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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Game day Breakdown: No. 5 KU basketball at No. 12 Oklahoma

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) drills a huge three over Oklahoma forward Khadeem Lattin (12) late in the second half, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) drills a huge three over Oklahoma forward Khadeem Lattin (12) late in the second half, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.

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No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks (16-3 overall, 6-1 Big 12) vs. No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners (14-4 overall, 4-3 Big 12)

Time: 6 p.m. | Location: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, Okla.

TV: ESPN2 | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network

Log on to KUsports.com for our live game blog coverage and follow the KUsports.com staff on Twitter: @KUSports @mctait @TomKeeganLJW @bentonasmith @nightengalejr @chasenscott & @nickkrug

Keys for Kansas

1. Don't forget the other guys

While the obvious focus in this one will be for Kansas to find a way to slow down Oklahoma freshman Trae Young, who leads the nation in both points (30.5) and assists (9.7) per game, there's much more to it than that.

While Young has been sensational so far this season, it's his supporting cast — and his ability to use them when necessary — that has vaulted the Sooners into the Top 15 in the country.

Stopping Young altogether is likely a losing proposition. He's too good, too quick, too creative and, frankly, has enough freedom to be able to shoot whenever and wherever he wants for Kansas to think it is going to take him out of the game altogether. So the goal for Kansas will be to make Young earn everything he gets, to make him shoot a whole bunch of shots to get to 20, or even 30, points.

The Sooners feature three other players averaging nine points per game or better (Christian James 12.1, Brady Manek 11.3 and Kam McGusty 8.6), and also three other players not named Young who are shooting 39 percent or better from 3-point range (James, Manek and Matt Freeman).

“He's unbelievable with the ball,” KU coach Bill Self said of Young. “He has unbelievable vision. You could take away his shot and they'd still come away with two or three points so easily (because he's such a good passer), which has happened several times. The challenge is how do you guard everybody else — because they can all score — and still not let him have huge numbers?"

2. Help for Graham

There's no doubt that KU senior Devonte' Graham is going to take it as a personal challenge to go toe-to-toe with Young the way he did with Buddy Hield a couple of years ago in Norman, Okla., in a Kansas victory.

And that competitive drive that is a part of every bone in Graham's body certainly is admirable.

But, even if he has some success slowing down OU's fab freshman, there's no way that Graham will be able to lock Young up alone. Asking him to do so is putting way too much pressure on the KU leader and, in turn, would also put the Jayhawks in a tough position on offense and in terms of depth.

Graham already is playing nearly 40 minutes every night. And he's also KU's leading scorer and assist man. While he no doubt will be up for the challenge of trying to tackle Young, asking him to do it for 40 minutes likely will wear him down way too much.

So someone else in KU blue is going to have to take a few turns on Young. Perhaps even several someones. The most obvious options there are freshman guard Marcus Garrett and junior guard Lagerald Vick. Both have the kind of quickness and length that could — stressing the word "could" — make life tough for Young. And both are much better options than KU's other backcourt options Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk.

The way OU plays, though, and with Young's ability to hurt teams all over the floor, it's entirely possible that all five of KU's perimeter players will be staring into Young's eyes for a few trips here and there.

Regardless of who they are or how they do during their turn on Young, somebody — perhaps even Bill Self with his game plan — is going to have to help Graham out.

3. Keep an eye on tempo

Although Kansas typically is the type of team that likes to get out and run and play in transition, doing so in this matchup might not be in the Jayhawks' best interest.

Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in tempo — as measured by a KenPom.com calculation that shows pace of play and number of possessions per game — and ranks fifth in the nation in that same category.

In short, the Sooners, led by Young, want to get up and down as fast as possible to allow their freewheeling point guard to both get off his own shot and create shot opportunities for others.

In last weekend's overtime loss to Oklahoma State, Young scored 48 points, but needed 39 shots to get them. That included 20 3-point attempts. And that was just fine with the Sooners, who know that's their best chance to win games and certainly have backed that up to this point.

The Jayhawks are not exactly a slow and deliberate team. In fact, KU ranks near the top of the Big 12 in tempo and also is getting the highest percentage of its points from 3-point attempts and the lowest percentage of its points from 2-point attempts among all Big 12 teams (OU is second in both categories).

But in the interest of slowing down Young and the Sooners, don't be surprised if KU really tries to control tempo and play through Udoka Azubuike as much as possible.

Mega Matchup

Azubuike vs. Oklahoma bigs

A week ago, when Kansas knocked off then-No. 6 West Virginia in Morgantown, the Jayhawks were helped tremendously when Azubuike was on the floor. Silly fouls and a lack of focus kept him out of half of the game, but in the 20 minutes that he was on the court, the Mountaineers, who feature a heck of a big man themselves in Sagaba Konate, had absolutely no answer for Azubuike.

