The polls did not disappoint. Instead of considering the fact that Michigan State already beat Kansas and lost without their star to a good Iowa team, Kansas moved up to number 1 in the AP Poll (2 in the Coaches), setting up a huge matchup with number 2 Oklahoma (1 in the Coaches). To prepare us for this massive matchup with huge conference title implications, I reached out to Rich DeCray over at Crimson and Cream Machine, the SB Nation site that covers the Oklahoma Sooners.
RCT: Oklahoma at Kansas has the potential to be (and we'll know by publish time if it is) the first 1 vs 2 matchup in the Big 12 since... ever. Oklahoma destroyed Kansas the last time it happened between two current Big 12 teams back in the old Big 8 days (conference semifinals of the 1990 Big 8 tournament), but this time Kansas will be in the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse. Obviously both teams are good, but do you think the rankings actually give this game any more juice than it would normally have?
C&CM: I honestly think the coaches from both camps will attempt to play down the rankings as the thought invades the minds of every player involved. Not only are the rankings on the line, should Oklahoma win, they'll be in the driver seat for the regular season conference title. If nerves run amuck, a regular contributor could have an off night. Needless to say, I do think the rankings give this game a bit more "juice" than normal.
RCT: We know a lot already about the guys that are returning (and OU is returning a lot of experience this year), but what do the new guys bring to the table that has helped the Sooners out to such a hot start?
C&CM: Throughout Lon Kruger's tenure, Oklahoma has lacked depth all around but most specifically at the post position. Bringing in a raw rim protector and 7-footer like Akolda Manyang gives an athletic rebounder/shot blocker like Khadeem Lattin time to rest. I was really excited about Rashard Odomes who is a left handed slasher at the onset of the season. At 6-6, he can score but usually provides a secondary stat as well. As we've closed in on conference play, minutes have disappeared not only for Odomes but most of the other newcomers as well resulting in a seven man rotation.
RCT: The Big 12 looks to be loaded this year, so it's hard to say that the winner of this game gets a huge advantage in the race for the conference crown, but just how important is it for Oklahoma to get a win in this early conference matchup?
C&CM: A win on the road in Lawrence provides a shot of confidence and energy for the remainder of the season. Winning as the away team at Allen Fieldhouse means one can win on any court in the nation. Yes, it is that difficult to play at in my opinion. Yet, as mentioned above, a win also put the Sooners in the driver's seat of the Big XII Conference.
RCT: Oklahoma was able to rally from behind to beat Iowa State at home on Saturday, and while Buddy Hield had his usual big contribution, teammates Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler each had huge games as well for the Sooners. Hield seems to get all the attention, but how important are the play of these three to what OU wants to do against Kansas tonight?
C&CM: Due to the names you have mentioned, Oklahoma no longer relies on a single player to carry a majority of the scoring responsibility. Isaiah Cousins led the league in 3-point percentage a year ago and has the ability to take over a game if needed. Against Iowa State, 15 second half points sparked a come from behind win. On another note, in the Diamond Head Classic Championship game, Jordan Woodard picked up the slack pouring in a career high 28 points.
The Jayhawks are usually amongst the defensive elite but OU remains a difficult team to defend. Sharing the offensive responsibility means a team can attempt to shutdown one player while another steps up to the challenge. All three of the names mentioned must find a way to contribute. If the Sooners get nothing out of them, they are a middle of the pack type program.
RCT: Which matchup do you see as the most important in deciding tonight's game? Do you see Oklahoma sneaking out with an early conference road upset, or does Kansas protect the home floor and take an early lead in the conference standings?
C&CM: I believe post play will determine the outcome of the game. Ryan Spangler put in the work to become a stretch four allowing others like Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard to get to the rim consistently. However, Perry Ellis has not disappointed during his career at Kansas. Averaging 15.2 points per game, if OU can't find a way to slow down the senior, it could be a rough night. Because of that and home court advantage, I give the Jayhawks a narrow win.
RCT: Bonus - Star Wars or Star Trek?
C&CM: Star Wars! My one spoiler for "The Force Awakens" is this...JJ Abrams answers none of the unresolved issues from Lost in this movie.
A big thanks to Rich for taking the time to help us out on this. Don't forget to check out the questions that I answered for him here.