Game two of conference play brings a bit of a dip in the level of competition but there is always something a bit interesting about going on the road in the Big 12. The reality is, these road games are where the league is won and lost and Kansas has proven to be solid over the years while on the road.
When looking at Oklahoma you are looking at a program that is in rebuild mode. Following the departure of Blake Griffin, Jeff Capel was never able to gain solid footing in Norman and things gradually spiraled downhill. This year the Sooners are kicking off the Lon Kruger era which Sooner fans hope turns out to be a step in the right direction.
Kruger of course takes over the Sooners after having a successful stint at UNLV as well as spending time at Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. Having played at Kansas State and coached in the league before, Kruger is familiar with the dynamic and knows all about Kansas basketball. Funny too that he was followed by Billy Donovan at Florida and Bill Self at Illinois, two of the more successful coaches in college basketball currently.As for the Sooners so far this season they currently sit at a 10-3 record. That includes a 7-0 record at home, 0-1 on the road and 3-2 on neutral courts. Oklahoma has just one senior that logs significant minutes in their nine man rotation but they do have a trio of juniors who are helping to lead the way.
Junior guard Steven Pledger leads Oklahoma in scoring at 18.2 points per game, while junior forward Andrew Fitzgerald is next in scoring at 12.7 points per game. Fitzgerald is also second on the team in rebounding with a 5.4 board average which is just behind junior forward and former Mississippi State player Romero Osby who leads OU with 8.3 rebounds per game to complement his 10.5 scoring average.
Sophomore guard Cameron Clark and junior guard Sam Grooms round out the Sooners' starters. Clark averages 8.3 points and 3.5 rebounds, while Grooms is just behind at 7.0 ppg and 3.3 rpg. Grooms also leads OU with 72 assists
Sophomore forward Tyler Neal (6.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg), junior guard Carl Blair (3.1 ppg, 34 assists, 12 steals), senior forward C.J. Washington (2.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and junior center Casey Arent (2.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg) round out the OU regulars.
One area where Oklahoma is effective, and it was an area of concern heading into Kansas State, is on the offensive glass. The Sooners do attack the glass and they've been fairly effective at creating second chance opportunities for their offense. This is something Kansas did a great job of eliminating in Wednesday night's game and it could be a key factor in this one as well.
Another thing Oklahoma has done well is share the basketball. This is a team that has four players averaging double figures in each contest and a solid distributor at the point. They certainly haven't been tested the way that Kansas has but these are two areas that they can build on and use to create some momentum going forward.
Bottom line in this one is that it boils down to defense. That seems a bit trivial but it's a huge piece for Kansas this season as a whole and if the Jayhawks can play defense the way they did against Kansas State then Oklahoma really won't be able to compete. Missouri beat this team by 38 points in Columbia. Missouri shot near 60% while holding Oklahoma to just 33%. Kansas probably doesn't have the same offensive firepower, but Bill Self certainly would love nothing more than to replicate that defensive performance.
Play sound defense, control the glass and work to limit turnovers (I say this knowing full well it will likely be a problem). Those are the goals, prove successful at two of the three and Kansas wins this one on the road.