Picking your poison is never fun.
And going into Lawrence, Kansas to play hoops usually means you get to choose from a buffet of arsenic, hydrochloric acid, and sarin gas.
From the Morris twins to an elite backcourt featuring Josh Selby, the Rock-Chalkers serve up their own brand of hemlock like it was Oklahoma near-beer. Except the Kansas shit will kill you.
This season, however, the Texas Longhorns are bringing an antidote in the form of honest to goodness offense and team chemistry. And seeing as the Jayhawks really don’t have a small forward answer to Jordan Hamilton, the Horns may have some poison of their own to ruin KU’s 69 game home winning streak.
Let’s get to the personnel matchups.
KU is going to a 3 guard look a lot more this season after the departure of small forward prototype Xavier Henry. And why not? Kansas gets plenty of frontcourt brawn out of the Morris twins so they can afford to spread teams out with Josh Selby, Tyshawn Taylor and Tyrel Reed.
Selby is the best of the bunch bringing combo guard skills that make him one of the top 4 or 5 guards in America. Selby has blow-by ability and range for days so he automatically becomes Texas defensive priority in the KU backcourt. Selby does have a tendency to turn the ball over and show lapses in court judgment so Texas does have some hope in this matchup which will likely be assigned to Doge Balbay. Keeping Selby from going nuts off the dribble and from beyond the mark is key.
Tyshawn Taylor provides some outs for the Texas defense because he’s not nearly as well-rounded a player as Selby. Off the dribble Taylor is electric but his lack of a consistent shooting stroke allows opponents to give cushion and cut off driving lanes. Cory Joseph or even Jordan Hamilton may be ideal here. More on Hamilton in a moment.
Tyrel Reed is the seasoned veteran with a deadly shooting stroke. He must be contested as soon as he leaves the locker room. Reed is savvy enough without the ball that I suspect Joseph/Brown and not Hamilton will draw this assignment because Reed will make Jordan’s defensive lapses hurt more often than not.
Brady Morningstar is one of KU’s best perimeter defenders off the bench, so don’t be surprised to see him log some minutes defending Hamilton. Morningstar is a plus shooter but not much of a creator off of the bounce.
It all starts with the Morris twins. Marcus Morris is the more accomplished scorer, killing smaller defenders with strength on the block and taking bigger posts out on the perimeter where he peppers them with a credible face up game. He’s Tristan Thompson’s guy all the way, and I expect Tristan to give Morris fits with his quickness and length combination.
The opposite block is where Texas has to pick its poison. Go small in favor of offense and play Gary Johnson against Markieff Morris, the bruising twin, or bring in Hill or Wangmene to matchup on the weakside glass and suffer on offense. I suspect we’ll see both. It’s vitally important regardless of who draws Markieff that he’s bodied at all times because he makes his living off weakside stick-backs.
Thomas Robinson is the other forward Self will go to when the Jayhawks want to go big. Robinson is 6-9, athletic, and has a terrific motor off of the bench. It wouldn’t surprise me if Self pops in the tape from the UConn game and decides to attack the Texas frontcourt with a Morris, Morris, Robinson combo. If so, Texas has to find a way to speed up the game while competing on the glass.
Keys to the Game
Getting a Stalemate On The Glass
Texas is going to have to use Balbay for long stretches in this game which means the Horns can ill-afford to have another non-scorer like Hill in the lineup leading to a Gary Johnson vs. Markieff Morris battle for the weakside glass. Gary loses that battle 90% of the time. To combat the mismatch, Jordan Hamilton will have to dig down off his man and lend help to the boarding effort. You can aid Hamilton’s effort here by putting him on Taylor and having him give cushion to the KU guard with one eye on the defensive backboards. Sure, it makes the Horns susceptible to Taylor’s perimeter stroke, but I’ll take my chances if it means keeping Markieff off the backboards.
If KU goes big, I’d bring in Hill for Joseph and have Hamilton play the two alongside Brown.
Punish with Hamilton
KU doesn’t have that athletic wing that can match up with Hamilton and get to Jordan’s jumper so their likely to help and show to screens involving Hamilton aggressively. Texas needs to use Hamilton as a decoy in these situations to loosen Morris off of Thompson or create driving lanes for Brown and Balbay.
When KU doesn’t help, Hamilton needs to do work like he did against the Aggies. KU has struggled guarding this season as times, so Hamilton should be able to facilitate offense for the Horns whether it’s as a primary scorer or as a decoy.
Keep Thompson Out of Foul Trouble
One of the big reasons Texas lost against UConn was Tristan’s inability to stay on the floor against UConn’s big lineup. It wasn’t fouls in the paint that did Thompson in however, it was silly fouls 30 from the bucket hedging ball screens. Thompson has to avoid those types of fouls because if he plays less than 30 minutes, Texas is done.
There’s going to be a battle of hubris vs. game tape going on in Bill Self’s mind in the lead up to this contest and I hope hubris carries the day. Self can make life almost unbearable on the Horns by eschewing his three guard look and going big in a halfcourt to halfcourt game. This personnel group and style nearly forces Texas to play its weakest offensive unit and gives the Jayhawks a competitive advantage every possession. UConn should be Self’s blueprint to beat Texas, especially when you consider KU has better talent and personnel to execute that blue print.
Now if Self decides to stay small and play a faster tempo against the Horns, then we’ll know pride has won out. Illinois, UConn, UNC, and USC should be instructive games for the KU boss. Two wins vs. two losses for the Horns in completely contrasting styles. If Self chooses correctly forcing us to pick our poison offense vs. defense then I think KU wins going away. Call it 74 to 64.
If he lets play the style, tempo, and personnel we’re most comfortable with, Texas has a chance to end Jayhawk’s winning streak. I’ll say 79 to 77 Texas.
Cross your fingers, then Hook ‘Em.