The Young And The Old: A Youthful Kansas Team Once Again Takes Control Of The Big 12

Showing the maturity of a team beyond its years on the roster, Kansas picked up a huge road win over Texas Saturday. This was a strong bounce-back after falling to Iowa State just a week earlier for its first Big 12 loss.

That setback in Ames against the Cyclones exposed some weaknesses and possibly a chink in the armor in the Jayahwks, as they eye an 11th straight Big 12 crown. However, as happens every year under Bill Self (well, other than that first one in 2004), the Jayhawks make course corrections in the heat of Big 12 competition. They win the important road games a conference champion has to pull out of the fire.

They did the deed again on Saturday in Austin against the Longhorns, who entered this season with visions of toppling KU.

The Jayhawks rode a 25-10 second-half run to take a 10-point lead with just under four minutes remaining. Perimeter defense, ball control, and late free throws allowed Kansas to go on this impressive run to take control and then cruise to the finish line. This performance is what you’d expect of a veteran team, but Kansas is a young team, on balance. What is it about the 2015 Jayhawks that enabled them to come through on Saturday?

Bill Self starts two sophomores and a freshman. One of those freshmen, Cliff Alexander, has taken his lumps this season. After beginning the season as a starter and playing over 20 minutes per game, Alexander has seen his minutes dip as low as 15 against Texas Tech and 14 against Iowa State. Alexander had another strong performance against Texas, after scoring 13 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in 23 minutes against Oklahoma. On Saturday, Alexander hit 6-of-11 shots for 15 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes. His effective game was part of a crisp offensive performance for the Jayhawks.

Kansas did not turn the ball over at all in the second half. Moreover, this was on the road, against a team that held West Virginia to only 13 made shots last weekend. Much of this credit belongs to point guards Frank Mason III, a sophomore, and Devonte Graham, another freshman. In addition to a stellar second-half outing, Kansas committed only three turnovers in the first half. Mason and Graham combined for seven assists.

Perry Ellis continued his hot streak after an extremely cold spell to kick off conference play. Ellis has shot at least 50 percent from the floor in the last three games against Texas, Oklahoma, and Iowa State. Against Texas in particular, Ellis was attacking the basket, often as the man responsible for catching the ball near the foul line against Texas’s zone defense. The man near the high post who catches the ball near the foul line against a zone is responsible for reading the defense and seeing if he can shoot a jumper, drive to the rim, or draw defenders and kick to the wings for a three. Ellis was great at making the right decisions in the second half, often going to the rack or dishing for a layup. He provides legitimate experience for the squad as a junior. The Jayhawks absolutely need this kind of effort out of Ellis to continue the success.

While this Kansas team is a little bit different than past Bill Self teams, with no big man and rim protector like Joel Embiid or Jeff Withey, the Jayhawks are still getting it done. Everthing came together for the Jayhawks to conquer Texas on Saturday. The only question is if this team has enough to survive the gauntlet in the Big 12. Saturday was a huge step in the right direction. In light of Iowa State’s shocking loss at Texas Tech, Kansas is once again the overwhelming favorite to claim the Big 12 regular season championship.

The more things change, the more the Big 12 still revolves around Lawrence, Kansas.