No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks (23-5 overall, 12-3 Big 12) at TCU Horned Frogs (18-9 overall, 7-8 Big 12)
Time: 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 1, 2022
Location: Schollmaier Arena, Fort Worth, Texas
TV: Big 12 Now/ESPN+
Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
1. Gang rebounding
TCU enters this one as the No. 1 rebounding team in the Big 12 Conference, at 39.1 per game, just ahead of KU in second at 37.4 per game.
Size has something to do with that, but so, too, does TCU’s athleticism, which Kansas coach Bill Self said was right up there with Oklahoma State’s, which he has called the most athletic team in the Big 12 throughout the season.
Evidence for that comes in the form of a look at where the Horned Frogs are getting their rebounds, and Self said TCU’s balanced effort on the boards night in and night out makes them a tough matchup for anybody.
“They’re the best rebounding team, statistically, in our league and their leading rebounder averages six,” Self said Monday. “They’re all getting four or five a game. They all are. And that's a sign of a good rebounding team.”
Self and the Jayhawks have seen plenty of rebounding forces throughout the years, both in terms of individuals and a team. But Self said Monday he would way rather face a team that features one guy who gets 12 rebounds per game than a team like TCU that has so many players who can all go get a bunch.
Five TCU players average 4.0 rebounds or better and a sixth is right there with a 3.7 rebounds-per-game average. Big men Emmanuel Miller (6.3) and Eddie Lampkin (5.8) lead the attack, but their guards and wings have shown that they’re not afraid to mix it up in the paint, as well.
In an upset of No. 9 Texas Tech last week, the Frogs actually lost the battle on the boards 25-22 but out-rebounded Texas Tech 7-3 on the offensive glass with wings attacking the rim on missed shots over and over.
“We just have to embrace the physicality of the game,” KU sophomore Jalen Wilson said Monday. “Being on the road it’s going to be even tougher, so just be the aggressor and be the team that wants it more.”
2. Ball screen defense has to be better
On more than one occasion this season, Self has mentioned his frustration about his team’s ball-screen defense.
Last Saturday’s loss at Baylor was another one of those times — after which Self said simply, “We didn’t guard it very well at all.” — and the Jayhawks continue to make improvement in that area an emphasis as they try to fine-tune their defense for the stretch run.
On Monday, Self further explained what his guards need to do to stay connected to their man when the ball screens arrive.
“I think our guards can do a better job of guarding the ball hot and jamming it so it’s easier to get over,” Self said of the of the strategy of staying tighter to the player they’re defending so that when the ball screen comes there’s less space for the opposing guard to maneuver around it.
Self said KU’s wings, in particular, far too often allow themselves to be taken out of the play by the screen and find themselves trying to fight through the screener’s chest instead of jumping it and putting their lead leg over the screener’s body while staying close to their man.
“Every time you’re screened, the big man has to react,” Self explained. “And the longer the big man has to stay makes your ball-screen defense worse.”
Wilson said “not getting hit by screens” had been KU’s main focus of late, as the Jayhawks seek to try to prevent opposing guards from getting downhill and picking the Kansas defense apart from a position of strength.
According to Wilson, the best way to handle ball screens is a two-pronged approach.
“Guards getting over and bigs stepping up to it,” he said. “The Big 12 has so many good guards.”
3. Maintain contact with Miles
One of those good guards is TCU sophomore Mike Miles Jr., who leads the Frogs in scoring at 15.3 points per game.
A volume shooter who entered the week ranked fourth in the conference in free throws attempted (117), Miles does a lot of his damage because he has the ball so often and his teammates know how to play off of him and help him out.
In addition to leading the Horned Frogs in scoring, Miles leads the team in steals (35), ranks second in assists, just two behind the team leader, (97) and is averaging 3.7 rebounds per game.
In TCU’s upset of Texas Tech last week, Miles went for 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting, while grabbing five steals to go along with his four rebounds and four assists.
Miles appears to be asserting himself more in recent weeks, too. He has not attempted fewer than 13 shots in any of TCU’s last four games — that after attempt single-digit shots in three of TCU’s previous six games — and he has scored 15 points or more in his last three games, giving him 15 or more in 13 of TCU’s 27 games this season.
With a good blend of size and explosiveness, the Highland Hills, Texas native has the potential to hit the Kansas defense at all three levels — on the drive, from the perimeter and at the free throw line.
