Oklahoma State Favored Against Kansas: A Bad Sign?Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 20th, 2013
It isn’t very often that a team drops 85 points on a Bill Self-coached team or wins in Allen Fieldhouse. Oklahoma State did both earlier this month, ending the Jayhawks‘ 33-game home winning streak while scoring the most points in regulation against Kansas since, well, Oklahoma State nearly three years ago. It was the beginning of the worst eight-day stretch of Kansas basketball since 2005 and it makes tonight’s rematch the most intriguing game in the Big 12 this season for a few reasons. The loser will be a game behind first place with five games left, making an outright conference championship nearly impossible. The Big 12 doesn’t have a tiebreaker for the regular season title and rewards multiple trophies if teams are tied (because of the previously unbalanced schedule with 12 teams), so this wouldn’t be a huge deal. But if Kansas wants to claim its ninth consecutive Big 12 championship with a straight face, avoiding a sweep by the team it tied would help that cause. Bill Self has also never been swept in the regular season while at Kansas. He’s had a few close calls, like Missouri last season, but Self has always avenged a loss when given the chance. Tonight might be the toughest test yet, though.
In the first meeting on November 2, Kansas was a 10-point favorite and #2 in the country, winners of 18 in a row. That didn’t effect Marcus Smart or Markel Brown, however. Smart, a leading candidate along with Ben McLemore for Big 12 Freshman of the Year as well as a near-lock for the All-Big 12 First Team, had 25 points, nine rebounds (eight offensive), and five steals in the 85-80 victory. With Smart stealing potentially eight extra possessions, coupled with Brown’s 28 points and effective field goal percentage of 73.5%, the Cowboys had enough ammo to outlast Kansas on its home court, something that doesn’t happen very often. But that pair of ridiculous stat lines is why I like the Jayhawks tonight. Smart and Brown had two of the best games they’ve had in an OSU uniform and their team forced 16 Kansas turnovers, and yet they still only won by five points. That’s what was needed, because everything else about Oklahoma State’s box score — from shooting percentage and assists to free-throw percentage and turnovers — was similar to the rest of the season. Could Brown and/or Smart go off on the Jayhawks again tonight? Maybe. A similar game from Smart is expected because of how bad of a match-up his size creates for the KU guards. But Brown? I doubt it. He only has three other 20-point games since December 1. But that isn’t the only reason I think Kansas wins tonight on its way to another outright Big 12 championship.
The Jayhawks are underdogs in a tight game (Oklahoma State is a one-point favorite as of 4:00 PM). That sounds like a strange reason for confidence because it is, and Bill Self teams aren’t an underdog very often so this isn’t the most tested theory. But in the last five seasons, Kansas has been an underdog of four points or fewer on 10 occasions. They are 7-3 in those games. For whatever reason (I credit Self), the Jayhawks are good at getting up for big games against teams that might be better than them. The 70% winning percentage wasn’t all that shocking, though. This season they beat Ohio State as four-point underdogs but lost to TCU as 18-point favorites. Last season, they beat Ohio State as three-point underdogs but lost to Davidson a week later as 13.5-point favorites. In 2008-09, they beat Oklahoma as a three-point underdog on the road but lost to UMass as 18-point favorites. In 2009-10, they won close games as favorites against Texas and Missouri but lost to Northern Iowa as heavy favorite in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That’s why “As Long As We Survive The First Two Rounds…” is a common phrase heard in Lawrence this time of year, and that’s why a lot of Kansas fans get more worried about flyover games than Big Mondays. And that’s why I like the Jayhawks by five points in Stillwater tonight. Because whether perception or reality, Bill Self and Kansas look more vulnerable when acclaimed and more focused when doubted.