P.J. Tucker, 6-5, 225, jr., forward
Tucker, who is UT's leading scorer at 16.3 points a game, is a relentless rebounder, especially for his size. He averages 9.2 boards per outing.
Possessor of a strong spin move and jump hook, he's sizzling from the field as a 53.9 percent shooter. Tucker doesn't shoot three-pointers - his outside shot remains somewhat suspect - but is a darn good free thrower at 74.8 percent.
Tucker - a player Mike Jones of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram describes as "strong as a bull" - provides tough matchup problems in that if a team puts a smaller player on him, he has the knack of ruling that player down low. When hounded by a big guy, Tucker uses his athleticism to sweep around the player.
Ruled academically ineligible in January of his sophomore season, the Longhorns went 14-3 with him and 6-8 without him. An impressive guy, he turned a negative into a positive, working on his classwork while improving his body in the weight room.
"He reminds me of two players - Adrian Dantley (of Notre Dame) and Roosevelt Chapman (Dayton)," KU coach Bill Self said. "Chapman was a fearless player, a great player."
Bottom line: Brandon Rush, who is 6-foot-6 and heavier than his listed weight of 207 pounds, might be the best bet to guard Tucker.
Daniel Gibson, 6-2, 190, soph., guard
Gibson, who has 82 assists against 59 turnovers, is not a prototypical point guard. In fact, the three-point marksman (76-for-203 for 37.4 percent) does not always bring the ball up court. He's been free to operate on the wing, where he either shoots the three or penetrates and kicks back out.
Oh, he still plays some point, but Kenton Paulino, freshman A.J. Abrams and even Tucker also have ballhandling responsibilities.
Gibson made a name for himself in college immediately - last season becoming the first freshman player in UT history to lead the team in scoring.
He's hard to guard because he doesn't need much room to shoot and is unselfish enough to dish. His defense is a work in progress, getting better as he matures.
"He can really shoot it," Self said. "He had 37 against Baylor (hitting nine threes)."
Bottom line: Look for Russell Robinson to be assigned to try to slow Gibson, who averages 14.1 ppg off 40.7 percent shooting.
LaMarcus Aldridge, 6-10, 237, soph., forward
Aldridge, who averages 15.9 points and 9.3 boards a game, has been called the best pro prospect in the Big 12 Conference, though Tucker and Gibson aren't far behind.
Aldridge, a 59.3 percent shooter, possesses a great turnaround jumper and jump hook. He can shoot from outside, but doesn't extend beyond the arc.
Aldridge hits the glass hard, grabbing 154 defensive rebounds and 97 offensive boards in 27 games.
Scouts have drooled over his touch, athleticism and ability to run the floor, not to mention his quick feet on defense. He relentlessly goes after the ball on defense, evidenced by his team-leading 53 blocks.
"He is so long," Self said. "He looks even longer than what he is. He plays with the ball above his chin at all times. His release point is high. He can also play the wing on the 2-3 zone and is a tough guy to shoot over. It's pretty good when the best (NBA) prospect in your league is second-leading candidate for league player of the year and the leading candidate is on your team (Tucker). They've got some guys."
Bottom line: One would envision Sasha Kaun getting the opening call on Aldridge, though it might be wise to extend C.J. Giles' minutes this contest, Giles conceding, "He plays a lot like I do."
Who knows, though? Self might put lanky, long Julian Wright on Aldridge at times to see if he can disrupt the big guy.
Brad Buckman, 6-8, 235, sr., forward
A tough, hard-nosed player who does not get pushed around, Buckman hits for 10.7 points and 7.0 boards a game.
Though not a big-time scorer, he produces when called upon from both inside and out. A 47.2 percent shooter, he has extended his game beyond the arc, where this year he's bagged 17 of 49 threes for 34.7 percent.
He's a reliable veteran presence coach Rick Barnes loves to see on the court during pressure-packed situations.
One of the most underrated players in the league, Buckman isn't afraid to ask for the ball in critical situations. If he's not scoring, he tends to get fouled. He's made 60 of 79 free throws for 75.9 percent.
"Brad can definitely shoot it," Self said. "He's capable of stepping out."
Bottom line: Wright will likely answer the bell on Buckman, unless Self decides it's better to put a big body on the bruiser right off the bat.
Kenton Paulino, 6-1, 185, sr., guard
Paulino may be thought of as a three-point marksman - he's made 53 of 124 for 42.7 percent - yet he also is a great distributor, with 92 assists against 50 turnovers.
Paulino can take it to the basket and also shoot the pull-up jumper and deep three. Teams used to leave Paulino open and concentrate on stopping Gibson, but have learned that's not a wise choice. Paulino can score.
"He's 42 percent from three and can score in a hurry," Self said.
Bottom line: Mario Chalmers, who is listed at 6-2, will guard Paulino.
Barnes has received a nice spark from 5-10 frosh A.J. Abrams, who has 72 assists against 40 turnovers and has contributed 5.5 points a game. He has a reputation as a stellar shooter, but thus far in college has made 40 percent of his shots, including 30 of 77 threes (39 percent).
Former McDonald's All-American Mike Williams, a 6-7 sophomore, has played in 22 games, averaging 2.2 points and 3.1 boards while logging 14.3 minutes per contest. Connor Atchley, a 6-9 freshman, has averaged 8.6 minutes a game in 22 games, going for 2.7 points a game.
KU has the potential to go much, much deeper bench-wise, and that could turn out to be a big-time advantage in such a critical game.
"Rick will do a good job substituting," Self said. "I think depth could be a factor, but I don't know if it will be as big a factor as some people think it'd be."