History could repeat itself in this one if Azubuike is able to stay on the floor. And that objective becomes even more crucial given the fact that the Sooners have not just one, but two, big men they can throw at the sophomore center.

Khadeem Lattin, 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, and junior Jamuni McNeace, 6-10, 222, both have the height, athleticism, instincts and experience to give Azubuike trouble. But if the KU big man is able to post up as deep as he has during the past week or so, even these two will stand no chance of slowing him down when he gets in close.

The fact that there are two OU big men who can take turns trying to corral Azubuike certainly helps OU's cause. And Azubuike's suspect free throw shooting — 4 of 11 last Saturday vs. Baylor and .411 for the season — also becomes an option here, provided the OU guards can dive down to steal a couple of fouls away from the Sooners big men.

Jayhawk Pulse

A little more than a week ago, this one looked like it could be for a spot on top. Now, after back-to-back losses by Oklahoma, it appears as if this one means a lot more for the Sooners' chances of staying in the Big 12 race than it does for KU's hopes of adding a 14th consecutive title to its haul.

A win tonight would give Kansas a three-game lead over Oklahoma, with 10 games to play in the Big 12 race. While West Virginia and Texas Tech still loom as contenders, it would be tough to see the Sooners making up that kind of gap in that kind of time.

But don't think for a second that's how the Jayhawks are looking at this game. To them, it's merely another opportunity, against a highly ranked team, to test themselves, improve upon their weaknesses and build some momentum for February and March.

Las Vegas put this a 50-50 toss-up for each team, and the Jayhawks have won four straight in the series and 17 of the last 19 dating back to 2006. But a decent chunk of those, including two games last year and the famous Buddy Hield, triple-overtime game from two seasons ago, have been the types of games that easily could have gone either way.

Although those games from the past, along with so many down-to-the-wire battles this season have gone KU's way, Self was quick to point out the bottom line for how and why KU came out on top.

“The biggest reason we have (won the close ones) is we've had some guys make individual plays,” Self said. “I know our guys like to compete and play pretty well at game point. Our guys have been pretty good in those situations, and it's primarily due to guys just making individual plays within team situations.”

Probable Starters

No. 5 Kansas

G – Devonte’ Graham, 6-2, 185, Sr.

G – Malik Newman, 6-3, 190, Soph.

G – Svi Mykhailiuk, 6-8, 205, Sr.

G – Lagerald Vick, 6-5, 175, Jr.

C – Udoka Azubuike, 7-0, 280, Soph.

No. 12 Oklahoma

G – Trae Young, 6-2, 180, Fr.

G – Rashard Odomes, 6-6, 217, Jr.

G – Christian James, 6-4, 211, Jr.

F – Brady Manek, 6-9, 210, Fr.

F – Khadeem Lattin., 6-9, 220, Sr.

Comments

Andy Godwin 3 years, 1 month ago

Matt, you missed someone. "A win tonight would give Kansas a three-game lead over Oklahoma, with 10 games to play in the Big 12 race. While West Virginia and Texas Tech still loom as contenders, it would be tough to see the Sooners making up that kind of gap in that kind of time." KSU is arguably playing the best basketball in the Big 12. One made shot by Brown and KU would be 0.5 games behind KSU going into tonight's game. Race is far from over.

Kent Richardson 3 years, 1 month ago

Far from over is right Andy. It's going to be tough for us to win another 7 to 8 conference games. It will be even tougher for someone to win 8 to 10. At this time are we capable of finishing out 8 up and three down? Doable but not a given. A win tonight makes it very likely we can end up 14 and 4. Forget the A&M game it's just a money maker now. A couple of B12 tourney wins and we have a two seed and play twice in Wichita maybe. Far from being there.

Yonatan Negash 3 years, 1 month ago

Considering we have the following remaining road games, would love to come out of Oklahoma with a win tonight. 1. At Oklahoma 2. At KSU 3. At Baylor 4. At Iowa State 5. At Texas Tech 6. At Oklahoma State

Home games used to be considered solid wins but for some reason, it hasn't been easy winning at home this year. I'd say it's a little premature talking about winning another Big 12 title.

Remaining home games 1. Oklahoma State 2. TCU 3. WVU 4. Oklahoma 5. Texas

Kent Richardson 3 years, 1 month ago

Yonatan, will 13 and 5 be enough to get #14?

Yonatan Negash 3 years, 1 month ago

Kent, I do think 13 - 5 can get us #14

12 - 6 may get us a tie

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 1 month ago

Before conference play began, I said that 13–5 would be enough to share the conference title. I haven't seen anything to change that but it would need to be 14- 4 to win the title outright.

