Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Saturday’s game: Oklahoma State at No. 7 Kansas, 11 a.m., Allen Fieldhouse
Opponent’s record: 13-9
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 74
Point spread: KU by 13.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Offensive rebounding: Oklahoma State ranks 66th nationally in O-board percentage, though those numbers have dropped off a bit in Big 12 play.
▪ Creating havoc: The Cowboys are 50th in defensive turnover rate and 95th in steal percentage, as one of their best defensive attributes has been pressuring opponents.
▪ Rim protection: Though teams generally get a lot of close shots against Oklahoma State, the Cowboys do a good job of defending them. They rank 62nd in field-goal percentage defense at the rim and also have the nation’s 86th-best block rate.
▪ Free throws ... both ends: Oklahoma State is well below average in both offensive and defensive free-throw rate, which means it’s likely the Cowboys will be at a foul disadvantage Saturday against KU.
▪ Defensive rebounding: Most of the Cowboys’ tall guys are on the skinny side, so it’s not surprising that the team is better on the offensive glass (where quick-twitch players often thrive) than the defensive glass (where it’s more beneficial to have the lower body strength to hold off opponents). The Cowboys rank 286th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, which is 28 spots behind KU.
▪ Three-point shooting: This can always change in a one-game sample, but Oklahoma State has made only 33 percent of its outside shots this season — two percentage points below NCAA average.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-6 guard/forward Jeffrey Carroll (No. 30)
Plus: Go-to guy offensively
Plus: Rarely turns it over
Plus: Gets fouled often and is 74 percent shooter at line
Plus: One of team’s best defensive rebounders
Minus: Efficiency has plummeted this season
Minus: Shooting percentages are way down from a year ago from both three (44 percent to 33 percent) and two (59 percent to 46 percent)
6-foot-3 guard Kendall Smith (No. 1)
Plus: Takes on large offensive role
Plus: Solid passer
Plus: Doesn’t foul often
Minus: Shoots too often in mid-range, where he has below-average accuracy
Minus: Rarely gets to the line
6-foot-9 forward Mitchell Solomon (No. 41)
Plus: Elite offensive rebounder
Plus: Team’s best shot-blocker
Plus: Well-above-average shooter at rim and in mid-range
Minus: Synergy lists him as “average” overall defender who struggles in post-up situations
Minus: Only a role player offensively
Minus: Has made 7 of 47 threes in his career (15 percent)
The biggest worry for Oklahoma State should be getting back defensively.
The Cowboys have allowed a high number of fastbreak opportunities, and while they’ve previously held shooting percentages down, that’ll be tougher to do Saturday against one of the nation’s best transition teams.
Outside of that, though, there are reasons to like the Cowboys’ chances to keep this close. They are one of the Big 12’s best at running opponents off the three-point line, and that attribute is particularly helpful against these Jayhawks, whose guards have struggled to finish at the rim when the outside attempts have been taken away.
Oklahoma State’s ability to pressure also could potentially give KU problems (like the team had in the first halves at West Virginia and Kansas State), and offensively, the Cowboys’ strength on the glass matches directly with a KU weakness.
In the end, the Jayhawks will likely get enough free throws for the home win. But I think this one will end up closer than Vegas expects.
Kansas 77, Oklahoma State 72
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Oklahoma State
Hawk to Rock
Oklahoma State’s three defensive weaknesses are rebounding, guarding in the post (because the team has lighter defenders) and on pick-and-rolls (because the team is so aggressive trying to get steals). That all bodes well for KU center Udoka Azubuike, who is KU’s best option to counter each of those deficiencies. Expect a lot of free throws from him against the Cowboys too.
Last game prediction: Kansas 70, Kansas State 66 (Actual: KU 70-56)
2017-18 record vs. spread: 12-9
Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 70-52-3