Here we are. The much anticipated showdown between the No. 6 Texas Tech Red Raiders (22-6, 10-5) and the No. 8 Kansas Jayhawks (22-6, 11-4) is right around the corner. ESPN GameDay will be in Lubbock broadcasting live and the atmosphere of the game should be electric.
Unfortunately, a little luster has been taken off the sheen. When the GameDay event was announced last Friday, Tech was in first place and one game ahead of second place Kansas. Fast forward two games and we now find Tech trailing Kansas by one game.
This game is still crucial for both teams but for different reasons than last week. A Kansas win will mean a two game lead in the standings and assure them no worse than a tie for first. A Tech win brings them back into a first place tie with quite a bit of meat left on the bone to finish a championship. By the way, Kansas State and West Virginia are lurking just below Tech in the standings waiting for an opportunity to move up.
Now we know the importance of the game, let’s take a look at the opponent.
The Jayhawks bring an impressive record to the United Supermarkets Arena. More importantly, they are playing much better basketball as of late. They are winners of three in a row including a 30 point drubbing of Oklahoma last Monday.
The trio of Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Udoka Azubuike have started every game and this game will be no different. Head coach Bill Self has filled the starting lineup with Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman over the last three games.
Graham, a 6’2 senior guard, is the team leader and one of the best guards in the country. He leads the team with 17 points and 37 minutes per game. He also leads the team with 201 assists, 74 turnovers, and 48 steals. He ranks seventh nationally in assists and 33rd with a 2.72 assist to turnover ratio. He poured in 27 points and played all 40 minutes in the first game against the Red Raiders.
Mykhailiuk, a 6’8 senior guard, is second on the team in points and minutes per game with 15 and 34 respectively. He is also second on the team with 79 assists and 31 steals. He is a long and lanky European style guard who shoots almost 45 percent from three point range.
The other three starters are pretty similar as far as points per game and minutes. Azubuike, a 7’0 sophomore center, is considerably better on the boards, leading the team with 7 rebounds per game. He also leads the team with 47 blocks. His biggest problem is he also leads the team with 82 fouls. While he has only fouled out of two games this year, foul trouble has held him to only 24 minutes of playing time per game.
Coach Self doesn’t use a lot of his bench. The two most significant non-starters to date are Marcus Garrett and Mitch Lightfoot. Garrett averages four points and 19 minutes per game and Lightfoot three points in just 14 minutes per game. Notice I said “to date”. This brings us to the potential wildcard in this game: Silvio De Sousa.
He is a 6’9 freshman forward who was a late qualifier and subsequent late arrival to the team. He adds much needed inside height to a Kansas team where inside height is scarce. He also adds unneeded inexperience and uncertainty for coach Self.
De Sousa has contributed very little up to this point averaging less than two points and three minutes per game. However, he came in for a foul-plagued Azubuike in the Oklahoma game and performed well with 10 points and six rebounds in thirteen minutes. If that game was his coming out party then Tech could be in for a challenge.
This brings us to the game. In the first game between these two, Tech scored on their first two possessions and led 5-0 barely a minute into the game. They eventually built the lead to as much as 16 points with 10:48 left in the first half and they never let up and never looked back. Tech never trailed in the first game.
That was against a Kansas team still adjusting to life without Billy Preston and coach Self trying to figure out the right combination. Graham’s performance in the first game was mentioned earlier and he did all he could to keep the Jayhawks in the game. Mykhailiuk and Azubuike had decent outings with 11 points each.
It is well known Tech struggles against active big men and Azubuike fits the description. If he stays active and in the game, he will be problematic for Tech. De Sousa is the other player who could pose a significant challenge. If his effort against Oklahoma is any indication of future performance then Tech is in trouble.
Now the negativity is out of the way, let’s talk about how the Red Raiders are going to win this game. Let’s discuss the one area the Red Raiders figure to dominate. That area is defense.
Tech is a far superior team on the defensive end and it’s not even close. If you look at the conference numbers, Kansas allows 75 points per game and Tech allows 66. Kansas allows a point more in conference games on the road and Tech allows about a point less in conference games at home.
The defensive differences are significant. Offensively, the two are about the same when you compare situational numbers of Kansas scoring 78 points on the road and Tech scoring 76 points at home.
Texas Tech is truly the better team, even without Zach Smith. The wildcard for the Red Raiders in this game is Keenan Evans. If Evans plays the whole game at about 80 percent and Tech plays with their normal defensive effort then they win this game by eight points. If Evans doesn’t play, I just don’t think there’s enough court leadership to win. I think Evans plays and is just effective enough to win. Prediction: Tech 76, Kansas 71