Kansas faces Oklahoma in Allen Fieldhouse in one of a handful of games that will decide the Big 12 title. Oklahoma nearly suffered a tough opening loss to Iowa State before rallying to win, while Kansas is flying high after a win over Baylor Saturday. This game features the 1st (Kansas) and 4th ranked teams in KenPom, and figures to be a monumental matchup that we could see much much much later in the season as well.
The first thing that jumps out about Oklahoma is its shooting. The Sooners can claim the rare distinction of being an even better outside shooting team than Kansas, shooting 45.3 percent from three this season. The Sooners attempt more than the Jayhawks as well, taking about 35 percent of their shots behind the arc. Oklahoma also does a really good job of taking care of the ball, as you might expect from a team that takes a lot of jump shots, turning it over on just 16.3 percent of its possessions. The good news for Kansas is that's mostly where Oklahoma's excellence offensively ends. The Sooners are a decent offensive rebounding team, are roughly average at shooting twos, don't get to the free throw line a lot, and don't get many attempts at the rim. It hasn't happened yet so I am certainly not counting on it, but a down shooting night from outside or even an average one would spell doom for Oklahoma.
Defensively, they have been very good so far. Oklahoma is 8th in eFG allowed, built by allowing opponents to shoot just 29 percent on threes and 41.6 percent on twos. Oklahoma gives up a lot of threes, and even it they will likely change that strategy tonight, it's certainly possible to envision a scenario in which Kansas gets hot from deep in a way the Sooners haven't seen often this season. Oklahoma isn't huge inside, but still allows teams to shoot just 49 percent at the rim, via hoop-math. Kansas will probably try to get inside to get Oklahoma's big men in foul trouble, especially considering the guys they have coming off the bench are not that great, so whether or not Kansas can continue this good play against good interior defenses will be a key.
Players to Watch
Buddy Hield is probably the favorite for player of the year in the Big 12 and maybe nationally. Once just a (very good) jump shooter, Hield has gotten to the rim more this year than he has ever before in his career. He's shooting 49.6 percent on twos and 49 percent from three, so even though he doesn't contribute anywhere else, he's a very important player considering the volume with which he shoots. Kansas did a really good job on him last year (3-6 on twos, 4-13 on threes in Kansas; 4-13 on twos, 2-7 on threes in Norman), and if they can do that again they'll win. Still, Hield has diversified his game nicely and Kansas will have to switch things up. One thing I assume they will do is attack him as often as possible on the other end of the floor both in an effort to get him into foul trouble and to tire him out.
Isaiah Cousins has rewarded my faith in putting him on the preseason all Big 12 second team, as he's shooting 46 percent from three. He's much more of a standup shooter, but Kansas won't be able to leave him to help anyone else. Even though he's got five inches on Frank Mason, I kind of like the idea of having Mason guard him because he will need to rest on defense as much as possible.
Jordan Woodard has a 22.2 percent assist rate and a very good 14 percent turnover rate for the Sooners, though admittedly it's easier to do that when you can pass to Hield for an open jump shot rather than having to probe and create. Still, Woodard is one of the better defensive guards in the Big 12 so this will be a big test for Mason, and Woodard is shooting 53 percent from three this season.
Ryan Spangler is 13th nationally in effective field goal percentage, and like Rico Gathers is a very good rebounder. He doesn't foul a lot, but he also isn't a great defender in the post, so he might be a guy to attack.
Even though Kansas is the better team and it is at Allen Fieldhouse, this is a tough pick. Kansas might have a letdown after a huge win over Baylor, Oklahoma obviously wants to announce its for real, etc etc. Still, Kansas has more depth, usually plays Oklahoma well, can win ugly better than the Sooners can, and frankly I still have my doubts about Oklahoma's defense. I am taking the Jayhawks 84-75.