Friday, January 8, 2021
No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks (9-2 overall, 3-1 Big 12) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (6-3 overall, 2-2 Big 12)
Time: 3:30 p.m. | Location: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kan.
TV: CBS | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
Visit KUsports.com for our live game blog coverage and follow the KUsports.com staff on Twitter: @KUSports @mctait @bentonasmith & @SJacksonLJW
1. Make up for last time
KU’s immediate response to last weekend’s 25-point home loss to Texas — a 93-64 win at TCU on Tuesday night — was as good as anyone could have wanted.
But the Jayhawks feel like they still have to make it up to their fans — specifically with a stellar performance at home.
“We're excited to be able to respond back in front of our fans,” KU sophomore Christian Braun said.
Returning to Allen Fieldhouse, where they were flat and lacked emotion and energy the last time they played, should be reason enough for the Jayhawks to play with much more passion right out of the gate in this one.
“That wasn't what (they) normally see from us at home,” Braun said of the sluggish showing versus UT. “So we’re excited to get to redeem ourselves and just put on a better show than what we did last time we were here.”
Kansas coach Bill Self said Friday that the Jayhawks hoped senior point guard Marcus Garrett would be back on the floor for this one. Self said Garrett, who missed the TCU game while nursing a head injury, had shown improvement while taking it slow throughout the week. But he also said Garrett would not return to the lineup unless team doctors declared him “100% good to go.”
“We think that's going to be the case,” Self said. “We do. We’ve been cautious moving forward (and) I do expect him to be good to go, so to speak. But we’re going to wait until he's evaluated and we'll go from there.”
Self said junior guard Ochai Agbaji, who played through a sore hamstring against TCU, had shown no signs of trouble throughout the week.
“I think Och is doing pretty well,” Self said.
2. Defense wins
If there’s one thing the Sooners can do, it’s score. While OU doesn’t average an outrageous number of points per game (79.4, 67th nationally), it does have three players who can go off any given night.
Point guard Austin Reaves’ 32-point outing against TCU earlier this season is the highest single-game individual total in the Big 12 to date. Not far behind, Reaves’ teammates Brady Manek and Umoja Gibson each have 29-point games to their credit this season.
OU sophomore De’Vion Harmon, who played with KU’s Jalen Wilson at John Guyer High in Denton, Texas, also has a 20-plus point game under his belt this season.
Gibson’s 29-point night came in an upset of West Virginia last weekend, and the North Texas transfer earned both Big 12 Player of the Week and Newcomer of the Week honors for his role off the bench.
Beyond that, the Sooners rank 16th nationally in offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, and they also rank in the top four in the conference in all three shooting categories — field goal, free throw and 3-point percentage — meaning Kansas will have to be sound in all facets of its defense to find success in this one.
“There's a lot of things that teams have to do to be successful against them defensively,” Self said. “And I think we're capable of doing it, even though we haven't demonstrated night in and night out. But it'll be a good challenge.”
Self also said a good showing by KU's offense could help.
“I think when you play OU, you're going to have to score some points,” he said. “(Lon Kruger's) teams are always good offensively.”
OU’s offense is the type that makes Self the most nervous because Kruger’s club has so many instinctual scorers that it can run bad offense and still come away with 3 points.
“We say defend the entire (shot) clock,” Self said. “But a lot of times, defending the entire clock is also hoping they miss.”
3. Can KU’s supporting cast stay hot?
With regular rotation players Garrett and Bryce Thompson out with injuries against TCU, the Kansas reserves stepped up and played big to help KU leave Fort Worth, Texas, with a convincing victory.
Self said after the victory that he hoped the strong showing from Dajuan Harris, Tristan Enaruna and Mitch Lightfoot off the bench would help elevate those players’ performance heading into the rest of conference play.
For Enaruna, who delivered career highs in points and rebounds against TCU, the outburst came from both the opportunity and the feeling that his teammates trusted him to get the job done. And Harris made his first collegiate start and dished seven assists with one turnover.
