No. 15 Kansas Jayhawks (21-7 overall, 10-5 Big 12) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-18 overall, 3-12 Big 12)
Time: 11 a.m. | Location: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Oklahoma
TV: CBS | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
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1. Take advantage of time slot
One of the crazier quirks of a 2018-19 Kansas basketball schedule that featured the Jayhawks playing Texas Tech and Kansas State in back-to-back games twice in the month of February is the two 11 a.m. tipoffs for Kansas and Oklahoma State.
The Jayhawks and Cowboys got going before noon in Lawrence on Feb. 9 and will do so again in this one, with an 11 a.m. tip on CBS.
While that early-wake-up-call reality could be scary for a road team that has struggled to bring energy in going 2-7 in true road games this season, the Jayhawks actually have a golden opportunity to put a little pressure on the two teams tied at the top of the Big 12 without so much as stepping in the same gym.
If Kansas can find a way to outscore Oklahoma State in Stillwater — pretty, ugly, sloppy, spectacular, whatever — then both Kansas State and Texas Tech will enter their Saturday games knowing they have to win to stay in front of the 14-time defending Big 12 champion Jayhawks.
Texas Tech is set to hit the road to face TCU at 3 p.m. in Fort Worth, Texas, and Kansas State plays host to Baylor at 7 p.m.
While it’s entirely possible that neither coaching staff will allow their teams to find out the result of the Kansas game before they tip off their games, avoiding such things can be tough these days with social media and the Internet.
KU’s result, good or bad, will not have any true bearing on either of today’s two other key Big 12 contests, but if you believe that the mental side of things has played at least some sort of factor in KU’s Big 12 streak — K-State’s lead, which was 2 games on Monday morning, would be down to a half game at least temporarily if KU wins — it’s hard not to notice this schedule quirk as a potential advantage for the Jayhawks provided they can come away with the win.
If not, they’re done in the Big 12 race no matter what K-State or Texas Tech do today.
2. Contain McGriff
Although his shooting numbers haven’t always been stellar — he shot 7-of-14 overall and 2-of-6 from 3-point range during KU’s 84-72 win over OSU in Allen Fieldhouse a few weeks ago — Oklahoma State junior Cameron McGriff has found ways to give Kansas fits during recent years.
With his elite athleticism matching up with anybody KU can put on the floor and his strong, physical, tenacious presence causing a problem around the rim, McGriff is a guy the Jayhawks have to account for all over the floor and throughout the game.
Currently averaging just over 12 points per game, McGriff ranks 14th in the Big 12 in points per game and also leads the Cowboys in rebounds at 7.5 boards per game, which ranks third among all Big 12 players. McGriff, at 6-foot-7, is OSU’s second-leading shot blocker, with 23, and he also has knocked 34 3-pointers this season, proving that he is a true threat from anywhere on the floor.
Still, his preference is to attack the basket one way or the other, which can lead to easy put-backs or eye-popping dunks and also can put foul trouble on opponents in a hurry.
Although the Jayhawks have the overall advantage on the Cowboys in terms of team depth, finding a player to check McGriff is a considerably tougher task. Big guards Quentin Grimes, Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji may get a crack at it and Dedric Lawson, with his height and length advantage, could, as well, when David McCormack or Mitch Lightfoot is in the game.
Either way, the Jayhawks have to find a way to neutralize McGriff or they run the risk of letting the heartbeat of OSU’s roster bring the kind of energy that can spark an upset.
3. 3-point defense
Broken record or not, this is an area in which Kansas has to improve during the rest of the season if it hopes to have any chance of extending its Big 12 title streak or making any kind of noise in the postseason.
And the Cowboys are a great team to test where that 3-point defense currently sits.
Against Kansas State at home on Monday night, the Jayhawks were great in all areas of their defense, limiting the Wildcats’ solid 3-point attack to just 8 makes in 21 attempts.
That showing helped the Jayhawks pick up a crucial home victory which kept them alive in the Big 12 race.
Now, it’s Kansas against another one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the conference, which is coming off of a red-hot showing in a near upset of fellow Big 12 contender Texas Tech on Wednesday night.
In that one, the Cowboys made 17 of 32 from 3-point range, — starting guards Lindy Waters and Thomas Dziagwa combined to hit 13 of 19 — pushing the Red Raiders to overtime before falling, 84-80.
