Finally, after a murderer’s row of Big 12 defenses including Texas Tech, Iowa State, and West Virginia, Kansas gets a break as they travel to Norman to face the unranked Oklahoma Sooners.
Well, not really. While Oklahoma doesn’t force turnovers at quite the rate of the three aforementioned teams, they are still very much above average in doing so on 21.8% of possessions. They also rate as the 27th best defense in D1 according to KenPom, which really isn’t much different from West Virginia who, very much unlike the first two teams, the Jayhawks scored easily against.
Teams haven’t shot particularly well against Oklahoma but at least part of that is due to opponents hitting only 30% from outside, which is unlikely to be sustainable. However, in addition to forcing a good number of turnovers, they hit the defensive boards well and limit their fouling. In other words, this isn’t a dominant defensive team, but they’re likely going to bug KU’s offense, particularly on the road, and particularly if Remy Martin once again does not play.
Offensively, just take most of what I said about Oklahoma’s defense and flip it over. They turn it over a lot, don’t grab many offensive boards, and don’t force many fouls. What’s propping them up in this regard is shooting, especially inside the three point line. A lot of that is thanks to a familiar face (more on that in a moment), and several other Sooners who each shoot better than 60% from two so far. From beyond the arc, they’re a fairly average shooting team (34.5%) who takes a fairly average volume of threes (40.2% of their shots).
Players to Watch
Tanner Groves, senior center
Do you remember this name? You should! If you watched the cast of Superbad, er, I mean, last year’s Eastern Washington team, face the Jayhawks in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last spring, you should definitely be familiar with Oklahoma’s transfer big man. Groves lit up last year’s Kansas team for 35 points in March, going 6-7 from two and 5-11 from three, while blocking three shots.
He’s shown he can get it done for Oklahoma as well, leading the team in points per game while hitting just under 68% from two and 38% from three. It should be noted that his numbers have noticeably fallen off since Big 12 play started though, so the rigors of a major conference schedule could take a toll on him.
Umoja Gibson, senior guard
Gibson leads the Sooners in total points, largely because he lets it fly freely from the arc. Gibson is second on the team among qualifying shooters, hitting 37.4% from three on a whopping 115 attempts. Given KU’s trouble with turnovers against some of their recent competition, he’s also worth watching on the other end of the court, because he’s forced steals on a very respectable 3% of his defensive possessions so far.
Elijah Harkless, senior guard
Harkless is second among Oklahoma’s main contributors in usage rate, just behind Groves. His efficiency hasn’t been what Groves’ and Gibson’s has been, but he shoots often and well enough to keep an eye on him, having averaged over ten per game this year. He’s also forced a decent number of steals, so any Jayhawk being guarded by him will need to be fairly cautious.
The line currently reads Kansas -3.5. Honestly, I’m not sure what to think. Without Remy Martin, I expected KU to struggle and fail to cover Saturday against West Virginia, a game that turned into a dominant performance by the Jayhawks. This Oklahoma team resembles West Virginia in overall quality and defensive efficiency, so some of the concerns I had over the weekend still apply.
But again, that game turned into a massacre. I’ll be really surprised if that happens in Norman. Porter Moser is a good coach who’s put together a group of players who have performed well, even if lacking high-end Power Five talent. OU’s 1-3 start in conference play is a mixed bag, though. No one should judge them too harshly for road losses to Baylor and Texas, and they were only the second team this year to beat Iowa State. On the other hand, they’re coming off a loss at TCU where they managed just 58 points in a 71 possession overtime game.
Both of these teams are hard to judge right now, so definitely don’t use this (or anything else I ever write) as gambling advice, but I think KU will just barely cover. Kansas 75, Oklahoma 70
Record ATS: 10-6