Kansas comes into Saturday's game with Texas an unquestioned Goliath, bestriding atop the Big 12 conference with a 9-0 mark and looking almost certain to get their 10th consecutive conference title under Bill Self. But while this is as talented a group as Self has had in Lawrence, it's also a very young team that is unlikely to go undefeated in conference play.
If you look at their conference schedule, you will see that it's been 6 home and 3 away so far, with one of those away games being at TCU. Long story short, the second half of the Big 12 season should be tougher on the Jayhawks than the first. For Texas, the hope is that the tough part begins in Austin on Saturday.
Kansas has the guy everyone thought would be the No. 1 pick headed into the season and the guy who will be the No. 1 pick on their roster, but neither Joel Embiid or Andrew Wiggins are anywhere near their ceiling. They are still operating more on talent and instinct than knowledge of the game, which makes them vulnerable to lesser opponents, especially on the road.
For the Longhorns, a home win against the Jayhawks would go a long away from moving them off the bubble. Like Kansas, Texas has a long road in February, with at Kansas State, at Iowa State, at Kansas, vs. OSU and at OU on the docket. Saturday's game will be as big a regular-season game in Austin as there's been in Rick Barnes' tenure.
So if you are still living in the Austin area and you aren't otherwise occupied on Saturday, try to make it out. These kids are not professional athletes; they respond to a home crowd, both in support and against them. It should be a great atmosphere, but as y'all well know, that isn't always the case at the Erwin Center.
Naadir Tharpe: 5'11 junior PG, athletic but has always struck me as more of a scorer than a floor general. His assist-to-turnover numbers are pretty solid, but I can't say I trust him all that much, especially on the road. This is the match-up that the Texas guards have to exploit.
Wayne Selden: 6'5 230 freshman guard whose built like a house. He's a sure-fire first-round pick down the road, but he still has kinks in his game to work out. Like with Wiggins, I want to make Selden beat me as a shooter and a distributor. Don't let him get any easy baskets or free runs to the rim. Make him beat you from 25+ feet.
Andrew Wiggins: Aka Maple Jordan aka the most hyped freshman since Kevin Durant. However, at this point in his career, he's more Harry Barnes than KD. Wiggins is long on tools and short on skills. He gets most of his points in transition, the offensive glass and straight line drives at the rim. He doesn't read help D very well and he will turn it over if trapped on the right spots.
Perry Ellis: 6'8 225 sophomore combo forward. Ellis is a smart player who can exploit smaller and slower defenders, but a guy like Jonathan Holmes can hold him in check in a 1-on-1 match-up. Holmes will have too, because we can't afford to let Ellis get 20 points.
Joel Embiid: The Man. The Myth. The Legend. Everything you have read about him is true and then some. As a Mavs fan, I would give away every player on the roster and maybe even the AAC to get my hands on Embiid. However, he's still a 19-year old who just picked up the game three years ago. He is very raw and he gets in foul trouble a lot - that's going to be a key for the Longhorns.
Frank Mason: 5'11 freshman PG who briefly supplanted Tharpe in the starting line-up. He's probably the more talented player, but he's still a young guy figuring things out. I like our chances if Mason has to play 25-30 minutes.
Jamari Traylor: 6'8 220 sophomore big man who will almost certainly play in the NBA one day. Part of what makes Kansas so difficult for most Big 12 teams is the sheer amount of size and athleticism they can bring off their bench. Texas and Baylor are the only ones who can match them in that department and we all know what Baylor is about, so it comes down to us.
Tarik Black: 6'9 260 senior transfer from Memphis. He's big and he can play but he hasn't been able to get into much of a rhythm in Lawrence. Black is good enough that he can "explode" for a 10/5 game off the bench and swing a game and he's their 8th-9th man.
Brannen Greene: 6'7 215 freshman wing. The designated shooter off the bench. Doesn't do much else, but a 6'7 shooter is always dangerous, especially for the Longhorns undersized wings.
In looking at this match-up, the main thing I would want them to do is make them beat us. A team like Iowa State, which doesn't have any 6'8+ guys who can play, is pretty much fatally compromised against Embiid and Co. Those beatdowns of the Cyclones are where a lot of the hype comes from, but that doesn't necessarily have much to do with us.
Embiid actually struggled a bit with the size and length of Baylor, probably because he doesn't have much game experience against that. Killa Cam Ridley and Prince Ibeh should be able to man him up and make him work for his points, which would change a lot of their offensive attack.
If you don't have to double-team the post, you make life much harder for Wiggins, Selden and Tharpe. And all three of those guys have had their ups-and-downs, which is why the Jayhawks have a 16-4 record, with losses to Villanova, Colorado, Florida and San Diego State in non-conference play. All four are NCAA Tournament teams (or at least Colorado was before Spencer Dinwiddie went down) which tells you that there are holes on this Kansas roster, but you have to have the talent to exploit them.
This is one of those games where Texas doesn't have any margin for error. They have to play really good basketball at home and hope Kansas self-destructs. If they turn it over a lot or get into the penalty early, they aren't going to have much of a chance.
However, if they can keep the game in the half-court and if the big men can man-up Embiid and if the Jayhawks 3's aren't falling, the formula is there for the upset. Whether or not it happens could actually come down to us - my unscientific formula says the louder it is in the Erwin Center, the bigger the chance of the upset.
Either way, this is big-time basketball. If you aren't up for this game, than you just aren't a Texas hoops fan. I wish I was back in Austin for this one.