“Every game is a big game this time of year,” said Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford after the Cowboys’ road loss Wednesday at Iowa State. And the Cowboys won’t have long to wait before their next big game, which comes on Saturday against Kansas State in Oklahoma State’s final home date of the season and what could be the biggest game of the season for the visiting Wildcats.
Kansas coach Bill Self this week called Kansas State’s Bruce Weber, in his first year coaching the Wildcats, the coach of the year in the Big 12. And if Weber’s team is able to survive the perils of Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater with a win on Saturday, he will almost certain to turn the KU coach’s prediction into a Self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Wildcats lack one victory of earning no worse than a share of the Big 12 men’s regular-season basketball crown, which would be their first in the Big 12 era. K-State couldn’t have drawn a more difficult task, though, than having to go to Oklahoma State on the final weekend in the regular season to claim a potential conference championship.
Kansas State is seeking its 15th conference win, which would be three more victories than any Wildcat team has achieved in the 17 years the Big 12 has been in existence. Going into Saturday’s games, the Cats are tied with Sunflower State archrival Kansas atop the conference standings. The Jayhawks are at Baylor on Saturday and must win to guarantee themselves at least a share of what would be an unprecedented ninth consecutive Big 12 championship. A Kansas loss coupled with a Wildcat victory over third-pace Oklahoma State, however, would give Kansas State the outright league crown.
The Wildcats and Cowboys faced each other way back in early January in Manhattan to open the Big 12 portion of the season schedule. Kansas State won that encounter by six points, 73-67. The Cowboys, who have beaten every team in the conference at least once this season except Kansas State, would like nothing better than to spoil the Wildcats chances for their first Big 12 basketball title.
Kansas State, on the other hand, has had recent success against Oklahoma State. The Wildcats (25-5, 14-3) have won three out of the last five meetings between the two schools, including last season’s game in Stillwater (66-58). Oklahoma State (22-7, 12-5), is 7-1 on its home floor in Big 12 play (it’s only home loss by a single point in overtime to Kansas), but Kansas State has played very well on the road, defeating six out of eight conference opponents away from home.
Saturday’s game in Stillwater appears statistically to be an evenly matched encounter, with both teams among the league leaders in scoring and on defense. The Pokes and the Cats rank second and third in the conference, respectively, in scoring margin, beating their Big 12 opponents by an average of 7 points per game.
It will be Senior Day at Oklahoma State, which should give the Cowboys an added emotional lift and a factor Kansas State will have to brace for, particularly in the early going. The opening five minutes will be particularly important for both teams and could well define the outcome for the game.
Here are four more keys to the game:
- Oklahoma State has three of the top 10 scorers in the conference in Markel Brown (16.6), freshman Marcus Smart (16.0) and Le’Bryan Nash (13.5). Any of these three players is capable of taking over a game, and they get a lot of their points in transition on breakaways off of steals, a category in which the Cowboys lead the league. Stopping all three will be a tall task, even for a very good defensive team like Kansas State.
- Kansas State is an excellent three-point-shooting team, best in the Big 12. If the Cowboys don’t get out on the K-State three-point shooters and defend the perimeter, the Wildcats will make Oklahoma State pay and, at the very least, will keep the Cats in the game.
- Oklahoma State is one of the best teams in the conference in defensive rebounds, but neither team rebounds particularly well on the offensive glass. Second-chance putbacks could be an important part of this game, and the team that does this best has a good chance of pulling out the victory.
- Both teams should free throws very well (second and third best in the league). This will be an advantage to the team that is in the lead late in the ball game.
For more news and information on Kansas State men’s basketball, go to jugofsnyder.com.
Find additional news and statistical information on Oklahoma State basketball at pokespost.com.