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Will KU limit turnovers against a passive Iowa State D?

Kansas guard Travis Releford wrestles with Iowa State forward Georges Niang during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Travis Releford wrestles with Iowa State forward Georges Niang during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Team: Iowa State
Record: 19-8
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 35
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Three-point shooting: Iowa State jacks up a lot of threes (42.4 percent of shots are threes, 16th-highest split nationally), which makes its 37-percent accuracy from long range even more impressive (45th nationally). ISU gets 36.3 percent of its points from three-pointers, which is the 15th-highest split nationally. Thanks mostly to their outside shooting, the Cyclones have the Big 12's most efficient offense during conference play, notching 1.13 points per possession.

Ball security: Iowa State rarely turns it over, giving it away on just 17.5 percent of its possessions during Big 12 play (second in conference). This matches up with a KU defensive weakness, as the Jayhawks are sixth in the Big 12 in defensive turnover percentage. In the first game, KU pulled out a 97-89 victory in overtime despite forcing just 11 ISU turnovers in 45 minutes.

• Foul avoidance: Iowa State has the third-best defensive free throw rate in Big 12 play, with league foes averaging 19.7 free throw attempts against the quick-paced Cyclones. KU, meanwhile, has posted the second-best offensive free throw rate during conference play while averaging 24.2 free throws per game. Don't expect KU to get the favorable whistle it had in the first matchup at Allen Fieldhouse, as the Jayhawks shot a season-high 38 free throws in that game.

3 Weaknesses

Forcing turnovers: Iowa State plays passive defensively, creating turnovers on just 18.1 percent of its Big 12 possessions (ninth in conference). The Cyclones also are last in the league in forcing steals, creating them on just 8.2 percent of their possessions. Pay close attention to this stat Monday night, as KU has struggled with giveaways in conference play (seventh in Big 12 in offensive turnover percentage). One wouldn't expect a high turnover total from KU against ISU because of the way the Cyclones play defense, but sometimes, crazy things happen when teams get sped up in hostile road environments.

• Getting to the free throw line: Iowa State relies almost exclusively on jumpshots to score points. Because of that, the Cyclones don't draw many fouls, as they rank ninth in the Big 12 in offensive free throw rate. ISU has averaged just 18.7 free throws per game during conference play.

Transition defense: According to Hoop-Math.com, opponents are shooting 70 percent on their layups/tipins/dunks against Iowa State, which is the 15th-worst mark nationally. The Cyclones do a nice job of forcing teams into jumpshots in a half-court set (only 23 percent of opponents' shots come at the rim; NCAA average is 34 percent), but Iowa State still appears to be susceptible when its defense is not set.

Hoop-Math's numbers show that in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, opponents have made 74 percent of their close shots after a defensive rebound, 71 percent of their close shots after an ISU make and 82 percent of their close shots after a steal. The opportunity might not come often, but KU should try to take advantage of any chance it has to score in transition.

3 Players to Watch

• Iowa State's best player does not start. Six-foot-2 guard Tyrus McGee (No. 25) has been one of the most efficient players in the nation thanks to superb shooting and a microscopic turnover percentage. The senior is especially dangerous from deep, as he's made 73 of 162 threes (45.1 percent) and 35 of 83 threes (42.2 percent) in Big 12 play. He also has just 23 turnovers this year while posting the nation's 33rd-best turnover rate. McGee leads the team in shot percentage (25.8 percent, 361st nationally), and the only thing keeping him from being the team's top scorer is limited minutes. McGee also is ISU's best perimeter defender, coming away with steals on 3.1 percent of the possessions he's out there (238th nationally).

Six-foot-7 forward Will Clyburn (No. 21) takes on the second-largest offensive load for ISU while producing decent offensive numbers. The senior is one of the only threats to get to the free throw line, as he draws 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes (182nd nationally). He's also a good shooter there, making 79 percent of his free throw tries. Offensively, he's best when he gets it all the way to the rim, as he's a 71-percent shooter on close shots and a 53-percent shooter on twos overall. His jumpshot isn't great, though; Clyburn has made just 28 percent of his two-point jumpshots (NCAA average is 35 percent) and 30 percent of his three-pointers (31 of 104) this year.

Five-foot-11 guard Korie Lucious (No. 13) is the weak link offensively for ISU. The Michigan State transfer can make threes (50 of 140, 35.7 percent) and also is ISU's best passer (84th nationally in assist rate), but that's not enough to overcome his other deficiencies. For one, the senior has an extremely high turnover rate, giving it away 89 times in 838 minutes. He's also struggled on shots inside, as he rarely gets all the way to the rim (only 12 percent of his field goals are close shots) and is a below-average two-point jumpshooter (32 percent). KU's defensive gameplan should be to pressure Lucious on the perimeter to force him into the paint. Once there, the Jayhawks should resist the urge to help, as he's more dangerous as a passer there than he is as a shooter.

Prediction

Iowa State is a bad matchup for KU because of its ability to shoot the ball from all five spots.

ISU coach Fred Hoiberg, who uses Pomeroy as a consultant, knows from the numbers that KU is susceptible to giving up threes to begin with, as 35.7 percent of the field goals against KU this year have been three-point attempts (268th-lowest split nationally).

It's simple math, really. If ISU doesn't turn it over and can make one out of three three-pointers (which is below its season average), it will score 1 point per possession, and that's without taking offensive rebounding into consideration.

