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Almost out of nowhere, Texas is being considered the second best team in the Big 12. At 19-4 and only one game back of Kansas in the conference, it's a huge step up from last year's 16-18 record. We'll see just how good the Longhorns can be with four opponents in the RPI Top 40 over their next five games.
It starts with Kansas State, a team that hasn't lost a home conference game yet this season. Of course the Wildcats still have that opening loss to Northern Colorado, but that was a long time ago. KSU can't really win on the road (four straight losses), but are among the best when playing at home.
The Longhorns have three straight road wins (and seven overall), but West Virginia, Baylor and TCU aren't among the best teams in the conference. It's about to get a lot more difficult for Texas.
Texas likes to beat teams up with its two big men down low in Jonathan Holmes (13.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG) and Cameron Ridley (11.1 PPG, 8 RPG), and then once they pave the way, the rest of the floor opens up. The Wildcats have a couple bruisers of their own in Thomas Gipson (12.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG) and D.J. Johnson, but arguably less effective. Johnson only gets about 10 minutes per game, although he may be used more in this one due to the matchup. Wesley Iwundu is KSU's power forward and he's about 50 pounders lighter than Holmes, so that could be a problem.
If the Texas big men can get it going down low, they'll start to demand respect from the rest of the Wildcats. That's where Isaiah Taylor (12.1 PPG) and Javan Felix (12 PPG) come in. Taylor has been huge lately averaging 20 points over his last three games. The big question for Texas in this game is the status of Felix, who missed the last game on Tuesday due to a concussion. If he can't go, freshman Martez Walker (2.9 PPG) may get another start which is a bonus for Kansas State.
Demarcus Holland is another active player to keep an eye on for the Longhorns, but he isn't really a scoring threat. That's where Shane Southwell comes in, Holland's likely matchup. Southwell (11.0 PPG) has the height advantage and can also fill it up. While he likes to spread the ball around, this is one of those games where Southwell may have to take control.
KSU's other point of attack is from the guard spot in leading scorer freshman Marcus Foster with 13.9 PPG. Foster is the main reason the Wildcats don't have a worse record and he'll be matched up with Taylor which will be fun to watch. Will Spradling is the three-point specialist and has averaged more than 12 points over his last three games.
Both teams have respectable benches, and neither will have an advantage there. Kansas State gets the advantage playing at home, and if Felix misses this game as well, that advantage grows a little more. The Longhorns will likely need more than the 59 points they scored at TCU earlier in the week. If the Wildcats want to make the NCAA Tournament, this is the type of game they can't lose.
Predicted Score - Kansas State 71 Texas 68
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