Kansas certainly has its swagger back, as two home blowout victories have eliminated the uncomfortable odor of a once-in-a-decade losing streak.
That losing streak began with an unusually awkward defensive performance against the uber-talented Oklahoma State Cowboys, who shredded the nation's best defense for a season-worst 85 points in regulation.
Now riding a six-game winning streak and holding first-place in the Big 12, the Pokes present a host of challenges in a tricky rematch for the Jayhawks.
Cowboys guard Markel Brown torched Kansas for 22 of his 28 points in the first half, forcing the Jayhawks to dramatically adjust their defense—oftentimes not accounting for point guard Marcus Smart.
In doing so, the second half of the Cowboys' backcourt proceeded to take advantage by snagging eight offensive rebounds, nearly all of which resulted in easy put-back buckets for the sub-40 percent shooting playmaker.
On a team filled with scorers, KU cannot allow Smart to roam freely inside the arc—Smart is only a 31 percent three-point shooter—and abuse out-of-position Jayhawk guards again.
Bill Self's offense is built to move with the understanding that players should break off a sequence when an open shot presents itself.
It is certainly not built for early-shot clock step-back perimeter heaves or overaggressive penetration against double teams, both of which we have seen far too often this season.
Kansas' shot selection has dramatically improved in their last two games, starting with the execution from senior point guard Elijah Johnson.
In Saturday's win over Texas, Johnson committed only one turnover and recorded four assists, hitting five (mostly open) shots, while creating opportunities for teammates. It was his most productive game in five weeks.
Tape from KU's three-game losing streak was littered with poor defensive switches and uncomfortable perimeter defending from the Jayhawks' frontcourt.
And despite good improvement on defensive switches, Kansas still allowed too many open looks on Saturday, all of which Texas could not capitalize on.
While he does posses excellent footwork and discipline, Jeff Withey was not born to defend the three-point shot, nor were Naadir Tharpe or Elijah Johnson born to provide adequate backside help in the paint.
The versatility of Big 12 rosters has challenged the Kansas defense to provide flawless communication and help defense, with Oklahoma State's backcourt trio of Markel Brown, Marcus Smart and Le'Bryan Nash being no different.
Numerous factors affect a team's ability to run in transition, one of which starts with poor offensive decision-making, an aspect Kansas has begun to improve with better shot selection.
However, while the Jayhawks still boast an excellent defense with great instincts, recovery speed and appropriate pressure, their transition defense is inconsistent. These inconsistencies allow high-percentage shots and continue to expose KU's ugly flaw of surrendering offensive rebounds in bunches.
It is imperative Kansas controls the transition game, both offensively and defensively, with timely risks, smart perimeter passing and excellent shot selection.
A fast start for the Jayhawks would cause Travis Ford's offense to become one-dimensional, thus harnessing their extreme athleticism and potential for transitional mismatches.
A savvy seven-footer certainly helps in controlling the offensive glass, but while Kansas remains a top-30 team in rebounding margin, they are allowing enormous spurts of offensive rebounds.
Luckily for Jeff Withey and company, the 17 offensive boards yielded to Texas were irrelevant during a blowout, but the 17 offensive rebounds recorded by Oklahoma State in their win at Allen Fieldhouse two weeks ago were the difference.
Eight of those rebounds were snagged by 6'4" guard Marcus Smart, as he abused Naadir Tharpe and Elijah Johnson all afternoon with better position and hustle.
Many called Kansas "soft" during that game, as they lost loose-ball battles, surrendered easy put-backs and allowed the Cowboys to control the paint.