Sooners Come to Town

I've completed my journey from sunny Orlando to sunny, but cold, Lawrence, Kansas for Sunday's Big 12 matchup between the Jayhawks and the Oklahoma Sooners. Most sports fans assume there's only ONE BIG GAME this weekend – but I'm not referring to the one on the gridiron taking place in Detroit between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks. For Kansas and Oklahoma fans, the football can wait.

So far, according to my count, 75 Kansas Jayhawk-related items seen – only one Pittsburgh Steelers hat - so you tell me which game is the biggest in Lawrence this weekend.

Here’s some of my random thoughts (and the stats to back some of them up) from Lawrence on tomorrow’s game.

This is a matchup of two second place teams in a game that will do wonders for standings and confidence. It’s not a do-or-die game but it’s a game each school would love to have on the resume. A national TV audience will be watching as both teams are riding a win streak, one of many common threads shared between the two programs. Both are tied for second in the Big 12 – they both shared the Big 12 title a year ago – they both struggled during the early part of the season at times, but yet both have been impressive lately.

The Sooners have beaten KU four out of the last six times they’ve gone toe-to-toe, but OU is winless in Lawrence since 1993. Oh and by the way, not a single player on Oklahoma’s roster has ever played inside Phog Allen Fieldhouse. If that’s not an invitation for the student’s to send an especially loud welcome I don’t know what is (hint, hint)

You can’t face Oklahoma without a willingness to roll up your sleeves and work. If you don’t match the intensity, wins will be hard to come by against the Sooners. Kelvin Sampson’s teams are tough, blue-collar workhorses that will never quit. The defense will be relentless and rebounding will be a priority. OU has a powerful duo on the interior to contend with. Taj Gray (7.8 rpg) and Kevin Bookout (7.3 rpg) are ranked amongst the top six rebounders in the conference. Sticking with the experienced Sooners on the glass will be a priority for Bill Self’s team.

"What we have to emphasize is the reality that they are plus-12 in rebounding margin, and they hit you every opportunity they get. They're veteran guys and extremely strong.  We really have to emphasize having a good base and not to be easily dislodged. For the most part, we'll prepare for them just like we have everyone else,” said Self at Friday’s weekly press conference.

Though the interior play has been solid, OU has been riding a recent wave of success because of much-improved perimeter shooting. Terrell Everett is averaging 16.4 points during the five-game win streak and Michael Neal has made 17 of his last 28 shots from beyond the three-point line. As a team Oklahoma is cashing in at over 50 percent from the floor in their last three Big 12 games.

"They're shooting the ball a lot better.  (Michael) Neal is a big part of that.  I think he was out for those couple of games that they lost. He's a terrific shooter, maybe as good of a pure shooter as there is in our league. I think (Terrell) Everett has obviously had some good games as of late,” said Self.

The Sooners will feature a ton of high-low action from Bookout and Gray. Both are very physical and excellent at using their bodies to gain the advantage in the post. Sasha Kaun will need to match the physical nature of this one on both ends of the floor. This is a game where Darnell Jackson could be pivotal. Jackson, who’s from Oklahoma City and grew up a Sooner fan, has never been afraid to throw his body around a little bit. 

“They really control the boards. They're a team that guards you and rebounds the ball really well,” Self continued. “They have a couple of guys that you can run the offense through and that will get you some points in traffic. That's usually a pretty good formula for playing some good ball.”

But while all eyes will be on the interior, this one could ultimately be decided by how effectively Kansas guards OU’s perimeter players.

It should be a fun one to watch. More from Lawrence tomorrow…


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