I attended the de-facto conference championship game against Oklahoma State in the Fieldhouse on March 5, 1995. Two guys played the games of their respective lives. Randy Rutherford scored 45 points for Oklahoma State and Greg Ostertag, on Senior Day and with an assist from Scot Pollard, held Bryant Reeves scoreless. (My memory had conflated Greg Gurley's five made three-pointers against Colorado the previous season with his 13 point, 12 minute performance against the Cowboys in this game. Considering the stakes, if you want to include Gurley with Rutherford and Ostertag, I won't argue.) It was a great game. Rutherford was spectacular and a Kansas partisan could enjoy his performance because the rest of his teammates only scored 17 points and the Jayhawks won by 16. On that day in 1995, the hoary maxim, "One guy can't beat you," held true. I think the validity of that sentiment could be relevant tomorrow as well.
Kevin Durant is so good that, if I may continue to write primarily in cliches, you can't stop him you can only hope to contain him. to wit:
He scores a ton and he scores efficiently. He gets a block or steal on almost 6% of Texas's defensive possessions. He dominates the defensive glass, and his offensive rebounding numbers may be artificially deflated by his own excellence (i.e. Texas probably misses more shots than average when Durant is off the floor).
Now, Texas will at times help their opponent in containing Durant. DJ Augustin and AJ Abrams will look for their own shots (as they should considering how frequently they make shots) and Durant can become too reliant on the three-point shot (see Texas's losses @Oklahoma State and @Villanova).
Considering that Durant should be able to shoot over whichever Jayhawk is guarding/attempting to guard him, I contend that Kansas should live with whatever offensive damage Durant can inflict and focus on denying Abrams and Augustin open looks.
Regardless of the strategy employed by the Jayhawks, I am extremely excited to see how Kansas's defense will perform against an outstanding offensive team.
TEXAS OFFENSE v. KANSAS DEFENSE
(Big 12 games only)
If tomorrow's game splits the difference between the two team's average performances, Texas will post the third most efficient offensive performance of a Big 12 team facing Kansas (1. @Texas Tech: 1.06 points per possession, 2. Texas A&M: 1.04) Kansas's worst (unadjusted) defensive performance of the year came against Florida in Las Vegas. In that game, the Jayhawks allowed 1.12 points per possession.
To further put Texas's offensive prowess in perspective. Their average performance in Big 12 play is equal to Kansas's offensive performance against Florida in Vegas or @Missouri.
Texas has scored more efficiently at home than on the road. In their near-losses @Nebraska and @Baylor, they scored only 1.02 and 1.05 points per possession, respectively. In their January visit to Villanova, they scored just 0.93 points per possession. On the other hand, Texas scored 1.10 (in College Station) and 1.22 (in Austin) points per possession in their two matchups against Texas A&M's fine defense.
Texas has to play well offensively because they don't play very good defense.
TEXAS DEFENSE v. KANSAS OFFENSE
(Big 12 games only)
Suffice to say that, as much as Durant and Augustin have brought to the Texas offense, neither they nor any other of the Longhorns' newcomers have replaced LaMarcus Aldridge or PJ Tucker's skills as defenders. Prior to their game @Oklahoma, Texas had not held an opponent to less than one point per possession in a game played outside of Austin since their November 16th game against Michigan State in Madison Square Garden.
Texas primarily plays a 2-3 zone where neither Augustin nor Abrams gamble much in the passing lanes. If Kansas is patient in the half-court, they should find plenty of space to operate on the wings, at the top of the key, and in the high post. If Kansas finds a way to turn the ball over despite relatively lax defensive pressure, Texas's defense will be aided immensely.
At times, I have seen Texas switch to a 3-2 zone with Durant at the top. Durant does not seem especially comfortable defending at the top of the key and in the Texas games I've seen, Rick Barnes has used this strictly as a change of pace defense, never for more than two or three possessions in a row.
The teams' season averages and the location of the game suggest that Kansas should be a fairly comfortable favorite in this game. (This Texas team is a better version of the offense-yay!, defense-meh 2005 squad that got blown out in their visit to Lawrence. I doubt anyone would argue that this Kansas team isn't superior to their 2005 edition as well.) However (with the exception of the Big 12 South teams), every time Kevin Durant steps on the court this year he presents a problem the opposing team hasn't faced before. I don't know how Kansas is going to defend him or how their defensive strategy will impact their ability to also defend Augustin and Abrams effectively.
Texas will most likely play at Kansas's pace. Texas will most definitely play at Kansas. Under those conditions Kansas wins this game 8 out of 10 times by my estimation. To finish where this preview began, they only play this game once. And you don't play games on paper. You can throw the records out (though, please throw them someplace nearby so we can determine the conference champion at game's end) and anything can happen.
Prediction: Kansas 77 Texas 71
Seth Davis agrees = Hoopinion's initial pangs of discomfort.