Marcus “Backflip” Smart and the Oklahoma State Cowboys are coming back to the Phog where they won a year ago. The difference between last year’s squad and the one that State will face on Saturday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse (aside from nearly every major contributor on the roster) is that last year’s team was sputtering at the time, in the midst of what would become a three game losing streak, while this year’s team is coming into form.
Aside from the setback against No. 10 San Diego State at home, the Jayhawks have been playing their best ball of the year with wins over a very solid Oklahoma team on the road, Kansas State, and an impressive an under-heralded road victory at No. 8 Iowa State. They have covered the spread in five of their last six victories after falling short in the five games before that stretch. Still, Oklahoma State is a good team and they have proven their ability to win in tough environments. Here are some things to watch for tomorrow:
1. Which defense steps up? These are the two most efficient offenses in the Big 12. Kansas’ overall field goal percentage is currently No. 1 in the league and No. 6 in the country at 49.9 percent while OSU is currently No. 2 in the league and 12th in the country at a not-too-distant 49 percent. Oklahoma State is actually shooting the three-ball better overall so they edge out the Jayhawks in effective field goal percentage by 0.2%. Essentially, these two teams are equal offensive matches except for that KU has played a tougher schedule. That is going to be a constant no matter who KU plays this season. The real question in this one is who is going to get stops? Oklahoma State has been the tougher defensive team so far this season. Their defensive field goal percentage is substantially better than KU’s. However, KU’s defense has been slightly better since league play began, and I continue to believe that this will be a stout Bill Self style defense before the end of March.
2. Can KU stay out of foul trouble? Oklahoma State, as many of you know, likes to “entice” the officials into calling fouls. And, they are quite good at it. They also drive to the basket a ton, partly due to their size (or lack thereof). OSU has attempted 71 more free throws than KU on the year. And 63 more by the graces of Big 12 referees. Needless to say, KU fouls too much and OSU likes to get fouled a lot. Hopefully some home court advantage comes into play here, but it will still need to be an area of focus again for this young Kansas team. They can’t bail Oklahoma State out with fouls. Specifically, Embiid, who may be the greatest weapon KU has against Oklahoma State, needs to stay on the floor.
3. Will KU use their size to their advantage? KU has a marked size advantage across the board. Oklahoma State’s starting lineup goes 6’3″, 6’4″, 6’5″, 6’7″, and 6’8″. Compare that line to KU’s starting five which goes 5’11”, 6’5″, 6’8″, 6’8″, 7’0″. KU has been able to dominate smaller teams on the glass. They will need to do that again against a mediocre to poor rebounding team in Oklahoma State. If KU can take advantage of their size, get easy buckets inside and rebound misses for second chance opportunities, I think they will be in great shape for this one. Look for Perry and Joel to get a lot of touches early and often to establish themselves in the paint. If they can get going offensively and Tarik and Jamari can throw some weight around inside when they get minutes, KU should be able to wear OSU out inside.