Today, Kansas visits Norman, Oklahoma for a rematch of what has been deemed the Game of the Year, a 109-106 triple overtime game in Lawrence that I’m sure you all remember all too well. To help get ready for the return game, I chatted with Rich DeCray over at Crimson and Cream Machine, SB Nation’s site covering the Oklahoma Sooners. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
RCT: So that first game was so much fun, I'm not sure how the second game is going to top it. The first was the feature game of a Big Monday, this one has College Gameday coming to town. Kansas has been fortunate enough to be involved in College Gameday every season since it began, so our fans can sometimes take it for granted. Is it possible for this to make the game feel even bigger than before, and how does it feel to be hosting the crew this weekend?
C&CM: Let's not forget, College GameDay is not a foreign concept to the Sooners faithful nor it is unusual to see the ESPN Crew set up on campus. Of course, this falls under a different sport. In all honesty, I believe the significance of this game coupled with the previous match up is why we are witnessing a new level of hype.
RCT: Last time we asked how you felt the Big 12 was set up this year. There seemed to be a consensus at the beginning of the year that the conference would be a 4-way race, but now we have 5 teams no more than a game back (and Iowa State only 2 games back). How wild of a finish are we going to have, and how do you see the conference shaking out?
C&CM: It's certainly going to be fun to watch! While I don't know exactly how things will finish out, I think we're looking at three programs as front-runners. First up, Oklahoma has the upper-hand in my opinion. The Sooners of course face KU. Yet, they must travel to West Virginia and hope to escape with a win despite the Mountaineers utilizing "Press Virginia." Looking at the remaining schedule, KU has three road tests on the horizon as they must face Oklahoma, Baylor, and Texas before the close of the season. And lastly, WVU still has to play Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Texas. If any of those teams can break the press consistently, WVU is in trouble. It's anyone's guess as to how things will shake out but I'm hoping it's OU taking home the regular season crown this year!
RCT: I was browsing KenPom today, and noticed that he debuted a new team stat called Continuity, which is basically a measurement of what percentage of minutes were played by the same players from one year to the next. The takeaway was that generally teams with higher continuity performed better, and it was interesting to note that Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia are the only Big 12 teams in the top 25 in that stat. How do you think this continuity has contributed to Oklahoma's run so far this year?
C&CM: We're seeing an unusual trend in college basketball, especially in this conference. Across the Big XII, programs lean on their upperclassmen to carry the load not only in scoring but also as vocal leaders, literally doubling as coaches on the floor. For Oklahoma, the "continuity" you speak of has led to a certain level of cohesiveness. This factor has allowed each individual player to place more trust in others abilities. However, it's also why we have yet to see this group fall victim to panicking late with the game on the line.
RCT: The last two games have seen the Sooners really struggle at times, as they lost on the road to Kansas State and barely squeaked by the Longhorns at home. What happened during those two games? Is there some matchup or feature of the Oklahoma gameplan that the Jayhawks can exploit?
C&CM: In the past two outings, opposing coaches have instructed a top notch defender to stick with Buddy like glue. Knowing the offense flows through Hield, it continues to put a damper on the total scoring output. We saw the lowest total of a half against Texas and second lowest game total against Kansas State. I assume Bill Self will do the same with Frank Mason III knowing he's an elite defender.
As a team, Kansas has found a new gear holding their past three opponents to an average of 60 points per game. If KU chases shooters off the three-point line, they could limit Oklahoma who heavily relies on the play of the guards to carry this team to victory.
RCT: What's your prediction? It's been tough for any Big 12 team to win on the road this year, but what needs to happen for the Jayhawks to take the reins in this Big 12 race?
C&CM: This game once again goes into overtime! But, OU comes out with a two point win 92-90.
RCT: Bonus - Pizza or Lasagna?
C&CM: Bonus - the American classic of course...Pizza!
A big thanks to Rich for taking a bit of time to help us out. Don’t forget to check out the questions I answered for him.