Score a point per possession against KU's defense, and you have a great chance of winning, especially at home.

KU should be able to score against undersized ISU, but it will have to avoid unforced turnovers against a team that rarely forces giveaways. The Jayhawks will also have to make some two-point jumpshots against a sagging ISU defense, and that hasn't exactly been a strength for KU over its last few games.

Look for the Cyclones will use lots of ball screens to get open threes, and at home in front of a knowledgeable and animated crowd, I think those shots will go down.

Iowa State 72, Kansas 68

Hawk to Rock

This is a tough matchup for Jeff Withey defensively, but it's also a favorable one for him offensively. The senior should have plenty of opportunity to score in the post, and barring foul trouble, he should be able make it to double-figure rebounds against a below-average rebounding team Iowa State. Withey also will get the chance to show he's improved in ball-screen defense. He has been better as of late, as he saved the game in regulation against Oklahoma State when he gave a strong hedge against the Cowboys' Marcus Smart to stop his drive to the rim. I'll say Withey leads KU in scoring while posting his sixth double-double in conference play.

Predictions tally
23-4 record, 302 points off (11.2 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)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
TCU: Travis Releford (4th)
Average: 4.1st in KUsports.com ratings

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TCU has regressed since win over KU

Ben McLemore (23) tries to turn the corner on defender Garlon Green (33) in the Jayhawks 62-55 loss to Texas Christian University, Wednesday at TCU in Ft. Worth, TX.

Ben McLemore (23) tries to turn the corner on defender Garlon Green (33) in the Jayhawks 62-55 loss to Texas Christian University, Wednesday at TCU in Ft. Worth, TX. by Mike Yoder

Team: TCU
Record: 10-16
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 284
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Getting to the free throw line: TCU has the nation's 57th-best offensive free throw rate, averaging 19.8 free throws per game while playing one of the nation's slowest tempos. That's not always a huge positive for the Horned Frogs, though, as their 58.7 percent free throw percentage is the fourth-worst in the nation.

• Forcing turnovers: In Big 12 play, TCU is fourth in the conference in defensive turnover percentage, creating giveaways on 20.3 percent of opponents' possessions. For the season, the Horned Frogs ranked 120th nationally in the stat (21.2 percent).

Avoiding fouls: TCU is second-best in Big 12 play when it comes to defensive free throw rate, with conference foes averaging just 16.3 free throws per game. For the season, opponents are getting just 18.7 percent of their points against the Horned Frogs from the line (259th-highest split nationally).

3 Weaknesses

Shooting: TCU shoots a high number of two-point jumpshots according to Hoop-Math.com (47 percent of its shots, 16th-highest split nationally) and does it without much success (32 percent; NCAA average is 35 percent). This has crushed the Horned Frogs' two-point percentage, which sits at 42.8 percent (319th nationally). Though TCU is extremely selective with its three-point shots, it still shoots a horrible percentage from there as well, making just 28.7 percent of its long-range tries (330th nationally).

Turnovers: TCU ranks 284th nationally in offensive turnover percentage (22.3 percent), and that number has stayed steady throughout the season. In Big 12 play, the Horned Frogs are last in the conference in turnover percentage, edging out Texas Tech for the bottom spot.

First-shot defense: Big 12 opponents have shot high percentages from both two-point and three-point range against TCU, making 49.7 percent of their twos (eighth in conference) and 39.8 percent of their threes (ninth in conference). Hoop-Math.com shows that TCU also has allowed opponents to take a lot of easy shots, as 37 percent of the field goals against the Horned Frogs this year have come at the rim (NCAA average is 34 percent).

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-7 small forward Garlon Green (No. 33) had the best game against KU in the first matchup, putting in 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting which included 2-for-4 three-point shooting. KU fans will be happy to know that it took him four games after that to get seven more made field goals, as he went 1-for-12 against West Virginia, 2-for-9 against Oklahoma, 3-for-11 against Iowa State, then 6-for-15 against Texas. Green is a volume shooter (27.1 percent shot percentage, 246th nationally) that shouldn't be based on his numbers, as he's made just 39.4 percent of his twos and 32.3 percent of his threes. Though Green doesn't get to the free throw line often, he is TCU's best shooter there (77 percent).

Six-foot-7 forward Connell Crossland (No. 2) isn't much of a scoring threat, but he is a great rebounder, as evidenced by his game-high 15 rebounds against KU in the first meeting. Crossland actually is a better offensive rebounder (181st nationally) than defensive rebounder (300th nationally), as he's averaged 3.2 offensive rebounds per game over his last six contests. Crossland gets a high percentage of his shots at the rim, which helps his two-point percentage (50.8 percent). He's terrible from the free throw line, though, making 33 of his 73 shots there (45.2 percent).

Five-foot-11 point guard Kyan Anderson (No. 5) is TCU's best perimeter player. Though he takes the second-most shots on the team (24.7 percent, 474th nationally), shooting isn't his best asset. The sophomore is a good passer, posting the nation's 166th-best assist rate, while also providing the Horned Frogs with their best perimeter defender, ranking 330th in steal percentage. Anderson is prone to turnovers, though, and his two-point percentage (43.8 percent) and three-point percentage (33 percent) aren't anything to brag about.

