University of Kansas

Quick scout: Why KU is only a 2 1/2-point favorite against Texas

Bill Self previews KU game against Texas in Big 12 Tournament

KU basketball coach Bill Self previews the Jayhawks' game against Texas on March 14, 2019 and his team's chances in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City
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KU basketball coach Bill Self previews the Jayhawks' game against Texas on March 14, 2019 and his team's chances in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City

Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.

Thursday’s game: Kansas vs. Texas, approximately 8:30 p.m., Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.

TV: ESPN2

Opponent’s record: 16-15

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 27

Point spread: KU by 2 1/2.

All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.

3 Strengths

Ball security: Texas is a rare team that is able to play slow offensively (287th in offensive pace) while still maintaining a low turnover rate (52nd).

Shot manipulation: The Longhorns rank 16th nationally when it comes to volume of shots taken by opponents in the mid-range — statistically the least efficient shot in basketball.

Three-point volume: In Big 12 play, no team took a higher percentage of its shots from three (43 percent) than Texas.

3 Weaknesses

Defensive rebounding: Texas ranks 258th in defensive rebounding rate, with only one rotation player (Dylan Osetkowski) ranking top 500 individually in that stat.

Easy shots: Though Texas has 129 dunks this year — that’s 50 more than KU’s 79 — the team struggles to get other close shots like layups and dunks, ranking 299th in total percentage of shots taken at the rim.

Bad shooting luck? Big 12 opponents made 39 percent of their threes against Texas ... a number that studies would tell us is likely more misfortune than bad defense.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-11 forward Jaxson Hayes (No. 10)

Jaxson Hayes

Plus: Elite shot-blocker

Plus: Great finisher at rim; has made 73 percent of twos and has 74 dunks

Plus: Good offensive rebounder

Plus: Rarely turns it over

Minus: Only a role player offensively who doesn’t create often for himself

Minus: Not as good of a defensive rebounder as you’d expect

6-foot-4 guard Kerwin Roach (No. 12)

Kerwin Roach

Plus: Returning from five-game suspension

Plus: Team’s go-to guy offensively

Plus: Solid passer

Plus: Good decision-maker in pick-and-roll situations

Minus: Poor shooter in mid-range

Minus: Strong finisher at rim but doesn’t get many shots there

6-foot-9 forward Dylan Osetkowski (No. 21)

Dylan Osetkowski

Plus: Good rebounder, both ends

Plus: Draws fouls often and is 75-percent shooter at line

Plus: Rarely turns it over

Minus: Poor shooter in mid-range and from three

Minus: Not a good passer

Prediction

You’ll perhaps never find a bigger difference between perception and reality than this matchup between Kansas and Texas.

KU has solidified its place in the NCAA Tournament — likely to get a 3 or 4 seed — while Texas is firmly on the bubble with a 16-15 record.

Yet if one dives deeper into possession-based metrics, though, not as much separates the teams. In KenPom, KU is 18 and Texas is 27. Torvik has KU at 19 and Texas at 29, which again roughly puts the two about the same distance apart. In short, KU has been better at winning close games, while Texas has been more inconsistent while dominating in many of the victories it’s gotten.

Right away, we’re looking at a closer game than most people would expect. That’s reflected in the Vegas line, which has KU only as a 2 1/2-point favorite, even while getting a point or two bump from playing in front of a semi-home crowd at Sprint Center.

I’ve gone into depth about this before, but I like the way Texas has attacked KU’s defense in its two games this season. It best can be seen with this GIF, as the Longhorns have used ball screens to frequently open up shooters for open and semi-guarded threes.

Because KU coach Bill Self likes to defend inside-out — and because the Longhorns have a legitimate dunker teams have to respect in Hayes — it seems unlikely that KU will start off changing its defense much the third time around, perhaps later adapting if Texas makes a lot of threes.

Texas has the second- and third-best point-per-possession games against KU this season, making a combined 27 outside shots in those contests.

There’s no guarantee the outside shots will go in for a third straight game, but if the Longhorns can once again attempt a high volume of perimeter shots, I like their chances of pulling off a mini-upset with help from efficient offense.

Texas 75, Kansas 71

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Texas

Hawk to Rock

This is actually a good matchup for David McCormack. Texas gives up lots of offensive rebounds and also has been poor defending opponent stickbacks, and McCormack will have the strength advantage inside when he’s battling for boards with the 220-pound Hayes. Even without hunting for his shot, McCormack should have a good chance to get back to double-figure scoring Thursday night.

Last game prediction: Kansas 77, Baylor 72 (Actual: KU 78-70)

2018-19 record vs. spread: 18-13

Last five seasons’ record vs. spread: 95-75-3

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