Even though the Cowboys began the conference with two of its four toughest conference games, I didn’t expect them to start 0-4 in the league, especially when Oklahoma State features one of the league’s best players.
Although Brad Underwood built his reputation on a smothering defense at Stephen F Austin, it was actually his offenses that did the trick for him. The Lumberjacks played a pretty slowdown style but pressured the bejeezus out of opposing guards, which resulted in some of the best forced turnover rates in the country.
The turnover rate came with him to Stillwater, but the rest of the defense hasn’t quite made it. Offensively, the Cowboys have survived based on the rock fight principle. They shoot it well enough (50.3 percent from two, 38.1 percent from three) but not otherworldly.
Likewise, they turn it over quite a bit (19.5 percent of possessions). But the Cowboys have grabbed 40.4 percent of their misses this season, 6th best in the country, and have a free throw rate of 41.3, which is 42nd in the country. Interestingly, OSU is below average nationally in height, and their front line goes just 6-9, 6-8, 6-7 (though they have sprinkled in minutes from 7 foot freshman Lucas N’Guessan, who belongs on the all name team). To me this more than anything goes to show how little teams are attacking the offensive glass these days, but it also shows you can turn a so-so offense into a really good one simply by doing so.
Defensively, Oklahoma State is 7th in the country in forcing turnovers, but so far ranks last in Big 12 play in doing so. It hasn’t been a case of just picking on bad teams either, as the Cowboys forced North Carolina to turn it over on 20.5 percent of their posssessions, and Maryland to do so on 25 percent of their possessions.
KU takes a few more chances in the passing game (and with their dribble) than OSU’s average Big 12 opponent to date, so I suspect Kansas will turn it over a few times, but probably not enough for it to decide the game. If Kansas can avoid turning it over, meanwhile, they should be OK. Oklahoma State is 313th in defensive rebounding, 213th in 2 point percentage allowed, and 345th at sending teams to the free throw line. Basically every big man they have is a foul machine, so Kansas should be living at the line in this one.
One thing to take pause on in terms of the offense is Oklahoma State has been very good at not allowing threes. Some of that is probably when a team can’t stop opponents from scoring inside, coaches are going to go in there, but Brad Underwood is a smart coach so I suspect a lot of it is he consciously tries to take away 3-point attempts.
Players to Watch
Jawun Evans, sophomore guard
My preseason Big 12 POY, Evans is 21st nationally in usage, 11th nationally in assist rate, has a turnover rate of just 17.4 percent, and is shooting 47 percent from three. He hasn’t quite gotten it going from two (43 percent), and his shooting numbers in league play haven’t been great, but if you hearken back to last year’s game in Stillwater, surely you’ll remember Evans constantly driving and kicking and the Cowboys shooting approximately 100 percent from three. If Kansas wants to avoid a repeat, they’ll have to take him out of the game as much as possible, and force him to shoot contested jumpers rather than overhelping and letting him kick,
Phil Forte, super senior guard
Forte got another year of eligibility due to an injury, and is probably thankful this is an afternoon game so he can eat supper and go to bed right after. On the court, Forte is shooting 40.4 percent from three, and leads the nation in free throw shooting at 96 percent. He still can’t defend anyone, so Kansas hopefully can isolate and attack him with whichever perimeter player he is guarding.
Mitchell Solomon, junior forward
At 6-9, Solomon is the 7th best offensive rebounder in the country. He’s also shooting 57 percent on twos. His playing time has been limited to just around 40 percent of the teams minutes thanks to committing an astounding 9.9 fouls per 40 minutes, but I can see Bill Self after the game complaining about him having 8 offensive rebounds in the game.
Things to watch for
- Overhelping - I already mentioned it earlier, but last year the Cowboys went 11-21 from three against the Jayhawks and while some of it was undoubtedly luck, a lot of it was due to getting open shots thanks to Evans driving and kicking.
- 2 point shooting - Oklahoma State probably will sell out to keep Kansas from shooting the three. They’re 8th in the league in 2-point shooting, so these seems like a good strategy. It is worth noting, however, that Kansas is 26th in the country and is shooting about 55 percent on twos overall. They’ve also gotten some good looks that just haven’t fallen (see the first half against Oklahoma) and probably will cut out the pull up jumpers from 17 feet (hopefully) so the 2-point mark should go up.
- Turnovers - Oklahoma State forces a ton, but Kansas doesn’t turn it over a ton. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State turns it over a ton while Kansas doesn’t really force any. Kansas will likely lose the turnover battle just because Oklahoma State actually tries to force them, but if the turnover battle is reasonably close it should be a big advantage for the Jayhawks.
I am terrified of Jawun Evans. He is the best point guard Kansas will see all year, at least offensively, and with Oklahoma State being able to rebound so well, the defensive issues will probably be back. Kansas should be able to score enough to win, but I don’t see it being a blowout. I’ll say Kansas 86, Oklahoma State 80.