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Pregame Notes: Texas Tech vs. Kansas

The Red Raiders open up the Big 12 gauntlet with a showdown against the Jayhawks

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Things were a little different the last time Texas Tech played Kansas. We were still a week away from having life significantly altered by the Coronavirus, Tech was still a team led by Jahmi’us Ramsey and Davide Moretti, and the Kansas Jayhawks were fighting to clinch an outright Big 12 championship.

This year’s version of the Jayhawks is a little harder to gauge. Udoka Azibuike and Devon Dotson are off to the NBA. Jalen Wilson has stepped up to be the leader of this team so far, and from a personnel standpoint KU runs more five-out offense than we have seen from them in years. This matchup has all the makings of a typical Tech-KU battle, and it’s likely that the winner of this game will be vaulted into contention for the Big 12 title. Let’s get into the notes:

Kansas Jayhawks (6-1) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (6-1)

Location: United Supermarkets Arena (Lubbock, Texas)

Game time: 6:00 CST

TV: ESPN

Odds: Texas Tech -1.5

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska Omaha at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

About Kansas:

Kenpom Ranking: 9th

T-Rank: 19th

Record: 6-1

Stats and Storylines

  • Kansas is one of the more interesting teams to watch this year, because there is a distinct lack of identity for a team that is as talented as the Jayhawks are. That is unique for KU, because traditionally there has been a clear precedent as to how they will play from the start of the year. Last year was the Devon Dotson show, as very early in the year it was clear that the team relied heavily on him to generate their offense in lots of PnR and four-out looks. Two years ago was a team that started with a similar scheme, but with more versatility in ball handlers and a pick-and-pop weapon with Dedric Lawson. The offense had to be adjusted when Azubuike went down with an injury, but holistically you could tell how Kansas would play by watching just two of their early season games. This year is different.
  • I’ve watched large portions of five Kansas games from this year, and I still have no real idea as to how this team will play going forward. I have no doubt that Jalen Wilson will lead the team a lot offensively, but so much of his production is off the ball, and the actual ball handling and general strategy towards getting him looks changes by game. Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, Bryce Thompson, and Dajuan Harris all have points where they are playing as lead ball handlers. Also, David McCormick’s role changes wildly game-to-game, which I will get into later. As a whole, this Kansas team is still a mystery in some senses, and that makes going in-detail on this breakdown a lot sketchier, given how much things could change in the game.
  • With that said- Kansas is still immensely talented. They are not filled with elite young talent or proven veteran talent, but they have a lot of nice rotational pieces that can help win games in the Big 12. It is pretty strange talking about a Kansas team without any true star talent, but I honestly like the makeup of this team more than some of their previous teams, although last year’s squad looked nigh-on unbeatable for large stretches of Big 12 play. This year’s team does not have the talent or identity to reach that level, but it is naive to think that they will not be a player in the 18 round Big 12 fight.
  • Let’s talk about some individual players. I have already mentioned Jalen Wilson, but beyond being a great off-ball scorer, his offensive feel is very impressive. The defense is still a work in progress, and I am not overly high on his shooting prospects, but he is easily the most dangerous offensive weapons on the team.
  • Two names that should be familiar to Tech fans are Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji. Both have had career days against the Red Raiders in the past, although in both cases they are playing different roles this year. Garrett has been the most common primary ball handler for Kansas this year, and his already-suspect offensive efficiency has taken a hit as a result. His defensive value is much greater, and so far this season we are seeing him continuing his impressive on-ball work that has given him such a great reputation in the Big 12.
  • Agbaji had a huge game against Tech in 2019 (the Lawrence game that was the last regular season loss of the Final 4 season for Tech), but since then he has been inconsistent. Still, his offensive value is predicated on being efficient at all three levels and being one of the better cutters in the Big 12. With that said- his role this year has been more of a combo guard-style role, and as such he has taken more off-dribble shots than in either of his first two years. Flustering him as a ball handler looks doable, and he does take a lot of poor shots in my opinion.
  • David McCormack was billed as Udoka Azubuike’s potential replacement this year, but so far his production has been horrendous. His offensive rating of 84.2 is extremely poor for someone that plays heavy rotation minutes, and his 34% shooting percentage is a far cry from Azubuike’s ridiculous efficiency. A lot of McCormack’s struggles can be traced back to him struggling to get space on his own, and also not being the physical bruiser that Azubuike was in the post. He also tends to make poor decisions with the ball, and to top it all off his defense can be exploited on switches. The issue for Bill Self is that without McCormack, he has no interior presence at all outside of Kansas legend Mitch Lightfoot. They could play some Five-out (and they did for large portions of the Kentucky and Omaha games, but that style is not something that Bill Self traditionally goes to without significant personnel deficiencies.
  • Christian Braun is a great shooter that can put it on the deck as well, but his style of play is also one that Chris Beard teams seem to thrive against. He is a high feel guy that can read space pretty well (part of why he can be trusted as a SBH without being great a getting any separation), but he is not particularly elite at any one thing. He actually takes a lot of unassisted looks, but I think that plays into Mark Adams’ hands due to the aforementioned lack of burst or separation.
  • I’m really high on both of KU’s freshman guards. Dajuan Harris played really well in 25 minutes vs. Kentucky but did not get a ton of action in any of the other games I watched, but his burst, feel, and vision are really impressive for someone that was not expected to be an immediate contributor. Bryce Thompson is the more touted player, but in my opinion he has a ways to go before reaching the point where he is a dependable ball handler. He is still a negative shooter, and can make some very careless choices. With that said, you will hear a lot about him in the coming years, and it would not surprise me to see him evolve rapidly throughout the year. I honestly think one of Harris or Thompson will be starting consistently by the end of the year.

