Monday, February 11, 2008

Big Night in Austin

We've spent most of the day in bed, but thanks to the creators of the laptop and wireless network, we've been able to stay on top of work. Tonight is Big Monday. Kansas travels to Texas for a huge Big 12 showdown. Not only is this game important in the race for the Big 12 title, but both teams have a lot at stake when it comes to the NCAA tournament. There aren't many other games of this magnitude on KU's schedule (at Texas A&M, Kansas State) and a chance to pickup a marquee road win against the #12 team in the country is a must to grab the #1 seed in the Midwest.

Follow us here. After watching UCLA stumble last night against Washington and North Carolina escape against Clemson, this is a chance for KU to separate themselves from the pack with Memphis, and we guess, Duke (though we still don't buy them). Texas has motivation as well. Holding serve here puts them equal to KU in the Big 12 with two losses. They too are playing for a high seed. Right now, they look like a #3, but a win here would go a long way for the Horns. Their schedule ahead of them still has trips to Baylor and Kansas State, at home dates with Texas A&M and Oklahoma.

On the court, Kansas is coming off the 100-90 win against Baylor Saturday night. A game in which the Jayhawks didn't hit a single three-point basket for the first time since 1992. Darrell Arthur stayed out of foul trouble and was magnificent with 23 points and 10 boards in 33 minutes. Russell Robinson broke out of his slump with 22, including an inpressive 14-15 from the line. But the key to the Baylor win was Sherron Collins. For the first time this season, he was the game-changer who flew up and down the court past the speedy Baylor guards. In a season-high 28 minutes, he scored 17 points and dished out four assists. Said Coach Bill Self "Sherron was the spark tonight. I thought in the second half he changed the pace of the game and got us easy baskets in transition."

It was the first time since the Kansas State loss that the offense was feeling the flow, even though they didn't make any of their nine three point attempts. They will need to re-discover that stroke tonight if they are going to win in Austin. Texas' backcourt is lethal. A.J. Abrams deep shooting and D.J. Augustine's penetration ability are tough to stop. They are the keys to this Longhorn attack. Case in point, last Saturday in Ames, The Horns struggled big time against Iowa State, Augustine in particular. He was 5-22 from the field, but while he was missing shots left and right, Abrams couldn't miss. He hit 7-10 threes on his way to a game high 25.

Rick Barnes is back to a six man rotation. Abrams and Augustine rarely leave the floor, and big man Gary Johnson is the only reserve Barnes seems to trust and Johnson missed half of the season with a heart ailment. Johnson, along with Damion James, give UT two athletic power forwards who love to pound the glass. Conner Atchley may be listed as a Center, he is a perimeter player.

What will be interesting tonight is to see how KU guards Robinson, Mario Chalmers, and Collins hand the speed of Augustine and Abrams. The K-State game started a troubling trend for Robinson and Chalmers of watching their men blow by them off the dribble. They have been lauded as the best defensive backcourt in the game, but we shall see how they handle two studs tonight. Chalmers plays off of Robinson's full court pressure, to force steals and sag off his man while getting in passing lanes. If Robinson isn't staying in front of his man, Chalmers becomes inactive.

KU will have a size advantage in the post and should pound it down low to Arthur, Darnell Jackson, and Sasha Kaun. But watch for Brandon Rush to have a big night. James should be guarding him, but he doesn't have the quicks to stay with Rush. If Rush can draw James to the perimeter, he should be able to open up the post for Arthur in particular. It's going to be a hostile atmosphere in Austin tonight, as they are expecting their first sell out crowd of the year.

Prediction: This is a determined KU team. They will show focus and veteran savvy on the road. Robinson will have a tough time with Augustine, but we think Rush could spend time on Abrams to help lock him down. Arthur staying out of foul trouble will be a key thing to watch for. In the end, we think Rush and Arthur will have big games and KU will weather the storm and take this one. KU 80 Texas 76

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