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The Jayhawks may have their 10th straight Big 12 title locked up already, but they still have a chance of securing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even though Oklahoma State has one of the worst records in the conference, this is not a team you want to overlook.
These two teams split last year’s contests with OK State winning in Lawrence and then Kansas redeeming themselves in Stillwater with a double overtime win. The first game between these teams this year was a tale of two halves. Kansas ran out to a 47-30 first-half lead, to only have the Cowboys come back late, but to fall short in an 80-78 win for the Jayhawks.
After a slow start to the season, Kansas has figured things out in league play with only two losses, both on the road. They aren’t invisible though, as seen in the one-point win at Texas Tech last week.
Oklahoma State is a different story having a better non-conference record, but falling apart in conference play with a seven-game losing streak just ending a week ago. Since Marcus Smart came back from suspension, the Cowboys have won two straight. Obviously, neither of those games will be as tough as this one.
It goes without saying, but these teams don’t like each other, especially after splitting the matchup last year. Smart came back to college basketball to dethrone the Jayhawks, but that plan did not come to fruition.
In the first meeting this year, Joel Embiid was too much to handle as he compiled 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. Without a true center, it’s not the easiest to deal with someone like Embiid. The interesting thing about the first game was that Andrew Wiggins finished with only three points in 23 minutes and Naadir Tharpe had 21 points. No one else scored in double digits as the Jayhawks turned the ball over 19 times. This game will likely look a bit different.
As for the Cowboys, they had five players in double figures in that first game with Phil Forte going off with seven three-pointers. Smart struggled from the field shooting 3-of-14, but still had 16 points, 10 boards and nine assists.
KU shot 56 percent from the field in that game as well, so better defense is going to be needed. OK State cannot let Tharpe have wide open shots because he can hurt you. Embiid and Perry Ellis will once again be force fed the ball down low. It wouldn’t be surprising if the two had better numbers in this game. Beating up on teams down low is one of the best ways to pick up road wins. Wiggins will likely have a better game along with Wayne Selden Jr.
Does OK State have enough to keep up with the Jayhawks? Considered a bubble team by many, the Cowboys are not only playing to take down their rival, but also a bid to the Big Dance. They know what’s at stake in this game and would love to take down Kansas.
Smart will need a top performance, along Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash. None of those guys have been all that consistent this year and someone will have to step up in this one. Nash will struggle against Embiid and Ellis, but Brown and Smart need to play better. While Forte is a great shooter, you can’t expect him to be the entire offense.
Kansas blew out Texas last weekend in the hyped Big 12 battle, but this game won’t be the same. Both teams will come to play in a back-and-forth battle that’ll be enjoyable to watch all the way through. Can Marcus Smart lead the Cowboys to a confidence-boosting win?
Predicted Score - Kansas 83 Oklahoma State 77
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