Miles is solid off of ball screens, so staying connected to him, if Kansas is able to do it, will satisfy two of the three keys in this one.
“He is capable of putting up big numbers,” Self said of Miles on Monday. “That’ll obviously be a huge emphasis for us.”
KU bench vs. Recent performances
The Kansas bench has been up and down all season, with various players playing huge roles at times and also disappearing at others.
In last Saturday’s loss at Baylor, six players off the KU bench logged just 27 total minutes, providing very little in the way of support for the starting five. Kansas coach Bill Self Monday that the Jayhawks need more from their reserves and also admitted that there’s an easier way to get that.
“I thought our bench was just OK the other day,” Self said. “But I’m not sure I gave them a lot of opportunities to play through maybe just being OK.”
It can be tough to give too many opportunities to a bench that features so many inexperienced Jayhawks. But Self said there was one player who should be expected to do better — senior forward Mitch Lightfoot.
“We’ve got to get more out of Mitch,” Self said of the veteran reserve who finished scoreless with four fouls in just four minutes at Baylor. “Defensive presence, you know. He made a couple of really poor plays defensively and they (shot) layups. That happened too much.”
Beyond Lightfoot, Self noted that KJ Adams provided a couple of good minutes and moments and that guards Jalen Coleman-Lands and Joe Yesufu weren’t out there enough to do much.
It’s clear at this point that the Jayhawks plan to ride its starters as far as they will take them. But when the bench is out there, be it big minutes or small, they have to give something positive rather than just being placeholders.
It’s even more clear that not all of them will get opportunities every night, with Self saying Monday that going nine deep — and likely less — would be the plan throughout March.
Last Saturday’s loss to Baylor knocked the Jayhawks’ lead in the Big 12 race to just a half game, with three to play. But several KU players and coaches made sure to point out then — and again on Monday — that the Jayhawks still control their own fate in terms of winning the conference.
“We control our own destiny,” Self said Monday. “If we take care of business in all three games we don’t need any help.”
With two of the final three regular season games at home, Kansas is in good position to close this thing out. But the Jayhawks haven’t exactly been terrible on the road either.
A win at TCU on Tuesday night would give Kansas a 6-3 road record in conference play this season, with the three losses coming at No. 3 Baylor, at No. 12 Texas Tech and at No. 21 Texas.
Beyond playing for the Big 12 crown and the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament, the Jayhawks also are playing for seeding in the NCAA Tournament, where they are still very much alive for a No. 1 seed and would likely lock one up by winning the next three games.
That’s not to say any of the three will be easy. TCU just beat Texas Tech, which nearly knocked off Kansas twice. And Texas already beat the Jayhawks once. So KU will need to play well and stay locked in to get to the finish line in first place.
At the same time, with its NCAA Tournament hopes in good shape after the recent win over Tech, TCU is also playing for postseason seeding and Jamie Dixon’s squad knows that pairing a good win over the Red Raiders with one — or perhaps even two — over Kansas would go a long way toward making the Frogs’ postseason road as favorable as it can be.
The Jayhawks lead the all-time series with TCU 22-2, which includes a 9-1 mark in games played at Schollmaier Arena.
Kansas has won eight in a row in the series and 18 of the last 19, dating back to 2013.
KenPom.com lists KU with a five-point edge and a 68% win probability in this one and an 11-point advantage and 85% win probability in the rematch on Thursday at Allen Fieldhouse.
That game is a make-up game for what was supposed to be the conference opener for both teams back on Jan. 1. The game was called off because of COVID-19 issues within the Horned Frogs program at the time.
No. 6 Kansas
G – Dajuan Harris Jr., 6-1, 180, Soph.
G – Ochai Agbaji, 6-5, 210, Sr.
G – Christian Braun, 6-7, 205, Jr.
F – Jalen Wilson, 6-8, 225, Soph.
F – David McCormack, 6-10, 265, Sr.
TCU Horned Frogs
G – Mike Miles Jr., 6-2, 195, Soph.
G – Damion Baugh, 6-4, 195, Jr.
F – Chuck O’Bannon, 6-6, 215, Sr.
F – Emmanuel Miller, 6-7, 215, Jr.
C – Eddie Lampkin, 6-11, 268, Fr.