Prediction

After upsetting KU 62-55 on Feb. 6, TCU moved up 29 spots in KenPom's rankings from 278th to 247th.

Somehow, four games later, the Horned Frogs have played poorly enough to move to a ranking below where they were before the KU game (285th).

In other words ... the KU win didn't make TCU any better. In fact, the team has been playing worse.

Sometimes in a mismatch game at the Fieldhouse, KU will have some mercy on its opponent, taking it easy in the second half while having some sympathy for a team that is rebuilding.

Poor TCU. That won't happen Saturday, as the Jayhawks — and their fans — won't be letting up after the Jayhawks get a huge lead with revenge on their minds.

Kansas 77, TCU 45

Hawk to Rock

TCU is a team that turns it over often and allows a lot of layups. That sounds like a game where Travis Releford could thrive. I'll say Releford finishes as a top-two scorer for KU with at least two steals.

Predictions tally
22-4 record, 296 points off (11.4 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)
Oklahoma State: Ben McLemore (7th)
Average: 4.1st in KUsports.com ratings

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Two factors key for KU against home favorite Oklahoma State

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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Expect lots of free throws for KU against Texas

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson tosses a pass from the floor underneath Texas guard Myck Kabongo after a steal during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 at the Frank Erwin Center.

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson tosses a pass from the floor underneath Texas guard Myck Kabongo after a steal during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 at the Frank Erwin Center. by Nick Krug

Team: Texas
Record: 11-13
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 91
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Interior defense: Texas is still one of the best teams in the nation when it comes to two-point defense. Though this area isn't as good as it was earlier in the season, the Longhorns still rank fifth nationally in two-point percentage defense (40.7 percent). This matches up with one of KU's strengths, as the Jayhawks are 37th nationally in two-point percentage (51.8 percent). In the first matchup, Texas held KU to 17-for-40 shooting from two-point range (42.5 percent).

• Myck Kabongo is back: Following a 23-game suspension, Texas' best offensive player Myck Kabongo returned to the lineup Wednesday against Iowa State. The impact was immediate, as the Longhorns scored 1.10 points per possession against the Cyclones — their second-highest output of the entire season. Kabongo — a 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard — immediately stepped into a high-usage role for the Longhorns, posting 14 points with seven assists and four turnovers against ISU. Texas' biggest struggle all season has been scoring, so Kabongo's presence gives the team a huge boost in its area of biggest need.

Interior scoring: Texas has been effective scoring inside during Big 12 play, ranking second in the conference in two-point field goal percentage (49.6 percent). The Longhorns will have this strength tested against KU, as the Jayhawks remain as the top two-point percentage defense team in the nation (38.5 percent).

3 Weaknesses

Three-point shooting: Texas is the conference's worst three-point shooting team during Big 12 play, making just 26.2 percent of its long-range tries. The Longhorns haven't been much better for the entire season, making just 28.9 percent of their treys (324th nationally). Of UT's rotation players, only Ioannis Papapetrou has made more than one-third of his threes this year (38.6 percent, 22 of 57).

Defensive rebounding: Though Texas has been great at first-shot defense, it has had difficulties securing the rebound to end the possession. The Longhorns are last in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage in Big 12 play, pulling down just 63 percent of opponents' misses. KU actually has improved its offensive rebounding during league play, ranking first in the Big 12 in offensive rebounding percentage (35.8 percent).

• Fouling too often: Texas has by far the highest defensive free throw rate in league play, as Big 12 opponents are averaging 27 free throws per game against the Longhorns. That's a bad quality to have coming into Allen Fieldhouse, which tends to bring out a favorable whistle for the home team. KU is first in the Big 12 in free throw rate while averaging 24.6 free throws in its 11 conference games.

3 Players to Watch

• The return of 6-foot-1 guard Myck Kabongo (No. 12) gives Texas its best offensive threat off the dribble. The sophomore posted the nation's 19th-best free throw rate a year ago, pulling off the rare feat of shooting more free throws (172) than field goals (156). Kabongo also is a good distributor (61st in assist percentage in 2011-12) and a solid defender (500th in steal percentage in 2012). Kabongo wasn't a great shooter from the floor last season, making just 42.9 percent of his two and 31.6 percent of his threes. His biggest weakness, though, was turnovers, as his turnover rate was the highest on the Longhorns' rotation players in 2012.

• When not in his coach Rick Barnes' doghouse, 6-foot-4 guard Sheldon McClellan (No. 1) has been Texas' most consistent offensive player. The sophomore has taken 28.6 percent of his team's shots when he's on the floor (143rd nationally), and like Kabongo, he's best at drawing fouls. He's drawn 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes (52nd nationally) and already has shot 144 free throws this year, which is 20 more free throws than the top player on KU (Jeff Withey, 124). McClellan takes advantage of those tries, making 81 percent of his freebies. McClellan is a poor two-point (42.4 percent) and three-point (27.8 percent) shooter, but he remains as an above-average offensive weapon because he rarely turns it over.

• As mentioned above, 6-foot-8 forward Ioannis Papapetrou (No. 33) is Texas' only true three-point shooting threat. The freshman made two of three-pointers in the first matchup against KU and has made 13 of 35 threes (37 percent) in Big 12 play. Papapetrou's height allows him to have a unique skill set, as he's a good shot-blocker (410th nationally in block percentage) and a decent penetrator, drawing 4.6 fouls per 40 minutes (422nd nationally). Papapetrou, who is prone to turnovers, has an interesting shooting split: He's a good two-point jump-shooter (40 percent) but a poor free throw shooter (59.7 percent).

