The Longhorns have gotten off to a sluggish start in conference play in 2013, losing their first three games against Big 12 opponents.
Upsetting No. 4 Kansas on Saturday could go a long way in righting the ship for the Longhorns and would provide them with a much needed momentum kick, but the numbers suggest that Texas will have its hands full with the Kansas big men.
The Longhorns have had their fair share of trouble against post-up players this season, especially against premier opponents. Baylor big men Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson combined for 43 points and 22 rebounds in their win against Texas on Jan. 5, while Michigan State center Derrick Nix scored 25 points and grabbed 11 boards in a Dec. 22 victory.
The Jayhawks will have the same opportunity to exploit the Texas front court, as their 7-foot, 235-lb. center Jeff Withey will easily be the biggest player on the court. The senior is enjoying a strong 2012-13 campaign, averaging 13.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game while averaging just under 30 minutes per contest. Withey is also a terror on the defensive end, blocking 4.7 shots a game, second-best in the nation and identical to Anthony Davis’ clip a season ago.
A large component of Texas’ issues against big, physical back-to-the-basket players can be attributed to the Longhorns’ overall lack of size. Only one player, freshman Prince Ibeh, stands at 6 feet 10 inches, and he only averages 10.4 minutes per game. The freshman could see the floor more on Saturday in an attempt to compromise Withey, but the Kansas center still possesses considerably more size and experience.
Texas has relied heavily on its perimeter scorers through 16 games, and this is a significant reason why its .401 field goal percentage ranks 304th in the nation. Longhorns big men Connor Lammert, Cameron Ridley and Jaylen Bond have each converted on less than half of their shot attempts, and because of this, Texas has lacked a dynamic scorer at the post positions all season.
Kansas has not had this problem, as the Jayhawks are 13th in the nation with a .489 field goal percentage. They will be eager to exploit this mismatch against Texas, as Withey, Kevin Young and, to a lesser extent, Perry Ellis will each have the chance to score and rebound near the rim. And then, out on the perimeter, there’s freshman sensation Ben McLemore, who’s dealing with a tweaked ankle but is putting up 16.4 points per contest.
Should Withey and company play well Saturday, it would not be an unprecedented occurrence as Kansas big men have given the Longhorns trouble over the years. Last season, Thomas Robinson racked up 25 points and 14 boards in his final home game, and in 2003 Nick Collison had one of the most memorable games in this rivalry’s history by registering 24 points and 23 rebounds in a 90-87 win.
The Longhorns will be hungry to make a statement this Saturday at home against Kansas, but the inside presence of the Jayhawks should make this difficult.