With the college basketball regular season nearing its close, Big 12 powerhouses Kansas Jayhawks (#6) and Oklahoma Sooners (#3) meet this Saturday for the first time since early January, a game which saw the teams need three extra periods to decide a winner (2:30pm ET on ESPN).
Games like that are considered instant classics for a reason and there is no reason to suspect that Saturday’s won’t be more of the same. The rivalry between these two powerhouses is heating up and so is the intensity and competitive nature as both try to secure a top seed in the conference championship tournament.
And while expecting another three overtime thriller is a bit of a stretch, there is no doubt that these teams gives fans another great match-up and another terrific game as the road to March continues.
The Last Time We Met…
It was one of the most highly anticipated games of the 2015-16 season. The two Big 12 opponents were meeting for the first time but not only that, they were doing it as the two top seeded teams in the country. It was the first time in the last two years the world got to see Nos. 1 and 2 clash and the first time since 2007 that both of these teams were in the same conference.
The game was a barnburner from the opening play. The two teams, both of which currently sit in the top 20 of scoring in NCAA, combined for 84 first half points. The Sooners had the slight lead thanks to another career day for Buddy Hield (pictured), who finished with 46 points after the five periods of play, but ultimately it wasn’t enough. Kansas evened the score with just seconds to go and the two teams headed into the first overtime.
By the end of the night, the final score was 109-106 in favor of Kansas, after Hield missed what would have been the game-tying, fourth overtime earning three at the buzzer. This was the previously undefeated Oklahoma’s first loss of the season.
Perry Ellis paced the Jayhawks with 27 points and 13 rebounds, with his teammates Wayne Selden Jr (21 points) and Devonte’ Graham (22 points) also cracking the 20 point mark. In addition to Hield, Oklahoma’s Jordan Woodard dropped 27 points and Ryan Spangler added 14 and a career high 18 rebounds.
If this game taught the college basketball world anything it was that these two teams are built strong and built to last. Additionally, it taught these two teams a lot about the other, about heart and fortitude and determination. It is the perfect stage setter for Saturday afternoon’s contest.
Live by the Three, Die by the Three
Paraphrasing the old classic saying: “If you live by the sword, then you die by the sword,” Oklahoma and Kansas represent two perfect examples of teams in that category. Only, instead of living and dying its winning and losing and instead of the sword, it’s the three point shot.
Only SMU and Michigan State have higher three point percentages than Kansas and no one has a higher mark than Oklahoma. Both teams are shooting at 42% or better, attempting on average, anywhere from 19 to 24 behind the arc shots per game.
Oklahoma, which ranks tied for 41st in field goal shooting with just over 47 percent, is the nation’s best three point shooting team and often rely on that shot being the one to help put the country’s 10th highest point total (84.1) on the board. Oklahoma’s success with their three point shooting is not just attributed to one guy either. In fact, three members of the team, Hield (50%), Woodard (49%) and Isaiah Cousins (47%) are all among the top-40 three point shooters in the country. No other team can claim a trio like that. As a result, that’s wherein the key to beating the Sooners lies.
Just last week, at 18-2, Oklahoma was the top team in the country according to the AP Top 25. A week later, they had fallen to No. 3 in the rankings as a result of becoming a 19-3 team. But they weren’t just any 19-3 team, they were one that had just lost to a then 13-9 Kansas State team.
It wasn’t necessarily that Oklahoma played poorly, but they shot just 25 percent from behind the arc, a far cry from the nation-leading average of 45.1 they have held to most of the year. Kansas State took advantage of the cold shooting and not only did they get an upset win but they did so in decisive fashion, dropping the Sooners by a score of 80-69, which was Oklahoma’s worst loss of the season.
That was the first game all season where Oklahoma really looked unsettled and inconsistent with their three point shooting and it showed in the final score. And while this game can be looked at as more of a rare, less likely to happen again occurrence, it does beg the very real question: What happens if Oklahoma’s three point shooting goes cold?
Kansas meanwhile is also not immune to the three point shooting woes. In their first loss of the season to Michigan State, the team, which averages 42 percent from three, shot just 20, making only three of 15 shots. In their biggest loss of the season, a 13 point defeat at the hands of Iowa State, the Jayhawks shot just 29 percent from behind the arc.
Against each other, Kansas shot 50 percent while Oklahoma shot just over 48. The rest of the offensive and defensive numbers were eerily similar as well, less than three percent separating them in field goal percentage and free throw percentage, less than five rebounds, four assists and two turnovers between them as well. But Kansas shot better from three, even if it was just by 1.5 percent.
Our Preview’s Kansas Jayhawks at Oklahoma Sooners Betting Picks Verdict
This game has anticipation written all over it and there’s no reason to expect it won’t deliver on the hype. Oklahoma has redemption on their mind while Kansas is looking to cement their standing atop the Big 12 with a season sweep of their top rivals.
I basically spent this entire preview talking about the three ball and that’s where I’m going to stay. Win by the three, lose by the three. It’s pretty simple really. The team who comes out on top Saturday will have a higher percentage from three and that team will be Oklahoma.
They were the top team in the country and undefeated for 12 games for a reason. This is going to be the toughest task for Kansas this season and I just don’t see them beating the Sooners twice, especially not with this one being on Oklahoma’s home court.