Prediction

Much like the Kansas State game on Monday, KU should receive a huge boost from an amped-up Fieldhouse crowd that is hosting ESPN's Game Day.

That energy helped KU turn up the defensive intensity against KSU, and if the Jayhawks play that way again on the defensive end Saturday night, they shouldn't have any problem with the Longhorns.

Pay close attention to the pace of this game. Texas has a great half-court defense, so slowing the game down benefits the Longhorns, especially considering the Jayhawks are so good in transition.

Look for KU to force turnovers, get some easy points and force the ball inside offensively to draw fouls. With this atmosphere and these two teams' tendencies, it'll be a surprise if KU doesn't get to 30 free throws Saturday night.

Even with Kabongo back, I don't see this as a close game late. In fact, it could play out a lot like Monday's game, with KU starting with an early run before maintaining that lead in the second half.

Kansas 75, Texas 57

Hawk to Rock

Any time I see a poor defensive rebounding team, my immediate reaction is to put Kevin Young in this spot. So I'll go with my gut. Young's minutes have been reduced a bit recently with Self going to a smaller lineup, but this is still is a favorable matchup for the senior, who should have extra spring tonight with a loud Fieldhouse crowd behind him.

Predictions tally
20-4 record, 287 points off (12.0 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)
Average: 3.9th in KUsports.com ratings

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Will Kansas State be able to avoid turnovers in Allen Fieldhouse?

Kansas State guard Shane Southwell signals "three" after hitting one over Kansas forward Kevin Young during the first half on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 at Bramlage Coliseum.

Kansas State guard Shane Southwell signals "three" after hitting one over Kansas forward Kevin Young during the first half on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 at Bramlage Coliseum. by Nick Krug

Team: Kansas State
Record: 19-4
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 31
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Turnovers: Kansas State has been the Big 12's best team in offensive turnover percentage (16.6 percent) and third-best team in defensive turnover percentage (21.4 percent) during league play. Meanwhile, turnovers on both ends have been especially costly for KU during conference play, as the Jayhawks are seventh in the Big 12 in offensive turnover percentage and eighth in defensive turnover percentage during that time. In the first meeting, KU had 13 giveaways to KSU's 10, which was a significant difference considering the game was played at a slow pace (60 possessions).

Shooting confidence: K-State has greatly improved its accuracy in the last month under new coach Bruce Weber. The Wildcats, who rank 218th nationally in two-point percentage (46.4 percent), have made 49 percent of their twos in conference play (second in Big 12). The Wildcats also lead the league in three-point shooting during league play, making 38.6 percent of their long-range shots. Rodney McGruder (45.3 percent), Shane Southwell (39.5 percent) and Will Spradling (38.9 percent) have all posted impressive three-point shooting percentages in their last 10 games.

Limiting three-pointers on defense: KSU continues to be a team that does a good job of preventing three-pointers defensively. Only 27.3 percent of opponents' field goal attempts against KSU are threes (29th-lowest split nationally), while according to Hoop-Math.com, 42 percent of the shots taken against the Wildcats are two-point jumpshots — statistically the worst shot an offense can take.

3 Weaknesses

Drawing fouls: Kansas State has posted the top offensive efficiency in Big 12 play (1.09 points per possession) while getting almost no production from the free throw line. The Wildcats rank last in the conference in offensive free throw rate and have averaged just 15 free throw attempts through 10 league games. With Weber's motion offense, KSU is reliant on jumpshots to score, as 43 percent of its field goal tries are two-point jumpers (NCAA average is 33 percent).

Interior defense: KSU has not challenged inside shots well during Big 12 play. Opponents have made 47.9 percent of their twos in league games (eighth in conference). Part of the reason for this is the undersized lineup that the Wildcats play. Shane Southwell, who played as a guard a year ago, plays most of the team's minutes as an undersized 4, which also creates mismatches for KSU on the offensive end with his ability to shoot.

Fouling too often: KSU has especially struggled in this area in its last 10 games, ranking seventh in the conference in defensive free throw rate. While playing at the second-slowest pace in the conference, the Wildcats have allowed 19.3 free throws per game. KU dominated this facet in the first matchup, shooting 21 free throws to KSU's seven.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-4 guard Rodney McGruder (No. 22) remains as K-State's go-to guy offensively. The senior does a great job of working off screens to get open (ESPN's Seth Greenberg has a nice video breakdown of McGruder doing that here), and if he does get free, he's a great spot-up jump-shooter. While taking 28.1 percent of KSU's shots while he's in (173rd nationally), McGruder has kept his efficiency in an elite range by limiting his turnovers (204th-best turnover rate) while making 36 percent of his threes and 49 percent of his twos. KU's Travis Releford did a nice job of chasing McGruder down in the second half of KU's 59-55 victory in Manhattan, and the senior should have the same defensive assignment Monday night.

