With non-conference play pretty much in the rear view mirror, January Kentucky game aside, the Jayhawks are now staring down the Big 12 portion of the schedule. Once again, the Big 12 is rated the top conference in the country by Ken Pomeroy, and frankly all ten teams would have a good shot at making the tournament if they weren't forced to beat each other up in round robin conference play. The first opponent up is Oklahoma State, who visits Allen Fieldhouse today.
Oklahoma State has maintained a top 30 position in the KenPom ranking, but they haven't really done anything to wow anyone leading up to this game. They sit at 8-4, and come into today's matchup looking for their first big win. As of now, the best team they've beaten is probably Sam Houston State or Wichita State, and neither of those are going to impress the selection committee much. They had chances at notching big victories against Connecticut, Virginia Tech, and future Big 12 partner UCF, but lost all three by fairly close margins. They also have a bad loss, a one point misfire against Southern Illinois. It's safe to say this is a team looking to make a splash in Big 12 play to keep their postseason hopes alive.
The Cowboys' leading scorers are senior Avery Anderson and junior Bryce Thompson. Kansas fans no doubt remember Thompson's name, since he came to Lawrence as a 5 star freshman two years ago, only to make very little splash and transfer after one season. This has been his best season to date, averaging over 11 points per game, but it hasn't come efficiently. His 36% from three on 56 attempts is better than I thought we'd ever see from him, but his turnover issues and 41% shooting mark inside the arc leave him with a dismal 89.7 offensive rating. He rarely gets to the line, so prepare to watch him take a lot of jumpers, and likely miss most of them. Anderson, conversely, gets to the line repeatedly, as the 6'3 senior boasts a FT rate over 50%, and has hit a fantastic 91% when he gets to the stripe. Not fouling him will be important, especially when Dajuan Harris is assigned to him. Anderson has never been much of a three point shooter, so aside from a hot afternoon, expect him to try and inflict his damage by driving to the hoop.
As a team, Oklahoma State has been playing excellent shooting defense, allowing opponents to make just 42.5% of their shots from two. They don't force a lot of turnovers, preferring to play good first-shot defense without fouling, and do a respectable (though not great) job on the defensive glass. On the other side of the court, they won't shoot a ton of threes, and they're unlikely to make many of them either. What they will do is crash the offensive boards extremely hard, and so far this season they've been making their twos at a very solid 53% clip. Aside from Anderson, only senior Kalib Boone is a threat to take and make free throws, so expect this team to try and find makeable shots near the basket. 7'1 center Moussa Cisse will be a lurking threat to block shots and gobble up rebounds, but outside of putbacks and dunks, usually doesn't make a big offensive impact.
Bill Self has had over a week to prepare for Oklahoma State, and while I see the danger in this OSU squad and why they've maintained solid analytic ratings, I also see how they're prone to dropping games. Their offense is very reliant on second chance points and getting good looks inside the arc, something you can't count on against good defenses. Their defense is legitimately tough, and I can see a game where some of KU's offensive flaws jump to the forefront if no one is hitting threes, and that's about the only path I see for OSU to win this one. But between Gradey Dick, Jalen Wilson, and Kevin McCullar, I think Kansas can keep the floor spaced well enough not to jack up a bunch of contested shots, which would play perfectly into OSU's hands. Unless we just can't buy a three, I think KU starts Big 12 play 1-0.
Kansas 70, Oklahoma State 63