Can you feel the excitement in the air? With the dawn of the new year, college basketball changes too. It turns a new leaf as we move from non-conference games to more important conference tilts, and the Big 12 will start their conference slate on Wednesday night. One of the debut games is a doozy too as the No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks host the No. 23 Oklahoma Sooners. Their clash will be featured on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET.
Silvio De Sousa continues to sit out for Kansas. The highly touted recruit is one of a handful of players stained by the Adidas scandal, and he has yet to play this year. It’s incredible that the NCAA still has not made an adjudication with regards to his eligibility, so he has to continue to hope and wait.
Center Jamuni McNeace is doubtful to play for the Sooners here. The 6’10 senior suffered a sprained right ankle three weeks ago, and he has been hobbled by the injury since that point.
Although both Kansas and Oklahoma are 11-1 and ranked, the Jayhawks are prohibitive favorites to win a conference they have dominated. They have one of the most intimidating home court atmospheres in the country too, and they are eight-point favorites against Oklahoma on Wednesday night. The over/under in this game is 151.
What’s at Stake?
The Jayhawks have one of the most impressive streaks in the country. Kansas has won at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title for each of the last 14 seasons. They have ruled this conference with an iron fist over that stretch pummeling the other teams in the Big 12. Kansas has dominated Oklahoma too during this time, but the Sooners have been more competitive than most and have three wins against the Jayhawks over the last six years.
Oklahoma is out to prove that the program is bigger than Trae Young. Young was the team’s quintessential star last year, and he led the Sooners to their highest highs. However, they were very one-dimensional under Young, and the team has more balance this year. Oklahoma has yet to beat a ranked opponent, losing to Wisconsin in their lone chance against a ranked team, but the Sooners have quality wins over name programs like Florida, Dayton, Notre Dame, Wichita State, and Creighton.
This will be Oklahoma’s first game since beating Northwestern on December 21. The Sooners haven’t played in nearly two weeks, and they may need to shake off the rust.
Kansas easily dispatched Eastern Michigan last Saturday, and the Jayhawks already have some big wins to their credit. They have knocked off Michigan State and Tennessee on neutral courts, and they also defeated national champions Villanova at home.
Udoka Azubuike is one of the best big men in the nation. Kansas has been careful with him after he went down with an ankle injury and missed four games because of it, but he had his best performance of the season when the Jayhawks faced Eastern Michigan over the weekend. He finished with 23 points and nine rebounds, and he continues to be one of the most efficient shooters in the country. Last year, he led the nation in shooting efficiency by hitting 77 percent of his field goals, and this year he is hitting 70 percent of his shots. However, he is woeful at the line, sinking just 35.5 percent of his free throws.
If McNeace can’t play, the Sooners are likely to put Brady Manek against Azubuike. Manek is the team’s third-leading scorer, but he is frequently away from the basket. Any time he is forced to be in the paint for too long, he looks uncomfortable, and it shows. He might get eaten alive by Azubuike.
Oklahoma might have a chance in this one if Azubuike was Kansas’ only quality big man, but transfer Dedric Lawson is going to make his presence felt too. Lawson had a really off night against Eastern Michigan this weekend, but he is averaging a double-double and he is a constant presence on the boards. He and Azubuike will be too much for Oklahoma in a double-digit Kansas win.