• KU fans should remember from the first matchup how dangerous 6-foot-6 Shane Southwell (No. 1) can be. The undersized power forward made KU regret leaving him open on the perimeter, as he made five of 11 three-pointers to finish with a team-high 19 points. Southwell is not a threat to score at the rim (only five percent of his shots are from close range), but his strong shooting is not a fluke. Southwell has made 43 percent of his two-point jumpshots this year (NCAA average is 35 percent) and 42 percent of his threes (27 of 65). Southwell also is a good defensive rebounder for his size, ranking 462nd nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

Five-foot-11 point guard Angel Rodriguez (No. 13) has improved his play recently by limiting his turnovers. The sophomore has just 11 giveaways in his last eight games after turning it over at least twice in his 10 contests before that. Though Rodriguez is still struggling from three-point range (26 of 88, 30 percent), he's been better around the rim, raising his close shot percentage from 35 percent to 41 percent since his team's last game against KU. Rodriguez also remains as an elite passer (27th in assist rate) and strong perimeter defender (261st in steal percentage).

Prediction

So I've been wrong three games in a row, picking the Jayhawks to win against Oklahoma State, TCU and Oklahoma.

It's going to be hard to sound more foolish than that, but I guess I'll try anyway: I think KU will win this one going away.

I probably shouldn't overestimate the advantage the Allen Fieldhouse crowd will give KU, but it's hard not to considering the circumstances. The Jayhawks have lost three straight, KU students have been camping for the game for over a week, and the team's biggest rival is coming to Lawrence.

I'm not sure KSU will be able to avoid an early run from KU. The stats say KSU isn't likely to turn the ball over, but when things get crazy in the fieldhouse, sometimes teams play away from their tendencies.

I'm expecting early defensive energy from KU, a couple of loose-ball steals, a few transition dunks, lots of free throws, and the Jayhawks building a double-digit lead that they don't relinquish.

But hey, I've definitely been wrong before.

Kansas 76, Kansas State 62

Hawk to Rock

In the first game, KSU's guards overplayed defensively, which worked out well because KU didn't attack that pressure well off the dribble. KU's best option to dribble-drive is Naadir Tharpe, so I'll take him as my Hawk to Rock. I'll say Tharpe posts a career-high in points (11 is his high now) while adding four-plus assists for KU.

Predictions tally
19-4 record, 280 points off (12.2 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)
Average: 3.9th in KUsports.com ratings

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Winning turnover battle Oklahoma’s best chance at upset

Kansas guard Ben McLemore loses a rebound to Oklahoma forward Romero Osby, right, during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. At left is Oklahoma guard Je'lon Hornbreak.

Kansas guard Ben McLemore loses a rebound to Oklahoma forward Romero Osby, right, during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. At left is Oklahoma guard Je'lon Hornbreak. by Nick Krug

Team: Oklahoma
Record: 14-7
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 57
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Avoiding fouls: Oklahoma enters Saturday's game as the top team in Big 12 play when it comes to defensive free throw rate, as opponents have averaged just 16 free throws per game against the Sooners in conference play. This will be an interesting subplot to watch, as KU has the Big 12's best offensive free throw rate in league play while averaging 25 free throws per game. KU could definitely use chances to score at the line with the offense struggling the way it has recently.

Turnovers: Oklahoma continues to be above-average in both forcing and limiting turnovers. The Sooners are 100th nationally in offensive turnover percentage and 139th in defensive turnover percentage. Turnovers have been one of KU's biggest weaknesses in Big 12 play, as the Jayhawks rank seventh in the conference in offensive turnover percentage and eighth in defensive turnover percentage. If OU wins, it'll probably because the Sooners took advantage of getting extra shots they received by dominating in this area.

Offensive rebounding: Though this aspect hasn't been as good in the last month or so, OU still is strong on the offensive glass. The Sooners grab 34.7 percent of their missed shots, which ranks 81st nationally. OU showed its potential on the glass in its last game against Iowa State, notching 22 offensive rebounds and 23 second-chance points in an 83-64 road loss. KU did a nice job of defensive rebounding in its first matchup against OU, as the Sooners grabbed offensive rebounds on 28 percent of their missed shots.

3 Weaknesses

Drawing fouls: OU ranks eighth in Big 12 play in offensive free throw rate, averaging just 18 free throw attempts per game. This makes sense considering the fact that the Sooners shoot a lot of jump shots. According to Hoop-Math.com, 39 percent of OU's field goal attempts are two-point jumpers, which is well above the NCAA average of 33 percent. Unless the Sooners have a wide-open layup, they're often hesitant to attack the rim, instead settling for many short jumpers.

• Three-point shooting: Oklahoma doesn't rely much on three-point shots, and there's good reason for that: The Sooners don't have many gifted outside shooters. OU has made just 30.9 percent of its threes this year (281st nationally), and that number looks even worse when realizing the Sooners are choosy with the outside shots they take. Only two OU players have attempted more than 50 threes this year: Steven Pledger (40 of 115, 34.8 percent) and Buddy Hield (19 of 65, 29.2 percent).

• Blocking shots: Though OU has good size, it's not a team that challenges inside shots well. Part of this could go back to the defensive strategy of avoiding fouls. The Sooners have blocked just 7.1 percent of opponents' twos in Big 12 play, which ranks ninth in the conference.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-8 forward Romero Osby (No. 24) remains the best player in the conference that nobody talks about. The senior hasn't played as well since his 12-point, 4-for-16 performance against KU on Jan. 26, but he still is easily the Sooners' best offensive weapon. Osby does a great job of using pump-fakes to get defenders in the air, drawing 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes (63rd nationally) while posting the nation's 104th-best free throw rate. He's a 79.8-percent free throw shooter, so fouling him often results in two points. Osby almost never turns it over (105th in turnover rate) and is a solid offensive and defensive rebounder and an above-average two-point jump-shooter. Osby struggled going against KU center Jeff Withey's length in the first matchup, so I'm guessing we see him try to attack Withey a different way Saturday.

