Big 12 Weekly Primer: Week of January 3 – 6Posted by dnspewak on January 3rd, 2012
With the Big 12 introducing an 18-game schedule for the first time in history, conference play begins a week earlier than usual in 2012. In recent years, the week after New Year’s meant tune-up games with low-major opponents, but this season, Big 12 teams won’t have much time to recover from the holidays. Kansas and Kansas State in particular must be in tip-top shape, as the two state rivals will face each other on Wednesday (January 4).
GAME OF THE WEEK
- #23 Kansas State (11-1) at #14 Kansas (10-3), Wednesday 7 PM CT
Kansas State responded from the graduation of Jacob Pullen by ripping through its non-conference schedule, which included wins over Virginia Tech and Alabama, in addition to a Diamond Head Classic championship. The early success has helped Frank Martin‘s team crack the Top 25, but the Wildcats will now face three top-15 teams during the next eight days. It all begins with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday, marking the first meeting of the season between the two underrated rivals. Kansas State may be overachieving, but the Jayhawks are still finding their way after losing games to Kentucky, Duke and Davidson during the first two months of the season. Bill Self doesn’t have a vintage KU team this season, as it lacks depth and still has not executed all that well offensively. That doesn’t mean these Jayhawks can’t ball, though. They can, especially when Thomas Robinson plays like an animal (30 points and 21 rebounds against North Dakota on Saturday) and Tyshawn Taylor takes care of the basketball. Taylor has heard a lot of criticism for his turnovers, but he may be turning his season around in that department. He led KU to a rout at USC by dishing out nine assists and limiting himself to just two turnovers and he’s averaged just two turnovers per game during the last three contests.
Of course, in those games, Kansas did not face the sort of defense it will see out of Kansas State. Martin’s teams are always defined by their intensity on the defensive end, and this 2011-12 team is no different. The Wildcats are deep, athletic and physical, and forwards Thomas Gipson, Jordan Henriquez and Jamar Samuels can test Robinson on the boards a little better than North Dakota did. Bill Self’s teams will always defend, and despite his relative lack of depth, he has more skilled and proven scorers than KSU with Robinson, Taylor and the emerging Elijah Johnson. But if Rodney McGrudercan play like a star and provide some heroics, his team may hang around at the Phog. The junior guard, who leads his team at 12.5 points per game, scored 28 against Long Beach State during Christmas week to win the Diamond Head Classic.
The key individual matchup is… Jamar Samuels vs. Thomas Robinson. Although we’ve identified this as a key individual battle, this matchup extends to every forward on both rosters. Robinson is an intimidating presence at the power forward position, and he will soon dominate NBA frontcourts with his tenacity. He’s an elite offensive rebounder, but his biggest asset is his ability to clean up the glass on the defensive end. On the flip side, Martin’s teams pride themselves on attacking the boards after misses, and these Wildcats will rebound from every position on offense. However, against Robinson, second-chance points probably won’t come so easily, which means it may not be able to recover from a cold shooting night. Don’t forget about KU’s Jeff Withey, either. The 7’0″ center is one of the league’s top shot-blockers and can control the paint when he’s in the game. KSU has a 7’0” giant of its own in Jordan Henriquez off the bench, so that may turn into an interesting tango if they’re on the floor at the same time.
Kansas State will win if… The offense shares the ball, executes and gets shots to fall. KSU’s defense normally gets all the credit, but this team has actually played well offensively this season. That’s because Will Spradling manages the game well from the point guard spot, and his teammates are also unselfish and willing to make the extra pass. The Wildcats won’t make a lot of threes, but they are balanced enough to rely on a ton of different options. Martin’s bench has also really helped this season, especially freshman Angel Rodriguez. He hasn’t started a game, but he’s already turning heads with his impressive play as a rookie.
Kansas will win if… It limits Kansas State to one shot and protects the basketball. The Wildcats thrive on intensity and pressure, and that can turn into a lot of putbacks and forced turnovers in a hurry. Although it’s easy to key in on Taylor’s turnovers and Robinson’s rebounding ability as the difference-makers, this has to be a team effort. The Jayhawks need to be strong with the ball, and every player needs to chip in on missed shots on the defensive end. Otherwise, the pesky Wildcats can make a living out of tough-nosed, ugly basketball. That’s what they’ve always done under Martin, and it’s the only way they can pull an upset in Lawrence on Wednesday.
OTHER GAMES OF NOTE
- Oklahoma (10-2) at #7 Missouri (13-0), Tuesday 7 PM CT
The undefeated Tigers have a lot of advantages on Oklahoma. They’re faster, more athletic, more experienced and shoot the basketball better from the perimeter, and by all indications, Missouri should win this game at home without a problem. There is one way that OU can exploit Frank Haith‘s team, though, and that’s up front. The only concern for MU is dealing with bruising forwards, and luckily, Lon Kruger actually has a few at his disposal. Romero Osby is one of the Big 12’s top offensive rebounders, and Andrew Fitzgerald is a major scoring threat in the paint as well. That tandem could be difficult for MU to guard. It’s also important that Oklahoma play consistent basketball for 40 minutes. In a close loss to Cincinnati last week, the Sooners built a double-digit lead in the second half by frustrating the Bearcats’ defensively and dominating the offensive glass. Eventually, though, OU’s lack of ball-handling and a few defensive mishaps led to a collapse. Against Missouri, that simply cannot happen. The Tigers won’t full-court press anymore, but every single player on the roster has quick hands and a feisty demeanor. A few turnovers on the Sooners’ end can lead to open shots in transition for Missouri, an area where Marcus Denmon especially thrives.