Round two. The Big 12 Championship is on the line. Revenge. Countless descriptors could be used to describe this game between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. A late edge for the Big 12 title hangs in the balance and the ultimate result in the league will be largely impacted by this game. Kansas comes into the game with a newfound swagger after crushing Kansas State and Texas last week. Oklahoma State looks to get a huge win and continue their upward trend. Ben McLemore and Marcus Smart lead the Big 12's best backcourts, and both will play a large role in the result of tonight's game.
When: Wednesday, February 20, 9:00 PM ET
Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena
No injuries to report.
This should come as no surprise to the Jayhawks that the Cowboys have an impressive backcourt, after all G Markel Brown (15.8 PPG-4.5 RPG-2.3 APG) and G Marcus Smart (15 PPG-5.8 RPG-4.5 APG) scored a combined 53 points the last time they faced Kansas.
In their last five games, G Phil Forte (11.3 PPG-1.4 RPG), Smart and Brown have shot a combined 40% and contribute 57.6% of the Pokes' offensive PPG. This trio took 40% inside the paint, where they hit 46% and 60% outside the paint, where they hit 36% in their last five games. They shot well outside the arc, where they shot 37%.
Weakness: Shot Selection
The Cowboys are unique when it comes to taking their shots, as they can hit from almost anywhere on the floor, although they have been getting too comfortable taking too many outside shots. In the Cowboy's last five games, Oklahoma State has taken 48% of their shots inside the paint and 52% outside the paint. That's ok, but when Oklahoma State hits only 37% outside the paint, maybe the Cowboys should taking the ball to the basket more.
No Injuries to Report
The starting backcourt for Kansas had one their best games against Texas, and that even includes G Elijah Johnson (9.2 PPG-4.6 APG). G Ben McLemore (16.7 PPG-5.5 RPG) had 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 13 points. G Travis Releford (12 PPG-3.8 RPG) had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 15 points on 4 of 5 shooting from beyond the arc. Elijah Johnson had one of his better games against the Longhorns, scoring 12 points, 4 assists and only 1 turnover.
Weakness: Frontcourt Depth
The duo of C Jeff Withey (13.2 PPG-8.4 RPG-4 BPG) and F Kevin Young (7.6 PPG-6.8 RPG) has made up for a successful frontcourt, but their backups hardly compare. If either gets into foul trouble it is F Jamari Traylor (2 PPG-2.6 RPG) or F Perry Ellis (4.5 PPG-3.5 RPG) coming in and providing the Jayhawk frontcourt with added minutes. Both are very eager to score, combining for 4.25 shot attempts per game, but neither can seem to convert under the basket. If it comes down to it, the lack of depth will show itself and Kansas will go small having four guards on the floor. Now, I understand they are just freshmen, but compared to other teams in the Big 12, the Jayhawks are pretty low on the ladder when it comes to frontcourt depth.
Trending Up: G Elijah Johnson
Johnson finally broke the monotony of poor performances and had one of his best games of the whole season. I, along with many others, have been dogging on Johnson and he went and proved me wrong by scoring 12 points, dishing out 4 assists and having only 1 turnover the whole game. That means something considering he was averaging 3.7 TPG in Big 12 play prior to the game against Texas. This game was far from perfect as he continued to hog the ball, tied for second in shots taken on the Kansas roster with 8.7, and still continued his trend of fouling as he had 3. Some have said Johnson can find success by being a non scoring PG, and I think that would be fine so that he could be giving some of his shot attempts to, say, Releford or McLemore?
Trending Down: Outside Shooting
We have known Kansas has been an inside team all season, but the outside shooting has just gotten ugly. In the Jayhawks' last 5 games, Kansas has shot only 32% outside, and to make it seem worse Kansas has taken 45% of their shot attempts outside. These mid range jumper woes will not get any better against the Cowboys, as Oklahoma State has forced teams to take 55% of their shots outside the paint where they hit just 34% in their last five games.
Gallagher-Iba Arena is always a tough venue to play in, especially when a Big 12 title may be at stake. Although recently the Cowboys have been just barely getting by. Their last 2 out of 3 at home have gone into overtime where their average margin of victory has been 3.5 points. Of course, teams always play their best when playing Kansas so this almost means nothing heading into tonight's game. Both teams have had recent success sealing out the paint so the real battle will be to see how well each team can hit from the mid range and outside. That advantage would have to go to the Cowboys, but Kansas does have the ability to preform better inside, taking 55% of their shots down low where they have hit 50%. Like many of the Jayhawks Big 12 games, this one will come down to defense and if that defense will travel with them down to Stillwater. If it does then Kansas has a chance to get a little payback and perhaps take down the Cowboys.