Dave Miller 3 years, 1 month ago

Coach Self keeps referring to "the grind of February" at times. Looking at the schedule, Feb. 17th thru the 24th is the meat grinder: WVU at Kansas, OU at Kansas, Texas Tech on the road. Home games this season are just as tough as road games. Maybe more so with the added pressure of performing well for the home crowd.

I think somewhere in that span of 3 games will determine if a share of the title goes to Kansas. Every possession is crucial, every defensive set is paramount, every game is a "must have" game this season.

Mallory Briggans 3 years, 1 month ago

Lon Kruger gave Trae Young the keys to the car....Kruger pretty much lets Trae do what he wants.....his shot selection at times is terrible but yet Kruger leaves him in.....although Self heavily recruited Young ....his style of play would not please Self in the least and trust me he would have a come to Jesus meeting if he played on a Coach Self basketball team.....No player should take 40 shots in a game ...and its a safe bet if he was at Kansas that would not happen....no way no how.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 1 month ago

Kruger is a very solid head coach. He knows what he is doing.

DiscGolfer Jason 3 years, 1 month ago

Self doesn't need to give freshman players the keys. However, there is also a reason why he misses out on the prime recruits. We don't need a OAD player that will not change the outcome of our season when it ends. So far, it hasn't worked out. Then again Self needs to let young players play and learn from their mistakes.

14th conference title. Big deal. Is that what it has come too? A freaking conference title. Thanks but no thanks.

I wonder how Self is going to handle all those 5 star recruits next season. He'll have to let them play. He has no choice. And if he doesn't 1 player will transfer.

Barry Weiss 3 years, 1 month ago

this game tonight is a tough one to figure how coach will approach it. K-State, as I recall, held Young somewhat in check. Not sure if he had an off night or it was their defense. Maybe coach will go with something like that. Bottom line, he is going to get his points, we need our offense to not stagnate like it does at times. On the road, being hot is a must. Damn, I'm getting nervous for this one already. Lets go Jayhawks!!!

Craig Carson 3 years, 1 month ago

Not really a must win for KU, but a win tonight would be nice..seems the answer to beating OU is to simply let young get his points but limit his assist..doesnt matter if he is scoring 40 a game if his teammates are getting shots..OU isnt really good on defense either..this feels like a must game for them..plus Young stated in the offseason that he wanted to win the Big 12 and break the streak...im sure he will play with more focus this game so KU will have to make sure they dont lay an egg

Mallory Briggans 3 years, 1 month ago

Marius not debating on kruger as a coach ....he has won every place he has been.....my point with young is he takes alot of bad shots and to me Kruger rides it out.......Do you feel Self would let Trae play that style if he were a jayhawk.....Self has a quick hook and he can get your attention by sitting you on the bench.....

Harlan Hobbs 3 years, 1 month ago

I remember last year how the announcers were saying that OU would have more returning players than anyone else this year which would bode well for them. That was before Trae Young even made his choice. Therefore, it seems to me that "giving the keys of the car to Trae Young" to such a high degree has not worked to their advantage.

It's what I would call the "Wilt Chamberlain effect." Wilt was arguably the greatest individual player of all time, but his teams won very few championships while the Celtics dominated.

When you have such a monster talent as Wilt or Trae, the teammates often have an inherent inclination to kind of stand around and marvel at the talent and expect that talent to make every play. It's not that they intentionally become lackadaisical, but it just seems like human nature.

If Trae Young has to take nearly 40 shots to get his points, then I predict a KU victory, unless KU goes totally cold from the field. KU's offense is more versatile, and their defense is typically better than OU's. Of course, OU's back is against the wall, so I expect to see maximum effort from them. KU needs the same level of intensity.

Lastly, I totally agree with Andy about not sleeping on K-State. They looked quite good against Baylor, and they handled OU very easily in Manhattan. They will be loaded for bear when we go to Manhattan next Monday night, as they undoubtedly believe that they have been cheated out of a couple of victories in the last two trips to Lawrence.

Like him or not, Bruce Weber is a good defensive coach, and the Wildcats appear very confident right now. Also, Dean Wade may be the most improved player in the league.

Kent Richardson 3 years, 1 month ago

12 and 6 may get a conference tie this year. Game after game is decided on a last shot hit or miss. Top to bottom nice conference without a great team. Teams that have a glaring flaw like Texas who cannot shoot well from deep only need maybe two more makes and they can win over anyone.

Around the country we see teams like UK with six McDonald's AA's just cannot jell. I know they must have talent but it isn't showing. Duke with five McDonald's of their own cannot guard very well.

Maybe the coaching and sophisticated schemes needed to compete successfully in the state of today's game is too much for one and done players to grasp.

Our fast, or at least successful, start to the conference season has put us in a good spot.

I'm "whisper typing" this but I am starting to feel good about this squad.

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