In the Big 12 preseason coaches poll, Kansas and Oklahoma State emerged as co-favorites in the conference title chase in men’s basketball for the 2013-14 season. Two and a half months later, those two two teams are right where the conference coaches projected them to be – at the top of the Big 12 standings. And the same two teams are set to square off at KU’s Allen Fieldhose on Saturday in the first of their two schedule league games this season.
The Jayhawks are facing their second top-10-ranked team in succession after defeating No. 8 Iowa State on Monday. On Saturday, No. 9 Oklahoma State comes calling. The all-time series with Oklahoma State dates back to 1926. The Jayhawks hold a commanding 107-54 advantage and have won five of the last six meeting between the two teams. The lone loss in that span was a year ago at Kansas, when OSU prevailed 85-80.
Kansas (12-4, 3-0) has won all three of its conference games and is the only unbeaten team in the Big 12 in league play. The Jayhawks has shot very well in recent games as their highly talented and athletic crop of freshman are starting to feel it more and more. No. 1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins is leading KU in scoring, with a 15.8 scoring average, but he has gotten a lot of help in recent weeks from fellow freshmen Wayne Selden and seven-footer Joel Embiid, who was a beast in the paint on Monday against Iowa State and has 41 blocked shot on the season.
Kansas is averaging 50-percent shooting for the season and has bettered that mark in five of its last seven games. The Jayhawks are averaging 79 points a game this season.
Oklahoma State also has a lot of offensive firepower and, like the Jayhawks, shoots very close to 50 percent from the field, which helps explain the Cowboys 15-2 season record. OSU is 2-1 in conference play, with wins over Texas and TCU at home along with a loss at Kansas State. Sophomore guard Marcus Smart, last year’s Player of the Year in the Big 12, is having another outstanding year. Smart leads the Big 12 in scoringt, averaging 17.9 points a game. He is complemented by fellow backcourt mate Markel Brown, with a 16.6 average, and forward Le’Bryan Nash, who adds 13 more a game.
This should be a closely played ball game, because both teams also play outstanding defense. With two teams as closely matched as Kansas and Oklahoma State, the game is likely to be won or lost on second-chance points and turnovers. Kansas has more length and size in the paint than the Cowboys, exspecially with OSU’s Michael Cobbins out for the season, and the Jayhawks have been the better team this season on the offensive glass.
As for protecting the ball, however, Oklahoma State has committed considerably fewer turnovers than their opponents and is second in the Big 12 in turnover margin at plus four. The Jayhawks are negative three in that category and last in the conference, which speaks to their youth and relative inexperience.
I would not be surprised to see defense exceed offense on Saturday in Lawrence, resulting in a game in the high 60s or low 70s. The Cowboys do not want to get into a fast-break, up-tempo game at Allen Fieldhouse against this talented, very athletic and very deep group of Jayhawks. OSU has some flash and ability of its own, but the visitors will be better served to slow things down a bit and play a more controlled game. It would also be to Oklahoma State’s advantage to get out in front early and take the raucous and enthusiastic Kansas crowd – certain to be over 16,000 strong – out of the game.
Game prediction: Kansas 74, Oklahoma State 68 – This should be a fun and highly entertaining game to watch. Kansas should protect its home court, and the same will probably go when the series shifts to Stillwater for game two this seas0n. Both teams are highly talented, which is why owning the home court is going to be so imperative in the two games between these two longtime conference foes.
Other Big 12 Picks For This Weekend
Oklahoma 78 @ Baylor 84 - This is going to be a hungry bunch of Bears after being embarrassed at Texas Tech earlier in the week.
West Virginia 56 @ Kansas State 66 - K-State will slow the game down and keep West Virginia off kilter with its defensive pressure.
Iowa State 84 @ Texas 72 – Texas should be thankful this game is in Austin, because Iowa State is going to come in looking for bear after suffering two consecutive losses on the heels of winning 14 straight to start the season.
Texas Tech 72 @ TCU 56 – If the Red Raiders can muster the offensive explosion they had on display against Baylor on Wednesday, or even 75 percent of it, they shouldn’t have that much trouble stealing a victory at TCU.
Last week';s results: 7-3
For the Season: 12-6 (.667)