Six-foot-9 forward Amath M'Baye (No. 22) is an athletic post player who thrives at the rim. According to Hoop-Math, M'Baye has made 84 percent of his close shots this year, which dwarfs the NCAA average (61 percent). M'Baye also thrives on the offensive glass, where he pulls down 9.7 percent of the available offensive boards (381st nationally). M'Baye does have some flaws offensively, though, turning it over at a high rate while making a below-average number of his two-point jump-shots. M'Baye also has clanked nearly all of the limited three-pointers he has taken (2-for-15 accuracy, 13 percent).

Six-foot-4 guard Steven Pledger (No. 2) is OU's only real threat from the outside. As mentioned above, he's made 35 percent of his threes this year, though that's probably below his true talent level, as he was a 42-percent three-point shooter a year ago. Pledger is purely a spot-up shooter behind the arc, as 89 percent of his threes this year have been assisted. He's struggled in his last two games, combining to go 0-for-7 from three against Kansas State and Iowa State. Pledger also rarely turns it over, which makes him a solid offensive player for the Sooners.

Prediction

I was off by a mere 32 points with my last prediction, so yeah, there's that.

I do think KU will win this game, though. Though the Jayhawks didn't play well against TCU, a huge issue was simply shooting. KU made 11 of 27 layups against TCU (41 percent), a number that will be tough to replicate the rest of this season.

The Jayhawks' interior defense bothered the Sooners in the first matchup, and I'm not sure what OU can do to overcome that. The Sooners aren't a team that can rely on outside shooting to beat KU, and because they don't draw many whistles, it's unlikely they'll be able to pull Withey out of the game with foul trouble.

Most likely, OU will pull up for a lot of two-point jump-shots, hoping that an above-average number of those attempts go in.

KU should feel good about its chances if it can keep turnovers down to force OU to run its offense with Withey inside.

From there, it'll be up to the Jayhawks to make those layups that they missed against TCU. The law of averages (KU has made 64 percent of its close shots this year) would suggest a bounceback is likely.

Kansas 66, Oklahoma 59

Hawk to Rock

After struggling with his last two defensive matchups, this feels like a game where Travis Releford will thrive. Not only does he have a history of big games against OU (28 points in his last game at Lloyd Noble Center), but he also should be focused on his important defensive assignment, which will be to limit the shot attempts and makes of OU's Pledger. Look for Releford to get back to scoring in transition as well, as he's averaged just 4.5 points and three field goal attempts in his last two games. I'll say the senior gets back to double-figure scoring against OU on Saturday.

Predictions tally
19-3 record, 267 points off (12.1 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)
Average: 3.9th in KUsports.com ratings

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Slow pace, bad offense means TCU unlikely to hit 50 against KU

TCU head coach Trent Johnson reacts to his team's play during the second half of a game against West Virginia on  Jan. 23, 2013, in Morgantown, W.Va.

TCU head coach Trent Johnson reacts to his team's play during the second half of a game against West Virginia on Jan. 23, 2013, in Morgantown, W.Va.

Team: TCU
Record: 9-12
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 278
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Forcing turnovers: TCU is a rare team that creates a lot of giveaways without getting many steals. Opponents turn it over on 22.1 percent of their possessions against the Horned Frogs (82nd nationally) despite the fact that the Horned Frogs rank 250th nationally in steal percentage. Defensive turnover percentage is one of the few statistics that TCU has performed well in during Big 12 play, as the Horned Frogs rank second in the league in the statistic (22.2 percent).

Drawing and avoiding fouls: TCU ranks 88th nationally in offensive free throw rate and 103rd nationally in defensive free throw rate. The result is a team that averages 19 free throws attempted per game compared to 16.3 for its opponents, which isn't insignificant considering the Horned Frogs' slow tempo.

Playing a slow pace: With a team that lacks talent, TCU coach Trent Johnson has reduced the tempo to give his team the best chance to compete against more talented opponents. The Horned Frogs rank 335th in KenPom's adjusted tempo rank and should attempt to limit the possessions again Wednesday against KU.

3 Weaknesses

Shooting: TCU ranks among the worst shooting teams in the nation this year. The Horned Frogs rank 293rd in three-point shooting (30.3 percent) and that's the highest they're ranked in any shooting category nationally. TCU is 320th in two-point shooting (42.5 percent) and 340th out of 347 teams in free throw shooting (340th nationally). It shouldn't be surprising that TCU's shot selection is out of whack, as 48 percent of its field-goal attempts are two-point jumpshots — the 10th-highest split nationally according to Hoop-Math.com. TCU has made just 32 percent of those jumpers.

Poor ballhandling: Many times, TCU doesn't get to showcase its poor shooting because it turns the ball over first. The Horned Frogs have given it away on 22.5 percent of their possessions this season (281st nationally) and 22.8 percent of their possessions in Big 12 play (ninth in league).

