The Kansas Jayhawks (9-4) finally open up the Big 12 portion of their schedule tonight against the Oklahoma Sooners (12-2) in Norman. The Jayhawks are trying to bounce back from a poor performance the last time out, a 4-point defeat at the hands of the San Diego State Aztecs at home on Sunday.
The Sooners welcome the Jayhawks with a flashy record with little meat on it. Before their victory against Texas last weekend, the only wins against BCS conference competition came against Alabama and Texas A&M. Oklahoma has lost to Michigan State and Louisiana Tech.
Unlike Kansas’ last opponent, the Sooners are more of a get up and down the floor type of team. San Diego State only allowed 49 points a game, but the Sooners give up 78 points a contest. In fact, Oklahoma has given up more than 80 points in 9 of their 14 games. Only three times have opponents scored fewer than 73 points, and they were not good opponents.
On the other hand, the Sooners can score. They average 87.3 points a game, the 5th highest mark in the country. They have been held under 80 just three times, and under 76 points just one time.
The Jayhawks, by contrast, only average 77.7 points an outing. Still, this sort of game is much more suited for the Kansas personnel than the San Diego State match up was. Kansas plays almost no defense, and with their athletic roster, will much prefer to get up and down the court at a faster pace.
The Sooners, as you might imagine, have some guys who can score. Five players average in double figures. They are led by senior guard Cameron Clark with 17.7 a game, followed by Buddy Hield, 16.3, Jordan Woodard, 12.2, Ryan Spangler, 11.0, and Isaiah Cousins, 10.9. Spangler, a sophomore forward, leads the team with 9.2 rebounds a game and has 17 blocked shots. Woodard tops the team with 4.8 assists.
Kansas will have to guard the perimeter better than they have in the past because Oklahoma can shoot threes. As a team, they shoot 38.4% from behind the arc but have three players in the rotation who shoot over 44% – Tyler Neal, 44.4%, Cousins, 45.5%, and Clark, 47.4%.
The Sooners take over 20 3-point shots a game, making nearly 8, so if they are hitting from deep, they can beat just about anyone.
The Jayhawks may not have anyone who can contain the 6’7″ Cameron Clark effectively, although he will probably match up against Andrew Wiggins. The Kansas frosh has the athleticism to guard him, but maybe not the skill level or desire. How successfully the Jayhawks contain Clark will probably determine the outcome of this ballgame.
Andrew Wiggins is one of three Jayhawks to average in double digits with 15.8. Perry Ellis, 13.2, and Joel Embiid, 10.8, are the others. Kansas dropped from 5th in the country in field goal percentage before the San Diego State game to 22nd after. That’s what happens when a team shoots 29.8% from the field at home. Oklahoma probably won’t play as tight defensively as the Aztecs.
If Kansas has any chance to win this game on the road, they must shoot much better than they did Sunday. They must guard better than they have most of the season, especially on the perimeter, and specifically, Naadir Tharpe has to know who he is guarding and where his man is one the floor at all times. Don’t count on that happening.
Kansas must also protect the basketball. They did this much better against San Diego State, committing just 10 turnovers. They must play faster but under control (Tharpe again). With Kansas’ athleticism, and lack of interest defensively, the pace of this game is probably much more suited for them, if they can protect the basketball, and value possessions.
If it seems like Tharpe’s name keeps coming up negatively, it is because he hasn’t played well, especially on the defensive end. For better or worse, he is the team leader, and he needs to lead by example. He needs to play tougher, smarter defense, he needs to hit big shots, and he needs to be more consistent with his ball handling (had no turnovers against SDSU, but 4 against Toledo).
Kansas’ early conference schedule is brutal so they cannot afford to lose this game at Oklahoma. Another loss may just crush this young team that is barely playing for the name on the front of the jerseys anyway.