Saturday, February 04, 2006

Preview: Oklahoma at Kansas

Oklahoma is on a winning streak for the same reason Kansas is on a winning streak: they’ve been making more shots, especially those taken from beyond the three-point line. After failing to shoot better than 50 eFG% in their first four conference games, Oklahoma hasn’t shot worse than 57.4 eFG% in their last three games, including an outstanding 61.4 eFG% performance against Texas.

Kansas will have to hold Oklahoma closer to 50 eFG% on Sunday in order to win the game as Oklahoma must be expected to control at least one factor of the game: rebounding. The Sooners have out-rebounded each of their conference opponents. On the season, they rank first in the nation in offensive rebounding and third in the nation in defensive rebounding.

Kansas can’t be expected to maintain their excellent 71.5 DR% against Oklahoma (though the Jayhawks did get 77.5% of the defensive rebounds against Colorado, the best offensive rebounding team they’ve played in conference this year). Furthermore, offensive rebounding has been feast-or-famine for the Jayhawks since conference play began. They grabbed half the available offensive rebounds in Boulder, 47.1% of them in Columbia, and 46.2% against Texas Tech Monday night. Against Nebraska, they got only a third of the potential offensive rebounds, only 28.2% against Kansas State, and a mere 23.1% at both Texas A&M and Iowa State.

Oklahoma has shown a slight vulnerability on their defensive glass. Texas A&M got 41.9% of the offensive rebound opportunities in their first meeting with the Sooners and Texas got 34.3% of the offensive rebound opportunities in their loss in Norman. If Kansas can get around a third of the offensive rebounds and 65% of the defensive rebounds, they’ll be in good shape.

I assume that Kansas will defend Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout much like they defended Leon Powe and DeVon Hardin of Cal. The Jayhawks will give help when necessary, but be more willing to let the Oklahoma big men shoot a contested shot inside of ten feet than leave the guards open on the perimeter. Even if the guards are open momentarily, Gray and Bookout won’t necessarily find them. Gray’s averaging only one assist per game. Bookout has one assist on the season (569 minutes played).

Kansas took control of the game against Cal with CJ Giles and Julian Wright playing together in the frontcourt. There’s good reason to be skeptical that those two can be similarly effective against the more physical Oklahoma forwards. Then again, Darnell Jackson was not available for the California game but figures to play significant minutes on Sunday, and Kevin Bookout is far slower than either Hardin or Powe so Sasha Kaun could be more of a factor than he was against Cal.

The Jayhawks must also get back to forcing turnovers. They’ve only converted 13.7% of their opponents’ possessions into turnovers over the last two games. Only Michael Neal, who mostly catches and shoots, and Nate Carter, who doesn’t do much with the ball at all, have taken good care of the ball. Terell Everett has turned the ball over 5 times a game in conference play. Gray, Bookout, and their backup Taylor Griffin turn it over 4 times a game and guards David Godbold and Austin Johnson contribute another three-and-a-half turnovers per game. All these turnovers occur in a 62 possession per game context.

Conceding a significant rebounding advantage to Oklahoma, Kansas can still win the game by shooting a little better, defending a little better, creating a couple more turnovers than they commit, and picking up a couple extra points at the free throw line.

If Kansas wins this game they will consolidate the value of their earlier road wins and establish themselves as the second best team in the Big 12. The Jayhawks have played well enough for long enough that they should be expected to beat a decent team at home. Oklahoma is not the most favorable matchup for Kansas, but I still think that the Jayhawks are much susceptible to big, athletic wing players than pure post or perimeter players. Everett, Neal, Bookout, and Gray are too good to shut down, but Kansas’s superior depth of talent should be able to limit Oklahoma’s chances and create enough chances of their own to win the game.

Prediction: Kansas 71 Oklahoma 64

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