Defensive rebounding: TCU is much better defensively than it is offensively, but its biggest weakness on that end is finishing possessions. The Horned Frogs grab just 66.4 percent of the available defensive rebounds, which is 249th nationally. KU isn't a great offensive rebounding team, but it is coming off its best offensive rebounding performance in Big 12 play. Against Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks grabbed 46.1 percent of their missed shots — the second-best mark this season behind the Richmond game.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-7 forward Garlon Green (No. 33) takes the most shots for TCU (26.1 percent, 328th nationally) but he's still far from a good offensive player. His strength is his three-point shooting, as he's made 41 percent of his limited tries (16 of 39). He rarely gets to the free throw line, though, settling for too many two-point jumpers (63 percent of his field goal attempts are two-point jumpers). Because of that, Green is shooting just 39 percent from two-point range while not offering much defensively or on the glass.

Five-foot-11 guard Kyan Anderson (No. 5) is TCU's second-most frequent shooter (23.9 percent shot percentage), and though he's more efficient than Green, he still has limitations. The sophomore is TCU's best distributor, handing out 26.6 percent of his team's assist when he's on the floor (195th nationally). He's also the team's best on-ball defender, ranking 329th in steal percentage. He's not a great three-point shooter, though (28 of 82, 34 percent), and his turnover rate is crazy-high for a starting point guard. Like Green, Anderson isn't much of a threat to get all the way to the rim, as only 20 percent of his field goals have been close shots.

Six-foot-8 forward Adrick McKinney (No. 5) stands out as TCU's best rebounder. He's solid on both ends, ranking 120th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 107th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. McKinney also is one of the Horned Frogs' best offensive threats because of his ability to get to the free throw line. He ranks 25th nationally in free throw rate while drawing 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes (103rd nationally). He's not a good free throw shooter (50 of 93, 53.8 percent), but this TCU team will gladly take one point per possession considering the other options it has.

Prediction

This TCU team deserves to be in the discussion for worst Big 12 team of all time. The Horned Frogs should finish the conference season 0-18, and through eight Big 12 games, they have only lost one game by single digits (a 62-53 home loss to Texas Tech).

TCU is especially helpless offensively. The Horned Frogs rank 330th in adjusted offensive efficiency and have not scored more than 56 points in any conference game. According to the KenPom rankings, TCU also ranks as the second-worst team that KU has played this year.

If the Jayhawks struggle in this one, it will rightfully be time for fans to panic. I don't think KU will, though. After a humbling home loss to Oklahoma State, I see the Jayhawks taking advantage of TCU mistakes to score some easy points in transition in front of a pro-KU crowd in Fort Worth.

Not only that, TCU should find it difficult to score against KU's strong interior defense. I'll be surprised if the Horned Frogs crack 50.

Kansas 69, TCU 44

Hawk to Rock

This seems like a Kevin Young-type game. The Jayhawks should have opportunities for steals, transition points and offensive rebounds, and Young excels in all three areas. Give me double-digit points and at least three steals and three offensive rebounds for the KU senior.

Predictions tally
19-2 record, 235 points off (11.2 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)
Average: 3.9th in KUsports.com ratings

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Why Oklahoma State center Philip Jurick will play a big role in Saturday’s game

West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli (13) drives between Oklahoma State's Philip Jurick, left, and Marcus Smart during Saturday's game in Stillwater, Okla.

West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli (13) drives between Oklahoma State's Philip Jurick, left, and Marcus Smart during Saturday's game in Stillwater, Okla.

Team: Oklahoma State
Record: 14-5
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 21
All statistics from KenPom.com unless otherwise noted

3 Strengths

Interior defense: The Cowboys have done a nice job of limiting opponents' easy shots, posting the nation's 16th-best two-point defense (41.2 percent). A big reason for that is shot-blocking, as OSU swats 13.6 percent of its opponents' two-point tries (27th nationally). Unlike Kansas, which gets most of its blocks from one source (Jeff Withey), OSU has three players (Philip Jurick, Michael Cobbins, Kamari Murphy) that are all in the top 220 nationally in block percentage. According to Hoop-Math.com, opponents have made just 53 percent of their shots at the rim against the Cowboys — a number much lower than the NCAA average (61 percent).

• Turnovers: Oklahoma State is solid with turnovers on both ends, taking the ball away on 22.7 percent of its possessions (61st nationally) while giving it away on 18.9 percent of its own possessions (96th nationally). The first number should be what KU is most worried about, as the Jayhawks rank eighth in the Big 12 in offensive turnover percentage since the conference season started (20.6 percent).

Defensive rebounding: OSU actually is a much better defensive team (eighth in adjusted defensive efficiency) than offensive team (79th in adjusted offensive efficiency). Part of the reason for that has been the Cowboys' ability to end defensive possessions with rebounds. OSU ranks 57th nationally in that stat, pulling down 71.3 percent of the available caroms. The Cowboys have been even better in conference play, leading the Big 12 with a 77.4-percent defensive rebounding rate.

3 Weaknesses

• Offensive rebounding: OSU doesn't get many second chances offensively, grabbing just 32.2 percent of the available offensive rebounds (160th nationally). There's a huge dropoff when the 6-foot-11 Jurick is not in, as the senior center pulls down 16 percent of the available offensive rebounds when he's in (20th nationally). The Cowboys actually have been worse as of late, posting the Big 12's worst offensive rebounding percentage since league play began (28.4 percent).

