Two weeks ago, everyone was claiming this would be the year Kansas gave up its Big 12 title. After a few wins, the Jayhawks sit alone atop the Conference with former challengers Oklahoma and Texas Tech losing two straight. If the Sooners, or anyone wants to have a shot at dismantling Kansas, they need to win this Game.
Kansas may not be deep or have the talent as previous years, but it knows how to win Games and that’s all that matters. The Jayhawks already have three road wins in Conference play simply because they close Games better than their opponents. Even if Oklahoma gets a lead in this one, it’s not over until the buzzer and West Virginia knows that feeling.
The Sooners have three losses in the Big 12, but all of those came on the road. While they still haven’t lost in Norman, their last win was close and they needed overtime against TCU. Similar to the majority of Games in this conference, this one will come down to the final Four minutes. Will Trae Young hit his shots, or will KU’s balance shine once again?
Trae Young may be the National Player of the Year averaging 30.5 points, 4.2 boards and 9.7 assists per Game, but he’s had some issues in recent Games. He made just 14-of-39 shots in the loss at OK State and now has 28 turnovers in the last three Games. He’s an incredible player, but is still learning and has forced the ball too much in recent outings. Kansas ranks tops in the Big 12 in three-point defense, but it’s a wonder how much that matters against a guy like Young that often chucks it up from NBA range.
KU will likely use numerous defensive options against Young with LAgerald Vick possibly the best option because of his height. Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman could also see time against Young, but Vick is there for defense and his size advantage could come in helpful. To win this Game, Oklahoma needs its other players to step up. Whether that’s shooters Christian James and Brady Manek or Khadeem LAttin doing the dirty work down low, someone has to help Young.
Defensively, Oklahoma doesn’t have great numbers, but it’s been good enough in that aspect and matches up well with Kansas. The Jayhawks run Four shooters around Udoka Azubuike in the middle and that’s kind of what Oklahoma brings. Manek and Kristian Doolittle have the size and athleticism to deal with Svi Mykhailiuk at the Four and that’s key in limiting Kansas overall. When Mykhailiuk is hitting shots, this team is hard to beat. Down low, LAttin is a defensive specialist that needs to win his battle against Azubuike.
And while Kansas has the question of stopping Young, Oklahoma has to stop Graham on the other end. Graham is everything for the Jayhawks as seen in his 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in Saturday’s win against Baylor.
Both teams play a fair amount of zone, but it’s hard to see either playing much in this Game with both teams shooting a ton from deep. These are two of the best shooting teams in the Conference (and possibly nation) so going zone won’t work unless they can keep a high line and that’s still hard to do against Young and Graham.
The Sooners are in need of a win and playing at home, get a slight edge on a Kansas team that continues to win in the final minutes.
Our Pick – Oklahoma -1