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Kansas Uses First Half Surge To Defeat Oklahoma State

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

I'm still not 100% sure what happened in that one. Two of Kansas's three best players combined to go 4-13 from the field, Oklahoma State had two guys make 5+ threes (and shot 43% from three overall), and yet somehow Kansas won. There were flops, technicals, near fights, posters, good defense, horrible defense, blocks, and flops. It was one of the weirder games I've seen all year.

When Kansas unveiled it's audacious schedule, I, like most Kansas fans, tried to talk myself into it by saying the competition will help the Jayhawks matter most. I still think performance in close games is more luck than anything else, but I also think it was fairly easy to tell which team had played the second toughest schedule of the KenPom era so far and which team was playing just their 4th away game of the season.

Another big factor was Kansas's depth. When Jamari Traylor and Markel Brown got hit with technicals, it was a huge win for Kansas. Traylor is a good player, and I like him, but it's a matter of Kansas's 7th or so best player vs. Oklahoma State's best. When Brown committed a foul and got hit with another technical late in the game and then got tossed, that was pretty much the end for the Cowboys. LeBryan Nash sat long stretches of the first half with foul trouble, but if Joel Embiid or Perry Ellis gets into foul trouble, Kansas can just bring on another big man who could be starting for pretty much anyone in the league.

Kansas's two point defense has quietly been getting a lot better lately. In this one they held the Cowboys to just 37% shooting inside the arc. A year after lamenting the loss of Jeff Withey, we may have been granted a reprieve, albeit a short one, in the form of Joel Embiid.

Offensively, there's still that turnover issue to work on. Kansas turned it over on more than a quarter of their possessions, while Oklahoma State did on just 15% of theirs. There's potentially good news in that, however: if we expect Kansas to turn it over 5-10 more times than its opponent, and they're still winning games, then any game in which the turnover battle is even close to even is a huge edge for the Jayhawks.

All in all, a pretty nice game for the Jayhawks, and combined with Iowa State's loss, this puts them 2+ games ahead of both contenders, with a head to head win over each of them and each of them having to play the other twice. No counting chickens allowed, but it's tough to have drawn up a much better start to conference play. Next is Baylor, a team with the size and athleticism to match the Jayhawks, and one that can unveil a zone defense with the best of them. We'll see how many lessons Kansas has learned.

Naadir Tharpe: 8.5. Tharpe continued his hot shooting, making all four of his twos and going 3-4 from behind the arc. He had 6 turnovers, but backed that up with 6 assists and 3 forced turnovers of his own.

Wayne Selden: 6.5. Selden really struggled shooting the ball, going just 1-5 from three, and he had 5 turnovers, but he played great on ball defense against Marcus Smart, helping force him to shoot just 3-14 from the field.

Joel Embiid: 9. Embiid actually had an under 100 offensive rating thanks to some turnovers, but he was 5-6 from the field, grabbed 11 rebounds, and had 8 blocks, raising his Kansas Freshman record. He also, as outlined above, was a big factor in OSU shooting just 37% from two. Kansas is still allowing a ton of shots at the rim, but via hoop-math they're now tied for 4th nationally in blocked shots at the rim and 19th in FG% at the rim. Thanks to Joel Withey. I mean Embiid.

Andrew Wiggins: 3. Self didn't play Wiggins much in this one, partially due to foul trouble, partially due to ineffectiveness. When he was in he played some good defense, but he also was just 1-5 from the field.

Perry Ellis: 5. It's not as if Ellis is suddenly a bad player. He still is shooting 55% from two and 70% at the rim. But in the last handful of games he's missed an astronomical (for him) amount of bunnies. Kansas can't win the title without good Perry Ellis, so he needs to get it in gear a bit.

Frank Mason: 7. He only got 18 minutes, but Mason played really good defense in this one, including on the last play of the game, and he even made a three.

Jamari Traylor: 8. Traylor was 3-3 from two, 3-3 from the line, had 3 rebounds, an assist, and a block. Not a bad 18 minutes.

No more ratings, but again no Andrew White. At this point I have numerous theories, none very good or convincing. It might be too late to blend someone into the rotation, his hip might be bothering him, or they might be pursuing a medical redshirt. Without looking it up, I believe if Kansas makes a deep run in the tournament (a player receiving a redshirt can't have played in 30% or more of a team's games, and none after the midpoint of the season) White will be eligible for a medical redshirt, so Self might be trying to buy another year of eligibility.