LAWRENCE — Aaron Rodgers will be in the building. So will three potential top-five NBA picks. This is college basketball at its best, the story lines flowing inside Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
In the lead-up to No. 15 Kansas’ matchup with No. 9 Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks were relatively quiet about what the game meant. But a year after Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart backflipped his way to a victory inside Allen Fieldhouse, KU freshman Wayne Selden offered a glimpse on his Twitter account on Saturday morning.
“Personal,” Selden wrote. That was all.
Here are five more things to know before Kansas and Oklahoma State tip off:
1. Who was the last team to beat Kansas in consecutive years at Allen Fieldhouse? That would be Iowa State in 2000 and 2001. That 2000 KU team featured leading scorer Kenny Gregory and freshmen Drew Gooden, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich. The 2001 KU team lost to Illinois in the NCAA tournament — an Illini team coached by … yes, Bill Self.
2. How has Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart improved since returning for his sophomore season? The area that immediately jumps out is efficiency. Smart is shooting 34.5 percent from three-point range after shooting 29 percent last season. And his turnovers are down (3.4 per game to 2.6) while his assists have held steady at 4.2 per game. Smart, of course, could have been a top-five pick if he would have left school after his freshman year. But his decision to return — partially related to a wrist injury in the NCAA tournament — probably hasn’t hurt his draft stock.
“I think he hasn't hurt himself at all,” KU coach Bill Self said. “I heard Jay Bilas say something the other day: ‘When you know that you're really good like that, then staying another year is not going to hurt you if it helps you mature (in order) to handle the things that go along with having an NBA lifestyle, things like that.’
“It was probably a good decision for him to come back, and I know it's been great for their program. They've been, from start to now, probably the most consistent and best team in our league so far, and of course he's a huge reason why.
“The thing that amazes me about him is that he impacts an entire program from a personality standpoint, and he's been great in that regard.”
3. How has Oklahoma State changed since the Achilles’ injury to starting big man Michael Cobbins? The Cowboys are 3-1 since Cobbins went down in late December, and the biggest impact can be seen on the defensive end. But it’s not what you might think. While Cobbins was the Cowboys’ best rim protector, the numbers show that Oklahoma State is still adequate in that area. The real difference is in scheme. According to Synergy numbers dug up by college hoops writer C.J. Moore, Oklahoma State played 174 possession of zone defense in its first 13 games. After Cobbins’ injury, the Cowboys have played 104 possessions in four games.
Considering KU’s advantage inside, expect to see some zone from Oklahoma State.
4. Bill Self’s record against his alma mater: For a coach that has dominated nearly every opponent, winning way more than 80 percent of his games at KU, Bill Self has been less-than-perfect against Oklahoma State. With a victory Saturday, Self would improve to 12-8 all-time against the Cowboys. (For the moment, Bill Self is 10-5 against Oklahoma State while at KU.)
5. Embiid the rim-protector: KU freshman center Joel Embiid has a team-high 41 blocked shots in 16 games, including five blocks in the Jayhawks’ victory at Iowa State. The KU freshman record for blocks is 62, set by Eric Chenowith in 1998. Embiid, though, already ranks fifth, behind only Chenowith, Darrell Arthur (54), David Padgett (43) and Julian Wright (42). If Embiid keeps up his current pace, he should own the record by midway through the conference season.