Everyone thought this would be the year Kansas fails to win the Big 12 regular season title, but it appears the inevitable is about to happen. That is unless Texas Tech can sweep the Jayhawks in addition to winning at West Virginia and against TCU in the final two Games. Needless to say, but the Jayhawks are in a great position to win the title again and possibly outright.
When these teams first met in early January, the season was still young and no one knew how the Conference would play out. The Red Raiders used defense to control the Game in LAwrence, holding KU to just 6-of-26 from long range as Devonte’ Graham was the only one to surpass 11 points for the home team. Tech got balanced play with five players hitting double figures and still controlled the Game even shooting 6-of-24 from three. The question becomes, can Texas Tech deal with the pressure? As seen in its last two losses, the answer is probably no.
The Red Raiders haven’t lost at home yet this season and that may be the biggest stat to look at in predicting the outcome. They’ve cruised against weaker Big 12 teams, but also needed overtime against Texas and beat the Mountaineers by just a point. Kansas has played in a number of close Games this season, but it also lost by 16 points in a recent trip to Baylor. Of course, the Jayhawks also came back and beat WVU and TCU on the road so it’s hard to put too much into certain losses.
The problem for Tech is that Kansas may be playing its best basketball of the season, most recently dropping 104 points on Oklahoma with 16 made threes. Of course, the Red Raiders are a much different team and lead the Big 12 in defensive efficiency as well as three-point percentage allowed. That stat won them the first meeting and it could be what gets the home team a sweep in this Game.
The question is just how healthy Keenan Evans is after injuring his toe over the weekend. Evans has won Tech numerous Games in late situations and leads the team in scoring with more than 18 points per Game. He only had 15 in that first meeting, but if he’s not healthy, the Red Raiders will need a lot more from other positions and that’s hard to rely on. Evans had just two points in Wednesday’s loss at OK State.
The Raiders are extremely deep, but the other two players to watch out for are Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver, both freshmen that give length on the wings. If Evans isn’t fully healthy, one of them may be tasked with keeping Graham in check. The KU point guard attacked often in that first Game and while he can shoot, attacking and drawing fouls is when he’s most lethal. The other important thing is to not give Svi Mykhailiuk any open looks or allow Udoka Azubuike to win the battle down low.
Justin Gray and Niem Stevenson give up a couple inches to Mykhailiuk, but both are athletic enough to stay with the shooter through picks. Stopping Azubuike with Noense Odiase and Tommy Hamilton is another story. Azubuike had some success in that first Game and he could be fed early against this smaller lineup.
It’s never easy to bet against the Jayhawks because they have the ability to win in any Big 12 situation, especially when motivated. The Red Raiders are at home and have a great defense, but if Evans isn’t fully healthy, scoring may be hard to come by. With the Big 12 title on the line, this will be the Game of the weekend.
Our Pick – Kansas +2