to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but it doesn’t help that they are expected to be shorthanded without Eric Davis Jr. and potentially Mo Bamba. I’m going to assume Bamba will try to play through his toe injury but I expect him to be limited. In a festive atmosphere, with the chance to celebrate an outright Big 12 title and honor seniors, I think the Jayhawks will start fast and cruise to a big win.
My prediction: Kansas 78, Texas 62. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 15-13.
After all of the ups and downs throughout the Big 12 schedule, the only obstacle standing in front of Kansas and its 14th-straight conference title is Saturday’s showdown (3:15 p.m., TV: ESPN) in Lubbock.
With star point guard Keenan Evans hobbled by a toe injury, Texas Tech (22-6, 10-5 Big 12) has lost its last two games and dropped to second place in the conference standings. But the Red Raiders are still undefeated at home this season and to add to the atmosphere, ESPN’s College GameDay is in town for the first time in program history.
“To me, it's not like the boat is sinking,” TTU coach Chris Beard said. “We have to figure out how to get the boat back in the right direction. This is the Big 12, you can't get too high or too low. You have to continue to give yourselves a chance."
The Red Raiders own a 17-game home winning streak, the second-longest streak in the nation behind South Dakota State (20 games). They’ve played without senior forward Zach Smith in their last 13 games because of a foot injury.
Despite losses to Baylor and Oklahoma State, Tech ranks 10th in the latest KenPom rankings, one spot ahead of KU. In ESPN’s BPI, KU is No. 8 and Tech is No. 12.
“They’re the hardest to get easy baskets on and they’re probably the most difficult to finish defensive possessions on because of their patience and also the way they go to the offensive glass,” KU coach Bill Self said.
Fun fact: Tech has won nine of its last 10 home games at United Supermarkets Arena against Top 25 opponents with five of the nine victories coming by three points or less. The one exception is KU’s 80-79 victory in Lubbock last year.
Series history: Kansas leads 33-5. The Jayhawks have a 9-3 record inside of United Supermarkets Arena.
BREAKING DOWN TEXAS TECH
No. 12 — G Keenan Evans | 6-3, 190, sr.
Selected third-team All-Big 12 last season, Evans has transformed himself into a conference player of the year candidate. He’s averaging a team-best 17.6 points on 26.5 percent shooting from the 3-point line in Big 12 play. An 84.3 percent free throw shooter, Evans leads Tech with 17 steals in conference games.
Prior to his toe injury against Baylor, Evans scored at least 15 points in seven straight games. He’s combined for six points in his last two games. His dad, Kenny, was a high jumper at Arkansas and advanced to the finals of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Against KU this season: Scored a team-high 15 points on 4-for-16 shooting with six rebounds, three assists and two turnovers in 29 minutes.
- “I think what we’re seeing now is a veteran player starting to get to a level where he’s playing with a great consistency,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “No one has ever questioned Keenan’s talent. He’s had huge games all the way back to his freshman year playing for coach (Tubby) Smith. Now, he’s getting himself into a different neighborhood of greatness, and it’s call consistency.”
No. 2— G Zhaire Smith | 6-5, 195, fr.
After coming off the bench earlier this season, the high-flying Smith worked his way into the starting lineup by averaging 11.7 points and 5.0 rebounds in Big 12 play. Not much of a 3-point shooter (8 of 16), Smith is shooting 54.2 percent from the floor against conference opponents. He leads Tech with 35 offensive rebounds and 18 blocks.
Against KU this season: In 30 minutes off the bench, he had 11 points (4 of 9 shooting) with five rebounds and two assists.
No. 23 — G Jarrett Culver | 6-5, 190, fr.
Another freshman who eventually worked his way into a starting role, Culver ranks second on the team with 11.9 points per game against Big 12 teams while shooting 36.1 percent from the 3-point arc. Culver, a Lubbock native, is averaging 4.6 rebounds in conference games, leading the Red Raiders with 54 defensive boards.
Against KU this season: Off of the bench, he recorded 12 points, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes.
No. 5 — G Justin Gray | 6-6, 210, sr.
Averaging 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds on 51.7 percent shooting in conference play. He’s scored at least 10 points in five games this season, including his last two outings. Gray is the only Tech player to start all 28 games this year.
Against KU this season: Shot 5 of 7 from the floor on his way to 12 points, six rebounds and a team-high three steals in 24 minutes.
No. 10 — G Niem Stevenson | 6-5, 205, sr.
Capable of stepping up offensively, Stevenson has scored in double figures in two of the last three games. During Big 12 play, he’s averaging 5.9 points and 3.3 rebounds off of the bench, shooting 32.1 percent from the 3-point line. He ranks second on the team with 30 assists.
Against KU this season: Scored four points on 1-of-8 shooting with six rebounds, four assists and two turnovers in 21 minutes.
ONE THING TEXAS TECH DOES WELL
One of the top defenses in the country, the Red Raiders are holding opponents to 66.7 points per game in conference play because of their ability to force turnovers and rebound. (Yes, I know this is actually two things Tech does well.) On the defensive glass, Tech grabs 71.3 percent of missed shots, which leads the Big 12. Plus, the Red Raiders lead the league in forcing 14.7 turnovers per game.
ONE AREA TEXAS TECH STRUGGLES
The Red Raiders play at a slower pace on offense than the majority of Big 12 teams and they are inconsistent at the 3-point line. In eight of their 15 conference games, they’ve shot worse than 30 percent from deep. Against Big 12 opponents, they’ve made 33.9 percent of their shots from deep, which ranks eighth.
MEET THE NEW RECRUITING CLASS
Texas Tech signed a pair of wings during the early signing period, receiving national letters of intent from Deshawn Corprew and Kyler Edwards.
Corprew, a 6-foot-6 small forward, was a Top 100 recruit out of high school before playing this season at South Plains Junior College. Edwards, a 6-foot-4 guard, is playing at Findlay Prep in Nevada. Edwards averaged 22.4 points and 6.0 rebounds last year at Arlington (Texas) Bowie.
Texas Tech by 2. With the way Keenan Evans is limited by his toe injury, I’m surprised by the spread. If Evans was healthy, I think I’d lean toward picking Tech at home. But it’s just not the same offense when he’s not at his best. It would be the same for Kansas if Devonte’ Graham had a hobbling injury. I still expect a low-scoring game, but I think Malik Newman and Graham are the difference.
My prediction: Kansas 68, Texas Tech 63. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 14-13.