That Bedlam game sure does seem long ago now. Two weeks and three losses later, the momentum captured in that win has all but been erased. The Cowboys had two road wins against tournament teams in their grasp but weak second-half performances forced the same outcome that seems almost scripted at this point for Cowboy fans. Most recently, the Pokes had one of their most flat performances of the entire season as TCU came in to GIA and never looked back as they came away with a 79-66 win. Now, Boynton’s squad turns to one of the most difficult places to play in college basketball in Allen Fieldhouse against No. 7 Kansas.
Who: No. 7 Kansas Jayhawks
Where: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas
When: 11 a.m. CT
Radio: Cowboy Radio Network
While the Jayhawks currently sit in their current spot atop the Big 12 standings one thing is clear, this team isn’t quite as good as folks are used to in Lawrence. While that may seem like an insult, it is actually quite impressive that even in a year when they sport far less size and depth, the Jayhawks will almost surely find themselves winning their 14th consecutive Big 12 title.
The Jayhawks have found themselves in unfamiliar territory as for the first time in seemingly forever, they don’t have a strong presence inside. This is mostly due to five-star center Billy Preston booking it for Europe following an NCAA investigation surrounding him. Kansas can only typically afford to have one true big on the floor at a time, causing the Jayhawks to struggle in snagging defensive rebounds.
Leading the way on offense for Kansas are Seniors Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, both of whom are averaging just over 17 points per game. Graham especially is more valuable than his stats could ever indicate. He currently leads the conference in minutes per game at 38.8 which is even ahead of last season’s Naithsmith Award winner Frank Mason who averaged 37.2 minutes per game.
Sophomore Center Udoka Azubuike has been the Jayhawks sole major inside presence this season. Despite taking on a larger role than expected, Azubuike is averaging 13.5 points per game as well as leading the team in rebounds at 7.4 boards a game. If the game is close down the stretch, don’t be surprised if Kansas is forced to take Azubuike out of the game due to his free throw shooting woes. In Kansas’s overtime loss to Oklahoma in Norman, Azubuike missed six free throws in crunch time when Oklahoma made use of the “hack-a-shaq” strategy.
With Shine likely to miss his third straight game, the Cowboys will again find themselves looking for other players to step up. Luckily, Cameron McGriff has been playing his best basketball the last few games. McGriff was one of the lone bright spots in Tuesday’s loss as he stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, six boards, and a career-high four blocks and four steals.
Kansas surprised Kansas State last week when they came out in a 2-3 zone, a game in which Kansas State shot 32 percent from the field and 22 percent from three. It wouldn’t shock me if the Jayhawks came out in a zone again against Oklahoma State, especially given the Cowboy’s shooting struggles. If this is the case, players like Averette, Smith, and Carroll absolutely have to be aggressive in attacking the zone and drawing fouls in order to force the Jayhawks to go deeper into their bench than they’d like.
I don’t expect the Cowboys to win this game, but I do expect them to play much better than they did on Tuesday. For a team looking to get back on track, a trip to Lawrence is very poorly timed. With that being said, I can tell Boynton gets the most out of his guys and it’s important to remember that winning is a process. I look forward to watching this team get better on Saturday, but don’t be expecting any backflips on center court.
Kansas 80, Oklahoma State 72