Kansas can’t help but still be thinking about the last meeting with Oklahoma State, earlier this month in Lawrence, when the Cowboys stunned the then-No. 1 team in the country with an improbable win that not only handed the Jayhawks their first conference loss of the season after seven consecutive victories, but also ended the eight-time defending conference champion’s 33-game home court winning streak at legendary Allen Fieldhouse.
On Wednesday night, the Cowboys get a second shot at Kansas – this time, though, at Oklahoma State’s place – with first place and a shot at the Big 12 regular-season championship on the line. Both schools come into the game with identical 9-3 records in the league.
Momentum would seem to swing the way of the Cowboys, who are riding a seven-game winning streak against Big 12 opponents after starting out the conference season losing three of their first five contests, all on the road. Kansas, meanwhile, has rebounded with two consecutive convincing victories after suffering three losses in a row for the first time in head coach Bill Self’s 10 seasons with the Jayhawks.
While this game will not by itself decide the conference champion in men’s basketball, it will have a lot to say about which team, at the end, will get to wear the crown.
A home-court win by Oklahoma State would tie the Pokes with Kansas State, both with 10 wins and, more importantly, set the stage for a classic season finale when K-State visits Gallagher-Iba Arena on the last weekend of the regular season. It also would give Oklahoma State the tiebreaker over Kansas in the event that both the Cowboys and Jayhawks would end the season in a tie and a higher seed in the Big 12 Tournament, which tips off March 13.
But Kansas has other ideas for the outcome of Wednesday’s game between two of the Big 12’s best teams this season. The Jayhawks are hoping to right things after losing the first encounter between the two teams by five points, 85-80 at Kansas. The two teams have met 65 times in Stillwater, where the Jayhawks hold a slight 34-31 edge. Kansas has won four of the last five meetings between the two schools, the lone loss in that string coming on Feb. 2 this year at Allen Fieldhouse, where Oklahoma State had not won since 1989.
Speaking about Wednesday night’s rematch between the two teams, Kansas sophomore reserve guard Naadir Tharpe told The Kansas City Star: “Even though the (Oklahoma State) game was in the past, it was one of those (loses) that stuck with us for a while. The first game wasn’t what we expected. That’s the good thing of Big 12 basketball. We get another chance to play the team again.”
Another interesting story line associated with this national TV matchup of nationally ranked teams (Kansas is No. 9 in both the USA Today and Associated Press polls and Oklahoma State comes in at No. 14 this week in both polls) is the relationship between Self and Oklahoma
State. The KU coach played his collegiate ball for Henry Iba at Oklahoma State. He is 9-5 against his alma mater since taking over the head coaching position at Kansas in 2003.
Not only does this game feature two of the conference’s best teams, it also offers a showcase for the league’s two best freshmen players in KU’s sensational 6-5 two-guard Ben McLemore and the Cowboys’ “Mr. Everything” point guard Marcus Smart. The last time these two teams met, Smart almost single-handidly took down the Jayhawks, with a 25-point, nine-rebound performance and a steal in the closing seconds with Kansas in possession and down by only three points. McLemore had 23 points in the game for the Jayhawks.
This contest could well come down to Kansas’ league-leading defense vs. Oklahoma State’s offense, which ranks second in the conference behind Iowa State. The Jayhawks are holding Big 12 opponents to 37 percent shooting and a scoring average of 61 points a game, while the Cowboys are averaging 74 points in their 12 conference games.
Here are five other things to watch for in the Kansas-Oklahoma State rematch:
- Experience can be a large factor in a big game like this. Kansas starts four seniors and a freshman, while the Oklahoma State starting five includes two sophomores and a freshman. In this situation, however, the two freshmen (KU’s McLemore and OSU’s Smart) happen to be the best players on the court for their respective teams.
- Kansas not only leads the Big 12 in field goal defense, the Jayhawks are the best in the country in that category. Sixteen of the Jayhawks’ 25 opponents this season have scored 60 or fewer points. The Kanssa defense will be put to the test against the Cowboys, who are the only team in the conference to have three players in the top 10 in the Big 12 in scoring and four in the top 20.
- Oklahoma State is undefeated at home (6-0) in Big 12 play this season and 13-1 in all games.
- Oklahoma State’s Markel Brown was seven for 10 in three-point attempts and was the game’s high scorer with 28 points in the first game at Kansas. If he continues to display a hot hand in the rematch, it will make it very difficult for Kansas to salvage a victory.
- Kansas is 4-1 against ranked teams in 2012-13. Oklahoma State is 2-1 against ranked teams this season, with both wins coming on the road.
For more news and information on Kansas Jayhawks basketball, visit ThroughthePhog.com.
For more news and information about Oklahoma State basketball, go to PokesPost.com.