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Two factors key for KU against home favorite Oklahoma State

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Kansas guard Elijah Johnson watches from the floor as Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart recovers a fumbled ball by Johnson with seconds remaining in the game on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. The turnover nullified the the Jayhawks' comeback effort. At right is Kansas guard Ben McLemore and Oklahoma State guard Markel Brown.

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson watches from the floor as Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart recovers a fumbled ball by Johnson with seconds remaining in the game on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. The turnover nullified the the Jayhawks' comeback effort. At right is Kansas guard Ben McLemore and Oklahoma State guard Markel Brown. by Nick Krug

Team: Oklahoma State
Record: 19-5
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 16
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

• Turnovers: Oklahoma State continues to thrive offensively and defensively because of turnovers, ranking first in Big 12 play in offensive turnover percentage and third in defensive turnover percentage. The Cowboys' plus-2.7 turnover margin per game also leads the conference. KU turned it over on 22 percent of its possessions in the last game against OSU, which was the highest mark for the Jayhawks in their last five games.

Drawing fouls: Oklahoma State is one of the best in the conference at getting to the line, posting the third-best free throw rate in Big 12 play. Marcus Smart and Le'Bryan Nash are the two biggest reasons for this, as both rank in the top 200 nationally in free throw rate and fouls drawn per 40 minutes. In case you were wondering, KU is fifth in Big 12 play in defensive free throw rate, meaning it's about average when it comes to allowing opponent free throws.

Defensive rebounding: The Cowboys are No. 1 in conference play in defensive rebounding percentage, controlling 73.2 percent of opponents' misses. KU is actually the Big 12's second-best offensive rebounding team in conference play, so this will be a matchup of strengths on Wednesday night. One interesting subplot will once again be seeing how much OSU's 6-foot-11 center Philip Jurick plays. The senior is an elite rebounder — ranking in the top 15 nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage — but OSU played well without him in there during the first matchup, as a smaller lineup put more pressure defensively on KU center Jeff Withey.

3 Weaknesses

Offensive rebounding: Judging by the first KU-OSU matchup, you'd probably think one the Cowboys' greatest strengths is offensive rebounding. In actuality, that's one of OSU's biggest weaknesses (eighth in offensive rebounding percentage during Big 12 play). When OSU grabbed 45 percent of its misses in the first matchup against KU, it was by far OSU's best offensive rebounding performance and one the Cowboys haven't come close to matching since. A big reason KU struggled on the defensive glass in the first game was an inability to block out Smart, who posted six offensive rebounds in the second half alone.

• Three-point shooting: Oklahoma State is only middle of the pack in the Big 12 when it comes to three-point shooting, making 34 percent of its threes in conference play (fifth in league). Though Markel Brown's hot shooting lit up the Jayhawks early in the first matchup, OSU only finished 8-for-24 from long range in that game (33 percent). The Cowboys have made 33 percent of their three-pointers for the season, and they don't rely heavily on them, getting 25 percent of their total points from threes (237th-highest split nationally).

• Fouling too often: Oklahoma State ranks sixth during conference play in defensive free throw rate. Big 12 opponents are averaging 19 free throws per game against the Cowboys, who — during league play — have played at a faster tempo than any other conference team.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-4 guard Marcus Smart (No. 33) scored 25 points in the first matchup and dominated the second half, posting 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting with seven rebounds, two assists and three steals.

Smart is best offensively when he gets to the free throw line, as he makes 78 percent of his free throws and draws 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes (117th nationally). Keep him off the line, though, and he's only a slightly above-average offensive threat. He does rank 153rd nationally in assist rate, but his two-point percentage (48 percent) and three-point percentage (32 percent) are below what you'd expect. A closer look shows Smart doesn't penetrate all the way to the rim often, as only 29 percent of his shot attempts are layups/dunks/tipins.

Smart also is an elite perimeter defender, ranking 10th nationally in steal percentage while also posting a top-500 mark in block percentage.

• Six-foot-3 guard Markel Brown (No. 22) was the hero of the first half for OSU in the first matchup, putting in 22 of his 28 points before halftime on 7-for-10 shooting and 5-for-7 shooting from three-point range. Brown takes the highest percentage of shots for OSU (25.5 percent, 398th nationally), and that's been a good thing for the Cowboys, as Brown has been the team's best outside shooter. The junior has made 41 of 105 threes (39 percent) while also making a high number of his two-point jumpers (41 percent; NCAA average is 35 percent).

C.J. Moore had a good breakdown of how OSU took advantage of KU's ball-screen defense in this blog post, but KU also might be helped in the second matchup by starting with Travis Releford defending Brown instead of Nash. Brown is more the type of player Releford is used to guarding: one that comes off screens to get open looks for jump shots. It is worth noting that Brown has upped his free throw production in Big 12 play, as his 67 free throws rank second on the team behind Smart's 79.

• Six-foot-7 forward Le'Bryan Nash (No. 2) is the weak offensive link in a productive OSU lineup. The former McDonald's All-American has the second-highest shot percentage on the team (23.7 percent), but his numbers don't justify that kind of usage. Nash has made just 46.9 percent of his twos (NCAA average is 47.4 percent) and only nine of 41 threes (22 percent). His best skill, like Smart, is getting to the free throw line, where he's a 77-percent shooter. Nash also has his share of turnovers and isn't a great passer or rebounder. Defensively, he doesn't provide much in the way of steals or blocks, either. If Nash is shooting a jump shot during an OSU possession, KU's defense should consider that a victory whether the attempt goes in or not.

Prediction

Oklahoma State has a couple of significant factors going for it.

For one, KU coach Bill Self is just 2-3 at Gallagher-Iba Arena as the Jayhawks' coach. Also, the betting lines opened with the Cowboys as a 1 1/2-point favorite.

I think there are still two reasons to be optimistic about KU's chances on Wednesday night, one stat-related and one not.

1. Though OSU does a good job of protecting the rim, KU should shoot layups better than it did in the first matchup. Though KU was able to get to the rim frequently in the first game, it made just 10 of 23 layups against the Cowboys (43 percent). For the season, KU has made 64 percent of its shots at the rim (which includes layups/tipins), while OSU has allowed 54 percent shooting at the rim. We'll see if the Jayhawks convert on more of those opportunities Wednesday night.

2. This is new territory for OSU. The Cowboys struggled in a game they shouldn't have at home against Oklahoma, then celebrated the overtime win by ... jumping on fans' shoulders after they rushed the court?

This is a huge game for both teams in the conference standings, and KU has a team with more experience in these types of high-pressure games.

I guess that's what makes me feel more comfortable taking KU in what should be a great game.

Kansas 72, Oklahoma State 70

Hawk to Rock

Taking Ben McLemore as the Hawk to Rock was the right choice in the first KU-OSU game, and I think it'll be a solid pick in this one as well. In a game stocked with future NBA players, McLemore should be able to showcase his athleticism and also his outside shooting. I'll say the freshman leads KU in scoring Wednesday night with 20-plus points.

Predictions tally
21-4 record, 295 points off (11.8 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Kansas State: Kevin Young (6th)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (3rd)
West Virginia: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (1st)
TCU: Kevin Young (3rd)
Oklahoma: Travis Releford (5th)
Kansas State: Naadir Tharpe (3rd)
Texas: Kevin Young (6th)
Average: 4th in KUsports.com ratings

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