With a Matchup Quality of 97.7 (fifth best this season), tonight’s clash between Texas and Kansas (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) is one you won’t want to miss. Two of the top teams in men’s college basketball all season long, the Longhorns and Jayhawks are currently ranked sixth and 13th, respectively, by ESPN Analytics’ BPI. Both have performed well despite difficult schedules, earning Kansas the No. 3 spot and Texas the No. 4 in our strength of record metric.
The similarities don’t stop there. In the preseason, BPI had Texas as the second-best team in the country and Kansas at 13th. Both have been highly efficient on offense and defense, and they’re two of just 10 teams BPI gives more than a 1.5% chance to win it all on April 3. Neither has dropped below 12th in the AP poll at any point this season. Even their pace is within a half possession of each other.
So what could make the difference in their matchup?
Turnovers are first. Texas has forced them on 22.6% of its opponents’ possessions, good for 35th among Division I teams. Its offense has excelled at capitalizing on those turnovers, as highlighted by its 1.16 points per possession on transition plays, according to Synergy Sports, also ranking 35th. When forcing at least 15 turnovers this season, the Longhorns have gone 14-1. When forcing fewer than 15, they’re just 5-3.
This is bad news for Kansas, which coughs up a turnover on 17.8% of its possessions (135th in Division I) and is subsequently slow to get back on defense. Teams average 1.2 points per turnover against the Jayhawks, 91st in Division I. The number 15 could be a breaking point: Kansas has given up 15 turnovers in only five games this season, and is 1-4 in those games and 17-1 otherwise.
The second key comes down to play style and assists. As shown by Synergy Sports’ play type tracking, the Jayhawks can push opponents away from team basketball and into more one-on-one situations. They force isolations at the sixth-highest rate, and pick-and-rolls without a pass more than usual (102nd), in Division I. Conversely, they allow assist-friendly spot-up plays (where the possession ends with either a catch and shoot or catch and drive) less often than 316 other Division I teams.
Of particular use against Texas will be forcing pick-and-roll plays to stay with the ball handler, and avoiding spot-ups. The Longhorns rank 311th in points per possession when the ball handler keeps it, versus 55th when the ball gets to the roll man. On spot-up plays, they rank 125th.
On offense, Kansas capitalizes on spreading the ball around, ranking 14th in assist percentage. Taking advantage of this against Texas will be important, which ranks just 106th in assist percentage allowed. On the season, the Jayhawks are 18-1 when they have more assists than their opponent, and 0-4 when they don’t.
For the winner, this will be a statement game in the grapple for a potential No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. For the fans, it should be a fantastic game featuring two of the best teams in men’s college basketball.