Anyone who can get that hot against a defense that good clearly can do damage against Kansas or any other team on any given night and the Jayhawks simply cannot afford to let that happen in this one.
The Cowboys rank 2nd in the Big 12 at 37.6 percent from 3-point range — Waters leads the conference at 54.4 percent — and OSU gets a whopping 41.2 percent of its total points from behind the arc.
Kansas, meanwhile, ranks 8th in the Big 12 (36.5 percent) and 146th in the country (34) in terms of defending the 3-point shot.
In the first meeting between these two teams, OSU made 9 triples in 20 attempts (45 percent) including 5 of 7 in a 36-all first-half tie.
Kansas freshman Ochai Agbaji vs. his recent mini-slump
His emergence from probable redshirt to must-have starter has been one of the better individual stories around Kansas basketball for years. And there’s no denying that KU freshman Ochai Agbaji has taken the Jayhawks and the Big 12 by storm.
But after exploding onto the scene with monster energy efforts and a few big time scoring games, Agbaji has been quiet during the Jayhawks past couple of outings.
Kansas will need Agbaji to find his groove again — at least somewhat — in order to run the table in the 3-game gauntlet that remains, which would keep alive their hopes for a 15th consecutive Big 12 title.
Few opponents show how important Agbaji can be than the Cowboys, who saw firsthand how good the freshman from Kansas City, Mo., can be in the first meeting a couple of weeks ago in Allen Fieldhouse.
In that one, Agbaji dropped 23 points on OSU, including a 5-of-7 clip from 3-point range. However, since that game, the 6-foot-5 guard has made just 3 of 14 from 3-point range. What’s more, in KU’s last two games, Agbaji has scored just 2 points total in a blowout loss at Texas Tech and a home win over Kansas State.
Those two teams own two of the toughest defenses in the country, so simply getting them behind him and facing a team with limited depth and a much less heralded defense — OSU ranks 136th nationally in defensive efficiency and dead last in the Big 12 — could be just what Agbaji needs to get going again.
After reaching double-digits in scoring in 6 of his first 14 games as a Jayhawk, Agbaji has dropped off ever so slightly to averages of 8 points and 5 rebounds per game during his past 4.
Stillwater certainly has not been a very friendly place for the Jayhawks to play throughout the years and, down season or not, it doesn’t figure to get any easier today considering what’s on the line for the Jayhawks and how tough the sledding has been on the road this season.
Although KU leads the all-time series with the Cowboys, 115-59, the Jayhawks lead the series in OSU’s home gym by a slim 36-35 margin. That includes just one win in the past five trips to Stillwater, a 4-6 road record in the past 10 games at OSU and a flipped, 6-4 overall record in the past 10 meetings total against Oklahoma State, at home, away and on neutral courts.
Although this series dates back to 1926, the Big 12 era has been slanted KU’s way in the showdown between old Big Eight rivals since the inception of the Big 12 Conference.
KU leads the series with OSU 26-12 in Big 12 games — 20-10 in regular season meetings and 6-2 at the Big 12 tournament.
Kansas coach Bill Self, one of OSU’s most famous alums, is 19-13 all-time against his alma mater, including an 18-10 mark during his time at Kansas.
Win No. 18 was not easy to come by, as it took a strong second-half surge from KU junior Dedric Lawson to help break a 36-all halftime time and lead the Jayhawks to victory in Lawrence on Feb. 9.
Lawson finished with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in 39 must-have minutes of KU’s 12-point victory.
Las Vegas lists the Jayhawks as a 7-point favorite in this key Big 12 matchup.
No. 15 Kansas
G – Devon Dotson, 6-2, 185, Fr.
G – Quentin Grimes, 6-5, 210, Fr.
G – Ochai Agbaji, 6-5, 210, Fr.
F – Dedric Lawson, 6-9, 235, Jr.
F – David McCormack, 6-10, 265, Fr.
G – Thomas Dziagwa, 6-4, 180, Jr.
G – Isaac Likekele, 6-4, 210, Jr.
G – Lindy Waters, 6-6, 210, Jr.
F – Cameron McGriff, 6-7, 220, Jr.
F – Yor Anei, 6-10, 225, Fr.