Brad Underwood — who was 0-2 in Allen Fieldhouse as a Kansas State player in the 1980s and 0-6 mark as a member of the K-State coaching staff two decades later — knows how difficult it is for a visitor to win in the Kansas Jayhawks’ tradition-rich building.
“I think obviously it’s one of the elite homecourts in America. It coincides with their success in terms of 12 straight championships in the Big 12,” said Underwood, first-year head coach at Oklahoma State.
His Cowboys (10-6, 0-4 Big 12) will be trying to snap a 10-game losing streak in conference play and at the same time halt Kansas’ 48-game Allen Fieldhouse win streak when the two teams tangle at 1 p.m., Saturday. The No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (15-1, 4-0), who have won 34 straight league games at home, last loss to Oklahoma State in 2013.
“I think I am more concerned about Frank Mason and Devonté Graham than I am the building,” Underwood added of Kansas’ dynamic backcourt duo. He is especially wary of Mason, who leads the Big 12 in scoring at 20.4 points per game, is first in three-point field goal percentage (54.9) and is second in assists (5.6).
“Frank Mason arguably is having the best year of any player in the country,” Underwood said. “The start he’s gotten off to in Big 12 play … the numbers are scary (22.0 points, 5.0 assists in four games). They may not have the depth or the size some of Bill’s (Self) other teams have had. (But) when you are getting elite point-guard play, it’s like having Tom Brady as your quarterback or Peyton Manning in football terms. You have a chance every single night.
“Those are much bigger concerns than the aura of Allen Fieldhouse. We know that’s special. We’ve got to go in and play. We’ve got to figure out how to contain him (Mason) a little bit because he’s on a tear.”
The Cowboys — who have lost to West Virginia, Baylor and Iowa State (who have a combined record of 9-3 in the Big 12) as well as 1-3 Texas, have three exceptional guards of their own.
Oklahoma State sophomore point Jawun Evans is averaging 18.4 points and 5.2 assists per game. He’s made 47.2 percent of his threes. Evans scored 22 points with eight assists, six rebounds and six turnovers in Oklahoma State’s 86-67 win over Kansas last season in Stillwater, Okla., but he did not play in the Pokes’ 94-67 loss at Allen Fieldhouse because of injury.
Fifth-year senior combo guard Phil Forte, the only current Big 12 player to win a game in Allen Fieldhouse, is averaging 14.1 points per game on 39.6 percent three-point shooting. He did not play against the Jayhawks last season, red-shirting because of injury. Junior guard Jeffrey Carroll — he combined for 24 points and nine boards in two games versus Kansas last year — is averaging 16.4 points on 57.2 percent shooting and pulls down 7.0 rebounds per game.
“I really believe that Jawun kicked our butt last year when we played up in Stillwater,” Self said. “He totally controlled the game. He’s one of the best players we’ll face.
“Forte has been a thorn in a lot of people’s sides it seems longer than Perry (Ellis) was here. Certainly Carroll is playing at an all-league type level. They’ve got three guys capable of getting 25 any night,” Self added.
The three high-scoring guards have fueled an offense that averages 88.6 points per game on 45.7 percent shooting.
“We are not far off,” Underwood said of Oklahoma State having a contending team. “We are playing very well offensively. We are going into every game confident we can win it.”
Forte usually is fired up playing against the Jayhawks, considering his dad, Phil, played football at Kansas from 1983-86.
“I do remember Forte. I’ve been here a while,” said Kansas fifth-year senior forward Landen Lucas. “I remember him and his shooting abilities. It’s been an emphasis for us at practice and the bigs making sure we get out there on ball screens. Evans is a good player too. We definitely are going to have our hands full with them.”
Of Oklahoma State’s high-octane offense, Self said: “They do something totally different. Brad’s running the old Johnny Orr offense. Dana Altman perfected it at Creighton and they are doing a great job. He ran it at Stephen F. Austin (where he went 89-14 in three years) and they are doing a great job with it in Stillwater. But it’s different if you’ve never seen it, which we haven’t. It could really trip you up.”
The Cowboys have averaged 9.1 steals a game off their pressure defense.
“I’m glad we got a couple of days to prepare for them,” Self said.
A Kansas victory would likely mean a No. 1 ranking in the polls on Monday, considering current No 1, Baylor, lost Tuesday at West Virginia. The Jayhawks would then immediately put that ranking on the line at 8 p.m. Monday at Iowa State. An Oklahoma State defeat would drop the cowboys to 0-5 in the league for the first time since 1996.
“They are right there. They are better than their record,” Self said, noting that Oklahoma State defeated Wichita State 93-76 on Dec. 17 in Wichita. “The games that are most concerning are when players may look at something and they may see 0-4, but the reality of it is, they could be 2-2 or 3-1 very easily, and that’s with playing a very difficult schedule thus far.
“Everybody in our league plays a hard schedule, but there’s a couple of teams that have played harder schedules than everybody to date. I would think that Oklahoma State and Texas Tech have probably played the hardest schedules that anybody’s played.”
▪ The Cowboys arrived in Lawrence on Thursday night in advance of the predicted ice storm. The Pokes practiced at Haskell University on Friday and were to have a shooting practice Friday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
▪ Rayford Young, father of Norman (Okla.) North guard Trae Young, said they may not be able to make the trip to Lawrence for Saturday’s game because of the bad weather. Trae, who has a list of Kansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Oklahoma State, had been planning on attending with his parents on an unofficial visit.
▪ Former KU guard Tyshawn Taylor has left the Maccabi Kiryat-Gat team of Israel’s Premier League and been replaced on the roster by former KU guard Josh Selby, according to basketball writer David Pick. Selby had been playing for a team in Turkey. Taylor will join the roster of the Gotham (N.Y.) Ballers of the new Champions League, a 16-team professional basketball summer league that starts play in July, according to the team’s Twitter account. There are teams in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Orlando, Fla., Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Detroit and Miami.