Big 12 Game of the Year: Previewing Oklahoma State at KansasPosted by Taylor Erickson on January 18th, 2014
Saturday afternoon’s tilt between Big 12 powerhouses Kansas and Oklahoma State in Allen Fieldhouse has long been circled on the calendar as one of the most anticipated games in college basketball this season, thanks in large part to the two games that took place last season. In case you need a refresher, Oklahoma State strolled into Lawrence last February and snapped Kansas’ 33-game home winning streak. As if the victory alone wasn’t enough to disappoint Jayhawks Nation, Smart followed his 25-point performance with a beautifully executed backflip on the center of James Naismith Court, much to the chargin of the 16,300 fans in attendance. Kansas returned the favor two-and-a-half weeks later, when the Jayhawks won in double overtime in Stillwater thanks to a Naadir Tharpe bucket in the final seconds to push the Jayhawks ahead, although no backflip was performed.
Now, fast forward eight months to October. During that time, Marcus Smart decided to return to Oklahoma State for a sophomore season, and the highly touted high school recruit Andrew Wiggins had decided to go to school at Kansas. While Wiggins was the focus of nearly every preseason magazine, Smart had a few choice comments on Big 12 media day for the heralded Jayhawk freshman, saying, “A lot of people are saying he’s the best player now in college basketball. All I’m saying is how can you be the best player in something you haven’t even played yet?” To be perfectly honest, Smart’s comments were probably fairly justified. Had Wiggins chosen to play his college basketball in a different location, Smart would have instead been the toast of the conference, but he was now forced to answer questions about a kid in Wiggins who had plenty to prove at the collegiate level. Smart would go on to say about Wiggins, “If he’s the best player like people say, if that’s the case, in order for me to be the best, I have to beat the best, right? If he’s the best player, fans will get their money’s worth when we play Kansas.”
This showdown certainly has all the makings of must-see television on Saturday afternoon, and to get you ready for this action, I discussed some of the more intriguing aspects of this one with Kyle Porter, creator of the Pistols Firing Blog (@pistolsguy) and a must-follow for all Oklahoma State fans. Let’s take a look at the most anticipated game in the Big 12 so far this season.
Taylor: Kyle, first off, thanks a bunch for getting together to preview this Big 12 showdown that will take place tomorrow in Allen Fieldhouse. To get us started, one of the more intriguing aspects of this game are the defensive match-ups that will be featured. Marcus Smart and Markel Brown put as much pressure on the opposing guards on the offensive end of the floor than maybe any team in the nation, and it’s no secret that Naadir Tharpe lacks on defense. Conversely, the injury the Michael Cobbins has left Oklahoma State fairly thin up front, and with the emergence of Kansas big man Joel Embiid, I’m curious on your thoughts of how Travis Ford will choose to defend Kansas in the frontcourt?
Kyle: I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if OSU went with a zone for a while, or at least tested it in the first half. This will keep Le’Bryan Nash and Kamari Murphy out of foul trouble with Kansas’ bigs and allow some of OSU’s bigger guards (Marcus Smart and Brian Williams) to roam a little, pick off passes, and (mostly) rebound. If they try to man up against Kansas’ frontcourt, that’s a recipe for disaster. I’m not saying Ford won’t play man at all, I just think they’ll play a lot of zone as well.
Taylor: I think that’s a great point. We’ve seen Kansas struggle earlier in the season against zone defenses, especially in that first half against Florida when the Jayhawks looked completely out of sorts. While Kansas is on defense, I anticipate Bill Self will start out using Wayne Selden on Marcus Smart, with Andrew Wiggins matching up with Markel Brown and Naadir Tharpe on Phil Forte. Selden has been far from stellar defensively this year, but at 6’5″ and 230 pounds, Selden does have size close to what Smart possesses. I don’t think I’m alone in hoping that at some point in this game we get to see a Smart vs. Wiggins match up, but for the sake of protecting Wiggins from foul trouble, that might have to wait until later in the second half. Smart seems to be extremely motivated for this contest, even since the preseason given the ridiculous amount of hype that was bestowed upon Wiggins, partially taking away some of the attention that Smart deserved. That being said, it would not surprise me in the least bit to see him start the game extremely focused, and firing on all cylinders. Do you anticipate a performance along the lines of those we saw early in the season from Smart?
Kyle: Yeah I think if you look back at Smart’s best games they come on some of the biggest stages. I expect nothing but a stat line that looks like it fell out of a random lottery ticket. The thing I’m most fascinated by is the presumed Wiggins-Markel matchup. That’s just dripping with athleticism. I also just realized we could have 30 percent of the top 10 picks in next year’s draft on the floor together and 16 percent of the first round (depending on how you feel about Markel and Selden). That’s a lot of star power and despite the shortcomings each team has displayed in the first half of the season, I expect it to shine through in this game.
Taylor: Yes, I agree the Wiggins-Brown matchup should certainly not lack in athleticism. Aside from the Champion’s Classic and potential Final Four matchups, there can’t be many more games that will feature more top 10 picks than this one. After watching what Markel Brown did in Allen Fieldhouse last season going for 28 points off 7-of-10 from beyond the arc, I have long thought that he is one of the most underrated players in America, and when you pair that talent with someone in Smart who sets him up for great looks, it’s a pretty lethal combination. Brown’s ability to drive the basketball and knock down outside shots puts a ton of pressure on a defense, and as good as Wiggins has been this year defensively, this will be one of his tougher tests. On the flip side, I’m curious how Brown matches with Wiggins on the defensive end of the court. At 6’3, he gives up around five inches to Wiggins, and we’ve seen Self isolate Wiggins on the low block on several occasions throughout the season when he has a smaller defender on him. From an Oklahoma State perspective, how is Brown viewed as a defender, and do you anticipate any problems with him handling Wiggins size?
Kyle: I think there are always going to be problems with “handling Wiggins” unless your last name is “James” or “World Peace” (in his prime) but I think the opposite is true as well. Brown is so tough to handle because he’s become so proficient at hitting jumpers off screens and can go to his left just as well as he can go to his right.
Taylor: I think that’s a great point in regards to Wiggins’ size. That being said, many other teams have similar match-up issues and we’ve seen Wiggins struggle to exploit the mismatch. Brown’s versatility will be extremely difficult to handle, and if he can draw an early foul or two on Wiggins, this game could change dramatically as well. Alright Kyle, before we wrap this up, let’s throw a couple predictions out there as to how we see this going down in Allen Fieldhouse tomorrow afternoon. Who do you have?
Kyle: I’ll say Kansas wins 79-74 with Embiid posting a 21/15 line as the player of the game. Oklahoma State will play with Kansas mostly because Smart won’t let them fade but Kansas has too much on the interior for Oklahoma State to handle and Cowboys’ trap defense won’t be able to go to the distance.
Taylor: I’m going to go with Kansas in this one as well; I’ll say 82-72 in a game where the Jayhawks hold a eight to 12-point lead for a majority of the second half. As far as player of the game, I think Kansas’ interior size and depth will ultimately be the difference in the game, but as Ryan Feldman of ESPN.com examined, in five games against ranked teams, Andrew Wiggins’ has averaged 20.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. I have a feeling this trend will continue and Wiggins will come out as aggressive and focused as we’ve seen from him all season and finish with something around 22 points and 10 rebounds. Regardless of the outcome, this one should be outstanding television and promises to treat us with some of the best talent on display in college basketball.