With Kansas’ Home Dominance Narrowing, It’s Game on in the Big 12…

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2018

Texas Tech‘s victory at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this week was big for a few reasons. First, it announced to the college basketball world that Chis Beard‘s Red Raiders have arrived; it also established that Kansas‘ home loss to Arizona State last month was not a fluke; and it opened up meaningful discussion that the Jayhawks’ dominion over the rest of the Big 12 will be tested in a way that it hasn’t in the 13-year history of The Streak (TM). Let’s start with the Jayhawks’ newfound vulnerability, particularly at home. Prior to this year, Lawrence has been nothing short of a fortress for Bill Self’s team. You have to go all the way back to the 1975-76 season to find the last time when Kansas dropped two games at Allen by January 2. That isn’t to say that the storied gym won’t be a significant home court advantage for the Jayhawks more often than not, but the level of mystique that once led Baylor head coach Scott Drew to hold his team’s pregame huddle in the tunnel isn’t quite there this season — as evidenced by the Sun Devils and Red Raiders hanging 1.18 and 1.21 points per possession on the team, respectively.

With multiple home losses already on its resume, Kansas’ generational streak of conference dominance will be tested unlike another year. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Of course, much of that has to do with Kansas’ ongoing depth issues that are feeding into the team’s shortfalls on both ends of the court. Self’s teams have always been leaned on activity and movement, and no one knows that more than senior Devonte’ Graham, the only player the head coach truly trusts at point guard. Graham has played fewer than 36 minutes just once in the Jayhawks’ last eight outings and his wear and tear is beginning to show. The lack of depth is also apparent down low, where 280-pound center Udoka Azubuike is admirably but not always effectively playing through back pain. Kansas figures to get some help with Silvio De Sousa reportedly nearing NCAA clearance and the Billy Preston investigation potentially ending soon, but as we noted last month, any reinforcements the team receives will only help but so much. This is still a top-notch offensive unit, but sustaining that level of performance will be dependent on diversifying an attack beyond three-pointers and lobs, which in turn will rely on keeping the current personnel healthy and fresh, mixed in with the occasional drive instead of a rushed jumper.

Shifting over to Texas Tech, what jumped out the most was how deep and well-coached the Red Raiders are. That’s both fortunate and advantageous for their blueprint, because there isn’t a clear-cut NBA player anywhere on Beard’s roster. In a year bounding with one-and-done studs around college basketball, this team gets by on experienced players like Keenan EvansZach Smith and Justin Gray, a handful of JuCo guys and only a couple of rotational freshmen in Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver. Beard’s pressure defense ranks third nationally in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency, and Texas Tech’s 13-1 overall record already includes four wins over top-50 offensive units, signifying that the Red Raiders’ performance on Tuesday night was no aberration.

How Texas Tech maintains its defensive intensity both in the short- and long-term will be worth monitoring. The Red Raiders’ next three tilts are against Kansas State, Oklahoma and West Virginia, all of which sport top-30 offensive attacks. Tech obviously passed the test against Kansas in Lawrence and their tremendous depth will give them a leg up, but sustaining that kind of relentlessness each night out around this league will be much easier said than done. Escaping that stretch with one or zero losses could give Beard’s squad the inside track on knocking the Jayhawks from the top of the Big 12 mountain, but if they take on any more water than that, they’ll just be one more team scrapping with West Virginia, Oklahoma and TCU for the opportunity.

Brian Goodman (965 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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