At this point, those two bench players know they can deliver. So it’ll be interesting to see if they can take that mindset into games where they don’t get extended minutes, or whether their playing time will increase.
“We played pretty good as a group the other night,” Self said Friday. “Much better than what we had prior. Hopefully it was a good confidence builder.”
KU’s ball movement vs. OU’s 3-point defense
The Sooners enter this one ranked 322nd in the nation in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to make 39.8% of their 3-point attempts so far this season.
That number has climbed to 42.2% against Big 12 foes.
Five of OU’s nine opponents so far this season have reached double-digit makes from behind the arc, including Xavier, which made 19 of 32 from 3-point range in a 22-point win over OU, and West Virginia, which hit 14 of 24 in a recent loss to the Sooners.
Three others reached 10 triples, and two of the four teams that didn’t crack double digits in 3-point makes hit eight and nine.
Unlike West Virginia a couple of weeks ago, which played zone against Kansas and allowed the Jayhawks to take clean, uncontested shots from behind the arc, the Sooners are athletic enough on the wings to defend the arc. But quick ball movement and quality touches inside have had a tendency to loosen up the OU defense and turn things sloppy.
That’s exactly what KU got at TCU and what it's hoping to get the rest of the season.
“We knew we couldn't do it as individuals,” Braun said of KU’s emphasis on better ball movement last time out. “So we had to do it as a team.”
KU recorded a season-best 21 assists on 35 field goals against the Horned Frogs.
The matchup with OU could not be better timed for Kansas, which is coming off of a game in which it displayed arguably its best ball movement of the season and also enjoyed the benefits of having a legitimate threat down low in David McCormack.
Don’t be surprised to see the Jayhawks make quality 3-point looks a focal point of their offense today. Kansas ranks second in the conference at 37.5% from 3-point range so far this season and the Sooners are dead last among Big 12 teams at defending the 3, nearly 5% worse than ninth-place Kansas State.
At 3-1 in Big 12 play, the Jayhawks are all about trying to keep pace at the top of the standings. Yes, it’s still early, but Baylor and Texas are both ranked in the Associated Press' top five; are 3-0 in Big 12 play; and are both riding long winning streaks.
The Jayhawks are catching the Sooners at a good time. OU is at the end of a four-game stretch against top-15 foes (three of them were in the AP top 10 at the time Oklahoma played them) and is averaging just 67.7 points per game since Big 12 play began.
That includes OU's 76-61 loss on Wednesday night at No. 2 Baylor, which held OU to its lowest point total of the season. OU has been victimized by slow starts in both the first half and second half of several games this season, and that could play into KU’s hands if the Jayhawks bring the same kind of energy and intensity to the floor that they had at TCU in the early going.
“Being 3-1 (in Big 12 play) at this point, based on the teams we played — I would probably (have said) before the season, ‘'I'll take that,’” Self said Friday.
Kansas leads the all-time series with Oklahoma, 150-68. That includes a 77-16 mark in games played in Lawrence and a 50-7 record inside Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks have won eight of the last 10 matchups with OU and 21 of the last 25.
KenPom.com lists Kansas as a 7-point favorite in this one and gives KU a win probability of 74%.
No. 6 Kansas
G – Marcus Garrett, 6-5, 195, Sr.
G – Ochai Agbaji, 6-5, 210, Jr.
G – Christian Braun, 6-6, 205, Soph.
G – Jalen Wilson, 6-7, 190, RS-Fr.
F – David McCormack, 6-10, 265, Jr.
G – Austin Reaves, 6-5, 206, Sr.
G – De’Vion Harmon, 6-2, 198, Soph.
G – Alondes Williams, 6-5, 201, Sr.
F – Brady Manek, 6-9, 231, Sr.
F – Kur Kuath, 6-10, 220, Sr.