Big 12 title on the line in Saturday clash

The Big 12 champion will be decided tomorrow afternoon in Lubbock, Texas.  The Kansas Jayhawks are looking to guarantee at least a share of what could be their 14th straight Big 12 title. Meanwhile, Red Raiders of Texas Tech are looking to get level with Kansas in the Big 12 standings. Texas Tech is seeking its first ever Big 12 title.

This time last week the Red Raiders were sitting one game ahead of the Jayhawks, but it has been a disastrous week for the Red Raider. The Red Raiders have lost their last two games. Texas Tech guard, Keenan Evans, went down with a toe injury in last Saturday’s loss at Baylor and played limited minutes in a Wednesday night loss to a red hot shooting Oklahoma State team in Stillwater. The senior guard is the heart and soul of Texas Tech’s unexpected brilliant season. Despite Evans having a rough shooting night in their last meeting his health will be one of the key factors in Saturday’s game.

Meanwhile, Kansas could not have had a better week. After a rough start against West Virginia, Kansas fought back for a win in  the final minutes. Bob Huggins’s team started off red hot before scoring only three field goals in the last seven minutes of the game. Kansas followed up the come back win with one of their best performances of the season. Kansas handed Oklahoma their eighth straight loss in a 104-74 rout in Allen Fieldhouse.

Even with the momentum favoring the Jayhawks, all Texas Tech needs is a win and they will be in control of their own title aspirations. For Kansas a win gives them a two game lead over Tech and barring an unlikely finish they will be the sole owners of the Big 12 title.

In their first meeting early this year the Red Raiders jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. Defensively they ran Kansas off of the three point line, forcing the three point shooters of Kansas to drive into crowded lanes.  Their wings switched off ball screens and refused to be fooled by backdoor cuts that Bill Self teams love to run off of dribble drives.  Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk both finished with five turnovers. The Jayhawks finished with 15.

Texas Tech is a veteran team who start five seniors. Disciplined basketball has become their brand. Chris Beard brought his team into Allen Fieldhouse focus and ready to play. The coaching staff held up signs reading “backdoor” and “lobs”, two of Bill Self’s staples.

Kansas slowly started to turn things around. They were able to create driving lanes which led to layups and open catch and shoot opportunities, but it was too little too late. They failed to convert on open shots late in the game.

Offensively the Red Raiders’ senior starting lineup feasted on the Jayhawks’ off ball defenders. Their motion offense, which runs off of random cuts and screens, created wide open looks for three as well as constant mismatches pulling the Kansas centers out of the lane. This allowed Keenan Evans and company to get to the rim without the threat of help defense or allowed open shot off of kick outs when the defense over corrected. The Red Raiders dominated the offensive boards finishing the game with 18.

Kansas corrected their glaring defensive flaws. They chased less off the ball and were more crisp in their help defense. However, confident Red Raiders continued to hit shots and capitalize on Kansas mistakes as their defense began to gamble late in the game.

Keys to the game:

The Red Raiders will look to replicate what it did to Kansas in their first meeting. Force the Jayhawks to drive into crowded lanes. They will look to score off turnovers and put the pressure on Kansas guards to make tough decisions by denying easy perimeter passing. Offensively they will also look to replicate the first game. Force the off ball defenders to make tough decisions early and often creating open shots.

They will look to get out to an early lead and continue to punish the Jayhawks whenever mistakes are made. The plan worked in game one at Allen Fieldhouse, and this time around the Texas Tech faithful will be able to put the pressure on the Jayhawks.

Kansas will need to take advantage of what the Red Raiders are going to give them. They need to use Texas Tech’s perimeter aggression and use off ball movement to create driving lanes. This worked late in the first match up although it came mainly in the second half.

The Jayhawks will need a big game from Udoka Azubuike, who looked lost at times in their first meeting. They will need to find better ways to swing the ball so that entry passes can be made to the big fella.

Defensively Kansas will need to play smart and not let the more mature Texas Tech team take advantage of mistakes.

This game will come down to Kansas’s ability to survive the Texas Tech game plan. They need to play smart composed basketball and take what the defense allows.

Kansas has matured greatly since January 1st, but if Texas Tech can execute at home (which they already did in Allen Fieldhouse) they will make Kansas sweat out the last two games of the year.

But, if the Jayhawks can weather the Texas Tech pressure, in front of a rocking home crowd in Lubbock, it will be once again time to crown the Jayhawks champions.

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