About Texas Tech:

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern State at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Kenpom Ranking: 8th

T-Rank: 6th

Record: 6-1

Stats and Storylines

  • Mac McClung enters this game on a pretty brutal cold stretch shooting, but his playmaking has been a welcome surprise as of late. He had six assists to no turnovers in the weekend win over Texas A&M CC, and his feel in the PnR has improved as of late. Against a team that has a host of solid defensive guards, it will be imperative for McClung to play efficient basketball.
  • In some games this year I will be worried about Marcus Santos-Silva getting played off the court. If anything, this is not one of them. If Tech can keep David McCormack in the game as a match to MSS, I think it will be extremely valuable. If not, the inside presence against what will surely be a small KU lineup could lead to a flowing offensive night if they execute well.
  • Kyler Edwards is playing the best basketball in his career right now. He is shooting over 38% from deep, and his playmaking and defense have improved even more from already high levels last year.
  • I expect to see Terrence Shannon drawing Jalen Wilson in this game, and I really look forward to seeing how they match up. In theory this is a great opportunity for TJ, as his off-ball instincts and length allow him to be a force against wings that are primarily off-ball initiators. Wilson is a bit more of an interior presence, but having Shannon as a match will be huge, and will provide an answer to Wilson that neither Kentucky or Creighton had from a personnel perspective.
  • Kevin McCullar might be back, but I kind of doubt it. Without McCullar, having Nimari Burnett and Jamarius Burton playing at a high level will be crucial. Both guys have really struggled in PBH roles this year, and Burton specifically needs that aspect of his game to maximize his effectiveness. A 29.1% turnover percentage is not ideal, and it makes me wonder if there is some disconnect there. Of all the guys on the team, Burton might be the least connected with a singular group due to his awkward status as a potential redshirt turned immediate contributor. Regardless, having six turnover games like he did against Abilene Christian is not something that can happen if Tech wants to compete in the Big 12.

Answering Your Questions

New to the pregame notes this week is a mailbag section. I wanted to see what you guys wanted to know heading into this game, and I am excited to answer a couple of your questions. If you like this, please let us know on Twitter or in the comments and we will continue to implement this.

As I stated earlier, I honestly do not think this is a game where MSS gets played off the court. if anything, Kansas probably hopes this turns into a small ball game, as McCormack has struggled mightily this year. Wilson is a really good rebounder at 6’7, and they certainly have length, but this is not a big Kansas squad by any means. There is no Landon Lucas to set hard screens and scrap for boards, and there is certainly no Azubuike. This is actually one of the few Big 12 games this year where I feel Tech has the leverage to exploit whatever size Kansas tries to put out there.

So this is a topic that I have spent a lot of time thinking about. Let me preface this: I do not in any way have the credibility to criticize what Chris Beard does. I’ve watched every game at this point and do quite a bit of film studying, but it’s a fraction of what the coaching staff sees, and also I would need about 30 years of direct learning to accumulate the knowledge of Beard and Mark Adams. With all that said, here is what my perfect rotation would look like tomorrow night(assuming McCullar is out)

Starters: McClung, Edwards, Shannon, Peavy, MSS

Rotation Reserves: Burnett, Burton, Smith

Spot minutes: Agbo, Nadolny

The key differences with my rotation and with Beard’s is that I would play Tyreek more and use Agbo in a spot role, but largely I think the lineup that the staff is using has a nice blend of size, scoring, and defensive versatility. With McCullar back, Tyreek will almost certainly go to a spot minute role, and my guess is one of Peavy or Burnett will have their minutes severely reduced. I am personally skeptical about Peavy’s game being able to translate consistently at the Big 12 level, as I think there are too many holes in his offensive game for him to receive heavy minutes alongside Shannon and MSS, but that is not something that is definite. His effort and instincts are really impressive for a freshman, and he could certainly get lots of minutes on defensive ability alone.

Beyond that- Benson could still get the occasional minute as a spark, and I do not see Goldin seeing any non-garbage time minutes for the foreseeable future. While I like Vlad, his processing is still not where it needs to be on either end, and I would say his lateral quickness needs to improve as well, although he is more quick than some people give him credit for. Adding strength is another priority for him, though that is something that will probably take a full offseason to develop.