While we wait for No. 5 Kansas to tip off against Oklahoma State at 8 p.m. tonight, here are five things to know about the matchup:
Marcus’s Smart’s decision. When Smart returned to Oklahoma State, delaying a lucrative NBA career, it was hailed as a significant victory for college basketball. Lottery pick chooses school over the real word. The reigning Big 12 player of the year makes the Cowboys Final Four contenders.
That was the fairy tale.
Instead, it’s been closer to a horror show. After coming under fire for myriad flopping and other on-court histrionics, Smart served a three-game suspension stemming from the incident with a fan at Texas Tech. Oklahoma State, which also lost starter Michael Cobbins to injury, lost seven straight. Now the Cowboys are on the bubble.
But here is one thing that flies against the perception of Smart’s sophomore season: He’s actually having a better season than he did last year, when he was honored as the Big 12’s best player as a freshman.
Across the board, his numbers are improved: His effective field-goal percentage (which weighs the added value of threes) is 48.4 percent; it was 45.5 percent last year. He’s averaging more points (17.4 to 15.4), more assists (4.6 to 4.2) and shooting about the same from three-point range (29.3 percent to 29 percent). His outside shooting, of course, has been a disappointment. And it’s probably the shooting troubles — not any perceived “character issues” — that will hurt his draft stock.
It’s been a volatile season for Oklahoma State, and Smart couldn’t handle some of the adversity. The Cowboys are worse, but the Big 12 is stronger and the loss of Cobbins left a huge hole in the middle. So from a pure basketball standpoint, Smart has still been solid.
2 Defending Marcus Smart.
Kansas held Smart to three-of-14 shooting in an 80-78 victory over Oklahoma State on Jan. 18 at Allen Fieldhouse. Smart was three of eight on two-point attempts and zero of six from three-point range. He also shot (and made) 10 free throws. It’s likely that Wayne Selden will start on Smart, while Andrew Wiggins will match up with Markel Brown. That’s how Kansas started in the first game. If Smart shoots six threes again, that will be a victory for the KU defense. But if nothing else, expect Wiggins to match up with Smart for at least a few possessions on Saturday.
3 Oklahoma State’s real offensive weapons.
So Smart draws plenty of attention — and opposing coaches still make him the focal part of game plans — but the Cowboys have two players who are much more efficient scorers: Senior guard Markel Brown and sophomore sharpshooter Phil Forte.
Forte is shooting 46 percent from three-point range and his offensive rating (135.1) is the fifth best in the country among players that only use 16 to 20 percent of their team’s possessions. Brown, meanwhile, is shooting just 36 percent from three, but makes up for it by hitting 53 percent from two-point range.
4 The Wiggins Watch.
Freshman wing Andrew Wiggins, who is averaging 16.3 points per game, has scored 457 points in 28 games, the fourth most by a KU freshman in school history. Wiggins is 132 points shy of tying Ben McLemore’s KU freshman record of 596 points, set last season. If KU reaches the championship of the Big 12 tourney and advances to the Sweet 16, Wiggins will needs to average 15 points over those nine games to surpass McLemore. In his last 10, Wiggins is averaging 18.4 points per contest.
5 The offensive benchmarks: The Jayhawks are 16-1 when shooting 50 percent or better and they have eclipsed 50 percent shooting in seven of their last 12 and nine of 15 Big 12 games overall. Entering Saturday, they ranked 5th nationally in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. If the Jayhawks are going to survive Stillwater, they will likely need to score more than the 68 points they managed in a double-overtime victory last season at Gallagher-Iba.