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January 18, 2014

Know the Foe: Kansas

The wait is finally over.

Oklahoma State has had some exciting games so far this season along with great games against Top 25 opponents, but the 1st of at least 2 games between the Cowboys and the Kansas Jayhawks will finally happen Saturday afternoon in the Phog. Last season the Cowboys and Jayhawks had one of the most exciting series in the Big XII with each taking a victory at their opponent's home court.

With the announcement of star players staying and arriving for both teams, it was not surprise that OSU and KU would be the heavy favorites for the Big XII this season. I can probably speak for everyone when I say how excited I have been for this matchup, and we do not have to wait any longer for it to happen.

Kansas had one of the toughest nonconference schedules of any team in the nation this season, and while they won some big time games, they also lost some games they probably should have won. The Jayhawks had their highs (like beating Duke) and lows (losing to San Diego State at home) and would come out of the gauntlet 9-4. However, the Jayhawks have reminded everyone why the road to the Big XII title goes through Lawrence, as they have won their first three conference games and remain as the only unbeaten team in conference play in the Big XII. KU has been playing their best basketball yet and now they will set their sights on getting revenge against the Cowboys after OSU shocked everyone and came out of the Phog as the winners last season.

For the Cowboys, last season's win at Kansas proved to be a huge turning point for the Cowboys. Their win helped them play with confidence for the rest of the season and helped them get back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010. Another win in Lawrence would cause a tie between Kansas and Oklahoma State for 1st in the standings and once again give the Cowboys huge momentum as they continue through conference play. For the Jayhawks, a win for them would be sweet revenge from last year's game, but would also put more distance between them and the rest of the Big XII for the top spot in the conference. One thing is for sure though and that is Saturday's game will be one of the best games in the conference this season.

Who?: University of Kansas
Nickname: Jayhawks
Location: Lawrence, Kansas
2012-13 Record: 31-6 (14-4); Big XII Regular Season and Tournament Champions; lost in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament to Michigan 85-87 OT
Current Record: 12-4 (3-0); 1st in the Big XII
RPI: 1st
Best Win: @ Iowa State (RPI: 9th)
Worst Loss: @ Colorado (RPI: 15th)
Last Matchup vs. OSU: 2/20/13 (KU 68-67 2OT)
Series vs. OSU: Kansas leads the series 107-54

Notable Players:

Andrew Wiggins (Fr.) F:
You may have heard this name a few times this season. Wiggins was the number one overall player in the 2013 class according to Rivals and many other recruiting websites. Coming into the season Wiggins was hyped up by the media as a player with athleticism like Lebron James, but most would agree that he has not met that expectation. That being said calling Wiggins "overrated" is really unfair as he is still one of the best players in college basketball this season. Wiggins is the Jayhawks' leading scorer and is 9th in the conference in points per game with 15.8. The Jayhawks have been playing some of their best basketball since conference plays start, and the same can be said about Wiggins. In their last game at Iowa State he finished with 17 points and had a career high 19 rebounds to add to his stat line. The freshman sensation has been pretty consistent in big time games for the Jayhawks and now gets another chance to shine in what I believe will be the best series in the Big XII this season. Marcus Smart wants him to prove that he's as good as everyone hyped him up to be, and now he has the opportunity Saturday afternoon.

Joel Embiid (Fr.) C: While Wiggins received most of the immediate attention as one of the best players in the nation, Embiid has stormed onto the scene as one Kansas' best players, if not one of the best players in the country. Like Wiggins he was listed as a 5-star recruit and was the ranked the 3rd best center in the 2013 class and 25th best player. Everyone may have not noticed Embiid before the season started, but he has everyone's undivided attention now. He is averaging 10.9 points per game and has the highest field goal percentage in the nation, shooting at 67.7% from the field. Not only is one of the most efficient scorers in the country but he is also a great defensive anchor for the Jayhawks as well. Embiid is 2nd in the conference in blocks per game with 2.56, just behind Baylor's Isaiah Austin and is the team's leading rebounder and 6th in the conference with 7.4 per game. By far Embiid will be the biggest challenge the OSU front court has faced this season. If they found themselves in foul trouble early against Kansas, than Embiid will be huge problems for the Cowboys.

What to Watch For:

Marcus Smart vs. Andrew Wiggins:
Although in recent games Coach Ford has put Smart at the 3, we more than likely won't see many one-on-one matchups between Smart and Wiggins. That being said this versus scenario is in regards to who will have the better performance in Allen Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon. When Smart announced his decision to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season, for a few weeks he was viewed by most as "the man" in the Big XII conference, but that title quickly went away after Wiggins announced that he would be playing basketball at Kansas. Smart in a matter of weeks went from the lime light to standing behind the stage and he made it vocal at the Big 12 Media Day that he was not okay with that. The wait is finally over and now both players will get a chance to show the nation exactly who runs the Big XII this season. Wiggins has played pretty well all season long and is coming off his best performance, but Smart is playing very well and has been stuffing the stat sheet since conference play began for the Cowboys. With Saturday's matchup being one of the biggest games all season for both teams, it will be very interesting to see which future NBA lottery pick will step up and claim the stage all for their own.

Points off Turnovers: Statistically the Jayhawks are in the top half of the rankings in almost every category in the Big XII, but one of the very big flaws that Kansas has is their ball security. The Jayhawks have the 2nd most turnovers in the Big XII and averaging the most turnovers per game than any other team at 13.8. The Jayhawks are one of three teams in the Big XII with a negative turnover margin and it is the lowest in the conference with -2.81. Meanwhile the Cowboys are 2nd in the conference in turnover margin with a +4.24 and are 1st in the Big XII in steals and steals per game. The interesting thing about the Jayhawks' turnover problem is that it is not one or two players responsible for the majority of their turnovers, but as a team the turnover bug has bitten them. If they Cowboys are able to capitalize off their turnovers early than they could get off to a quick start similar to last season's victory in Lawrence, which is what they will need again in order to win the game. I believe that the Cowboys will force a lot of turnovers in this game, but the question is can they capitalize off them.

Prediction:

I think the Cowboys have the talent and ability to beat the Jayhawks, but I don't think they will be able to beat them in Lawrence for the second year in a row. Kansas is on fire right now and while I do think the Cowboys can be the team to put them out, I don't think their hot streak will come to an end at home. It will be a very close game that comes down to the wire, but I see Kansas escaping with the win on Saturday. Kansas 76 - Oklahoma State 74


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