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Oklahoma Preview

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Kansas takes on Oklahoma tomorrow in a rematch of the game of the season, and it is also a game the Jayhawks almost certainly need in order to remain in the hunt for the Big 12 championship.

On the surface, this looks tough. Oklahoma is ranked 2 spots higher than Kansas in KenPom, and barely trails Kansas in the in conference efficiency standings, mostly a function of having to play in Allen Fieldhouse without a return game yet. But a closer look reveals the Jayhawks might not be in as much trouble as you'd think.

For starters, Kansas was a missed shot at the buzzer away from beating a very strong Oklahoma team last year, and that was without Perry Ellis thanks to injury, without Cliff Alexander due to his suspension, and with only 18 minutes from an ineffective Wayne Selden. Also, as I mentioned in the preview for the home leg, Kansas has done a pretty good job on Buddy Hield overall. Last season Hield shot a combined 7-19 from two and 6-20 from three against the Jayhawks.

Even with Hield's explosion in Allen Fieldhouse earlier this year, Kansas did a reasonably good job against him (it still seems ridiculous to say, but it is true). If anyone could go 8-15 from three again while having to take a ton of shots off the dribble and/or with hands in his face it is Hield, but over the years Kansas has done a really good job at taking primary shooters out of the game (see Brady Heslip) so the hope is they can do the same again tomorrow.

While the Sooners lead the league (and the country) in 3-point shooting, Oklahoma ranks just 8th in 2-point shooting. The Jayhawks are the best 2-point defense in the league, and Kansas also is 2nd at preventing 3-point attempts. If Kansas can run Oklahoma off the line enough they can potentially limit 3-point attempts to the point where even if Oklahoma is red hot it won't matter.

Defensively, Oklahoma gives up the fewest threes. That could be a problem for a Kansas team that is at its best when taking open threes, but Kansas likes to go inside when possible, and if Oklahoma is pressuring the 3-point line enough it could open things up down low for Perry Ellis. One thing to watch is Oklahoma leads the league in block percentage as a team, and Khadeem Lattin is one of the best shot blockers in the league, so that will be quite the obstacle for Ellis and company.

Players to Watch

Buddy Hield is obviously the runaway player of the year. He's shooting 50 percent from three and 53.6 percent from two. If you can stick with him he will struggle to get by you on the bounce, but it remains to be seen as to whether Kansas can do that. I would expect to see a lot of Wayne Selden shadowing him wherever he goes, and then it's time to pray he doesn't get into foul trouble.

Isaiah Cousins had a poor game in Lawrence, but he's been red hot in Big 12 play. Cousins is shooting 47 percent from three in conference play and has been a pretty good assist/turnover guy to take the pressure off Jordan Woodard.

Jordan Woodard hounded KU's guards defensively, and offensively has turned himself into a major contributor. He is shooting 47 percent from three in league play, has a really good assist/turnover ratio, and ranks 8th in the league in steal rate.

The Pick

This game will probably decide the title. Oklahoma has to go to West Virginia still, but I think WVU has too many losses left on their schedule to give them much of a chance. It seems like at some point a team that takes so many threes and depends so much on the three to score would eventually regress, but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen with the Sooners. Buddy Hield is the obvious player of the year, Jordan Woodard is a great point guard, and while the Sooners aren't deep they might have the best top 6 in the country.

Still, I can't help but think back to last year when Kansas should have won despite being short Perry Ellis, I can't help but think about how well Kansas defended Hield last year, and I can't help but think back to 2013, when Kansas needed a win in Oklahoma to extend the streak and got it in double overtime. I don't think this one goes to overtime, but I think the Jayhawks get it done when they need to. Kansas wins, 76-74.