The #4 ranked Houston Cougars will come to Allen Fieldhouse for the first time ever to play the #8 ranked Kansas Jayhawks. The two sides have a bit to prove when they face each other tomorrow at 3:00 pm, so it will be another classic Big 12 contest to remember as these two teams look to start what looks to be a gauntlet of a February with a win. The Jayhawks lead the overall series with 5 wins over the Cougars to Houston's 2 over the Jayhawks. Let's break it down.
Tale of the Tape: Houston Cougars
Kelvin Sampson's squad comes into this game on a 5-game winning streak, their last loss coming on the road at TCU 68-67 on January 13th. L.J. Cryer has been showing why he was a sought-after transfer by having a 37.8% 3-point percentage, averaging 15 points a game, and having a 40% FG percentage as a guard. Jamal Shead is his counterpart and has also stood out heavily this season, scoring 12.3 points a game, a 35.8% 3-point percentage, and leads the team in assists and steals with 5.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game, respectively. The Houston backcourt could potentially give this Jayhawk defense a lot of problems, as they have struggled with perimeter defense, however, it certainly isn't the toughest team they'll face on the perimeter all season. Houston will have to shoot better than average to get out of Allen Fieldhouse with a win, but these are the guys to perform in big games. Cryer performed well while at Allen when he played for Baylor, shooting lights out for the entire first half of that contest last year. Houston struggles to score inside, so if this turns into a slugfest instead of a shootout, it will rule in the Jayhawks' favor as they have arguably the best-scoring big man in the country with Hunter Dickinson. Ja'wan Roberts and Ja'Vier Francis will have their work cut out for them if Houston allows the inside ball, but they will need to step up heavily as that is Kansas's bread and butter not being much of a perimeter shooting team. Houston is #1 in KenPom for a reason though, they will not show many weaknesses for the Jayhawks to exploit, but this is a big one that may decide the game if Houston goes cold from 3.
Tale of the Tape: Kansas Jayhawks
The preseason #1 ranking has weighed heavily on the Jayhawks for much of this season so far. They've had some great wins, but some bad losses to balance it out, and this one is perhaps the biggest game of the season. This game could decide how February goes, as the Jayhawks will need every win they can get to win the Big 12 this year (as will Houston, of course, this conference has been an absolute dogfight. Nothing new for the Big 12 though.) The Jayhawks can turn around an overall disappointing January with a big win at home against the KenPom #1 and an AP Top 5 team in the nation and start a very difficult February with a key win. Kansas will need to force Houston inside to win this game, as discussed previously. They're not that great of a perimeter shooting team but can get hot, and if you know anything about Kansas Basketball, you know that any team can get hot from 3 at any time. Putting this team into the teeth of the defense will be key. Guard play will be huge, so Dajuan Harris will have to put on a vintage defensive performance and Johnny Furphy will have to hold his water as well. Do not expect the bench to see a ton of playing time, while the win versus Oklahoma State was refreshing, I don't anticipate Bill Self to change his tune against the #4 team in the nation. They will get time, but Self will want his best players on the floor as much as possible, as the bench has struggled mightily this year. Foul trouble will be something to avoid like the plague for this exact reason.
Offensively, the Jayhawks will need to shoot much like how they shot last game, yes, but once again, the Jayhawks win if the game is mainly played in the paint. Hunter Dickinson can capitalize on a just-okay front court for the Cougars, as he averages 18.7 points a game, 11.2 rebounds, and has a 59.2% FG percentage. If Kansas can suck in the guards to help out in defending Dickinson, then that frees up guys like Kevin McCullar and KJ Adams to take control as well inside. If it does turn into a shootout, then Dajuan Harris will have to show what he showed last game and not be intimidated by shooting the ball. He shot 2-3 from 3-point range but he actually shot the 3 instead of trying to play hero ball, something the Jayhawks will need him to do again this game. Johnny Furphy will need to catch fire again as well, he struggled this past game which Houston will be wary of, so the guys that aren't regular 3-point shooters must choose their shots wisely and aren't afraid to let it loose while building Furphy's confidence back. Share the ball, get it inside, and control the tempo, and given the fact that this team leads the nation in assists, that will hopefully not be an issue.
This will all come down to which team plays their game the best, which sounds like a simple statement, but there are levels to it. If Houston can get hot from outside and make the game a shooting contest, I think they run away with it, but given the fact that the Jayhawks are at Allen, they had a great, confidence-building game against a team that shoots the ball from 3 really well, and they can also be a team that was as advertised at the beginning of the season when they control the tempo and control the nerves, the Jayhawks just need to make sure they hold water against the perimeter in order to win this. They win the battle pretty easily inside with Dickinson and Adams, so if they can dominate the paint and keep the game inside, this game is in the Jayhawks' favor. It will be tight, but I predict a Jayhawk victory in what will be a slugfest with a few three-balls sprinkled in.
Final Score Prediction: Kansas 74-Houston 71