After dismantling Texas Tech, the Jayhawks look for a tougher challenge on the quest for #11, and they'll get it in the form of the visiting Oklahoma State Cowboys. To get a sneak peek at what we can expect to see, I got in touch with Thomas Fleming (aka thomasflem97) over at Cowboys Ride For Free, who was happy to answer a few questions for us.
RCT: That was a fairly impressive win on Saturday (man is Texas bottoming out or what?) and the Cowboys have started off pretty hot this year. After losing Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, what were the expectations of this team from the fanbase?
CRFF: The expectations were by no means high, and many predicted that they would be fighting for that 7-9 spot in the BigXII. From the way they have played, they probably won't be competing for the conference championship, but I really do think that they will hold their own at home and get a handful of solid wins on the road. With that formula, they could really compete for a spot in that 4-7 range and a possible shot at the tourney.
RCT: Other than a baffling loss to South Carolina, the team's only two losses have come against ranked teams (what is it about the number 17?). Who/what would you say is the biggest reason for this success?
CRFF: A lot of people would say that James Dickey has had an impact on this team, but looking from the outside, we can only speculate. It wouldn't be out of the question, considering that he was a successful coach for the Cowboys in the early-to-mid 2000's. If anything, he's a fan favorite, as he bridges the gap between the Sutton Era and the Ford Era. Speaking of Travis Ford, I do think that he has had a positive impact on this team, although some fans would beg to differ. Ford puts a huge emphasis on defensive intensity, and the team has prospered from it. Ford said after the Texas game that his team performs their best with a chip on their shoulder, or when they come in as the underdog. I think that has had a part in this season so far, and it translates to solid performances against good teams. Oh, and by the way, thanks for bringing up the South Carolina game~
RCT: What is the biggest strength of this OSU team? The largest area of weakness?
CRFF: As I mentioned, the Cowboys hang their hat on defense, but they are good in other areas too. They have the two co-leading scorers in the BigXII in Phil Forte and Le'Bryan Nash. I think this can be seen as their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. Obviously, they are both extremely talented in their own right, but they're not going to score 20 points every game. When you look at everyone else, Hickey is the only other player who can consistently score. You might get some offensive production from Shine, Newberry, Carroll, or Hammonds, but you never know whether or not they will show up. If Nash gets in foul trouble or if Forte goes cold, there really aren't a whole lot of other places you can go for offense. Plus, they don't run a motion scheme, so if a play breaks down, they will sometimes just stand around until the shot clock expires. Finally, their offense is very guard oriented, and they get very little offensive production from the frontcourt (other than Nash). If they're not knocking down jumpers, that can lead to a very poor night offensively (e.g. 29%FG against SC).
RCT: Turning to the game at hand, it seems that Oklahoma State has won for the most part by playing defense. How will the Cowboys counter the Jayhawk's 3-pt attack, where they are currently shooting just under 40%? What will they do to keep the Jayhawks off the offensive glass?
CRFF: They could really do a number of things to counter the Jayhawks' offense. They could rely on their press if they need it, and they have also shown a 2-3 matchup that they used in the MGM tournament, although a 2-3 could work in the favor of a 3-point shooting team like KU. When they really want to, they can play lockdown defense. Defense is really a matter of effort, and when they play with effort, they can force a good offense to struggle. Whether or not that is going to happen, we will have to wait and see.
When it comes to glass production, OSU mainly relies on their set rotation players. It's funny, because there have been many occasions when the backcourt out-rebounds the frontcourt. In fact, PG Anthony Hickey led all Cowboys in rebounding Saturday with nine. Let's remember that this was against Texas, who was #2 in the nation in rebounding margin. Against UT, the Cowboys rebounded really well, tying the Longhorns' total at 37. I'm not sure that they will continue to be as good on the boards, but they have proven that they have the ability.
RCT: What is your prediction for the game? It's obviously a tough task to come into the Phog and leave with a win, but does Travis Ford lead his players in and hand Bill Self his 10th loss at home with the Jayhawks?
CRFF: I say the Cowboys lose, but they'll show that they have fight. It really depends on how they play. If you remember, they initially played awful last year but they came back, and we all know what happened a year before that - so historically, they don't just lie down in Lawrence. Even the year before, they kept playing hard even when it was already garbage time. As of late, these OSU vs KU matches seem to be close, and it can get chippy, which could work in the Cowboys' favor. Still, they have occasionally struggled on the road, and with a such an inexperienced team in a hostile environment, that has the potential for trouble. BUT. If the Cowboys can keep this game in that mid-to-low 60's range, they can give themselves a chance (a very, very small chance) to come home happy.
RCT: BONUS - Sonic the Hedgehog or Link from The Legend of Zelda? Explain using whatever criteria you want.
CRFF: Legend of Zelda all day. I can remember playing that on the Gamecube as a child, and that music just gets stuck in your head, you know? Plus, that was more of an adventure game while Sonic was more arcade-like. As a 10-year-old, the adventure games had more replay value. But both of those games have nothing on Super Smash Bros.
A special thanks to Thomas for helping out with these questions for today. Don't forget to check out the questions that I answered for them as well.