Today, the Kansas Jayhawks put their undefeated conference record on the line against the only team that has split the season series the last 4 years. To help give us a better idea of what the team is facing today, I reached out to our friends over at Cowboys Ride For Free, the SB Nation site that covers the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Brodie Smith was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
RCT: The offseason was certainly busy for the Cowpokes, with the firing of Travis Ford and the hiring of coach Brad Underwood (way to beat K-State to the punch). Given the uncertainty surrounding a new coach, what were the expectations for this team going into the season?
CRFF: Honestly, if anyone knew what to expect, I think they’d be lying to you. A new coach can make a huge difference, but often it takes a little bit of time for the program to adjust to the new approach to basketball. Underwood has the same primary cogs Travis Ford brought in and used last year. I think the best expectations were cautiously optimistic as a celebrated new coach paces the sideline. But a new coach can only take the same players so far, and they may not fit that new system for a couple of seasons.
RCT: Underwood certainly had this team off to a hot start, going 10-2 in the nonconference, with wins over Georgetown and at Wichita State. The conference season hasn’t been quite so wonderful, with the first 4 games all ending up with a L. Can the change be attributed solely to the strength of the conference, or is there something else that’s happened recently that explains the dip in performance?
CRFF: I’m going to say it’s a combination of the two. The conference is stacked with solid teams, but the Pokes were only really dismantled in the Big 12 opener against West Virginia. The games have been close and could easily have gone the other way (especially at Texas), but OSU has struggled with consistency from its best players and seen less productivity from the bigs. On the other side, it appears Lindy Waters means a lot more to this team than maybe Cowboy fans believed he would coming in. He’s brought energy to the lineup and played well for OSU until his injury that has kept him out of the last three games. Could a return to the floor spark a turnaround for the Pokes? We certainly hope so.
RCT: What are the strengths and weaknesses of this team overall? Has Underwood changed much from what we saw last season?
CRFF: The previous question sort of answers this. The Cowboys cannot get consistent play from its best players. Jawun Evans is capable of scoring at will and is second (to KU’s Frank Mason III) in the conference in scoring, but hasn’t had the game-to-game production in the Big 12 we may have expected after the non-conference games. At times this season, Phil Forte has found his shot, lost it and discovered it again. No one on the inside has emerged as a go-to threat. OSU’s most consistent player is the one coming of the bench as Jeffrey Carroll is the Big 12’s third leading scorer. What’s changed? The tempo. These Cowboys play faster and score more than previous seasons. But, the defense has also allowed more points on average. That’s not always a good combination, especially when one of your biggest threats has an off night. Underwood certainly brings a different approach than his predecessor, which will be hard to miss Saturday.
RCT: People make Perry Ellis jokes all the time, but it sure seems like Phil Forte has been at OSU for at least 15 years himself. I’m not sure that I have a question here, other than maybe, what is your favorite “Perry Ellis is old” joke?
CRFF: We haven’t heard many Perry Ellis jokes (if any), but it sure does feel like he’s been around forever. Maybe that Perry Ellis is so old he actually knows what it’s like for the Jayhawks to not win the conference. Wait, that’s not a joke because it hurts to think that KU has been so dominant for the last decade plus.
RCT: What are you thoughts on OSU’s chances to make the NCAA tournament? Obviously the 0-4 start to conference play isn’t ideal, but there are plenty of opportunities in this conference to get quality wins and build an NCAA Tournament resume.
CRFF: I’m less excited than I was coming into conference play (duh). Four losses will do that to you, but with the offensive firepower the Pokes are capable of rolling out each night, they’ll rarely be out of ball games. And from what I can see from Underwood, he won’t allow this team to quit. They may not win, but they’ll certainly give it everything they’ve got. Saturday is another opportunity to get things turned around. A win in Lawrence could be the catalytic opportunity to bring the team together and reset the postseason trajectory.
RCT: Kansas is heavily favored in this one, with KenPom predicting a 94-82 victory with 87% certainty for the Jayhawks. If OSU did pull off the upset, write me the quick recap of how it happened.
CRFF: So you’re telling my there’s a chance! It’s nice this KenPom fella has such a high regard for the Cowboys. Poor shooting by the Jayhawks would have to be a major contributor whether their own missed shots or uncharacteristically suffocating defense on the road for OSU. Kansas currently makes half of the shots it takes. That has to change for OSU to pull off the upset. The other piece would be Jawun Evans taking over the game--making his shots and assisting on others--and limiting turnovers that allow Kansas to score in bunches.
RCT: Prediction Time! What do you see the final score of this game being? Who are the high scorers from each team?
CRFF: Mason drops 22 in an 87-84 Kansas win as the Jayhawks overcome a 35-point performance that reestablishes Evans as one of the top point guards in the country.
RCT: BONUS - Help us settle a big debate. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Defend your position.
CRFF: First off, why is this even a discussion when there are other things on the menu? Just let the mystery meat item be its own thing. Alas, no, a hotdog is not a sandwich. It’s just fooling you by disguising itself with the things that make a sandwich what it is. Bread, filling and condiment. It’s all there, and you can spice it up with other toppings if you like, but that doesn’t change what it is/isn’t. It’s just messing with you, and it has nothing to do with what is on the plate. It’s actually all in the name. If it were something besides the combination of a temperature and a canine, there might be a debate.
A big thanks to Brodie for helping us out today. Don't forget to check out the questions I answered for CRFF as well.