• Three-point shooting: OSU has been a below-average team from beyond the arc, making 33.1 percent of its three-point tries (189th nationally). Because of that, the Cowboys aren't overly reliant on threes for scoring, getting only 25.3 percent of their total points from treys (226th-highest split nationally). Phil Forte (49 of 127, 39 percent) is the only OSU regular that has shot better than 35 percent from three-point range this season.

• Allowing three-pointers: If you're looking to pinpoint a weakness with OSU's defense, you'd most likely look to the perimeter. Opponents have gotten 32 percent of their scoring against the Cowboys from three-point range (20th-highest split nationally), while 34.8 percent of the field goals taken against OSU have been threes. KU has not been a team that has taken many threes (29 percent of shots are threes, 274th nationally), but it appears there should be some opportunity for open ones against the Cowboys defense.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-4 guard Marcus Smart (No. 33) has been given a lot of credit for OSU's improvement this year, as the former McDonald's All-American is often lauded for his leadership and energy. Statistically, he's pretty good too, boasting a skill set that allows him to contribute over a number of categories. He's especially dangerous on the defensive end, where he's 18th nationally in steal percentage while posting a top-450 block percentage. Offensively, he's a great distributor (123rd in assist percentage) and best when instigating contact, drawing 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes (195th nationally) while also ranking the top 200 nationally in free throw rate. The freshman does have some holes in his offensive game, though, if an opponent can force him to shoot. He settles for too many two-point jumpshots, where he's a below average shooter (32 percent; 35 percent is NCAA average). Smart also has made just 22 of 73 three-pointers (30.1 percent) and will turn it over on occasion.

• Though 5-foot-11 guard Phil Forte (No. 10) is often overlooked because of Smart, he has provided the Cowboys a nice boost offensively with his efficient play. As mentioned before, Forte is OSU's best three-point shooter, and he isn't hesitant to put shots up, ranking third on the team in shot percentage (23.5 percent). More than three-fourths of the shots he takes are threes, and 87 percent of those makes are assisted, meaning KU should be prepared to chase him around screens as he fights to get open. The freshman also is valuable because he never turns it over; he has the nation's seventh-best turnover rate, giving it away just 12 times in 514 minutes. Defensively, he's OSU's second-best perimeter defender behind Smart, creating steals on 3.3 percent of his defensive possessions (255th nationally).

Six-foot-7 guard Le'Bryan Nash (No. 2) has been able to reduce his offensive role with the addition of Smart, but the sophomore still hasn't been able to up his efficiency to become a valuable offensive player. Nash's best skill is getting to the free throw line, as he draws 5.2 fouls per 40 minutes (223rd nationally) while posting the nation's 235th-best free throw rate. Nash also is a good shooter at the line, making 78 percent of his tries there (76 of 97). Other than that, there's little to like from his offensive game, especially considering he takes 23.6 percent of his team's shots when he's in. Nash shoots way too many two-point jump shots (48 percent of his field goal attempts), and while he's an above-average shooter from that range (37 percent), that kind of shot selection is going to drag down anyone's efficiency. He's also more turnover prone than a year ago and has continued to be a dreadful three-point shooter (9-for-36, 25 percent, after shooting 24 percent last year). Nash also provides next to nothing when it comes to steals, blocks and rebounding, making him a player that appears to be getting a lot of his playing time based on hype instead of actual performance.

Prediction

KenPom has Oklahoma State as the second-best team in the Big 12, making this the toughest game left at home for KU this season.

Though KU hasn't played well lately, especially on the offensive end, I think there are some reasons for optimism against Oklahoma State.

  1. The Jayhawks have had five days off since playing West Virginia on Monday.

  2. KU is playing at home, where it is 102-1 in its last 103 games.

  3. OSU has played the Big 12's fastest tempo in Big 12 play, and the Cowboys don't strike me as a team that will want to change its style against KU. For one, OSU has athletes that can match up with KU's, and for two, the Cowboys don't have the outside shooters to try to take advantage of the Jayhawks' vulnerable perimeter D.

Pay close attention to OSU's Jurick, who has been an elite rebounder (top 20 nationally on both ends) and strong shot-blocker (113th nationally). Look for KU to attack him early, as he is foul prone, picking up 5.7 whistles per 40 minutes.

If Jurick is out, the Cowboys lose a lot defensively, and the Jayhawks should be able to take advantage by getting good shots inside.

I think this formula will play out. Jurick gets in early foul trouble, KU scores easier inside, OSU plays fast and the Jayhawks are able to get some transition baskets to come through with their best offensive performance in the last few weeks.

Kansas 72, Oklahoma State 59

Hawk to Rock

I think KU freshman Ben McLemore will prove himself to be the best player in a game filled with gifted athletes. Where he has the potential to really thrive, though, will be getting free for three-pointers. OSU hasn't done a good job of preventing shots on the perimeter, so the freshman should be able to find creases Saturday that he might not have seen in previous games. Give me 20-plus points with at least four three-pointers from the 45-percent long-range shooter.

Predictions tally
19-1 record, 217 points off (10.9 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)
Average: 4.1st in KUsports.com ratings

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Will West Virginia be able to get to the free throw line against KU?

West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli (13) drives between Oklahoma State's Philip Jurick, left, and Marcus Smart during Saturday's game in Stillwater, Okla.

West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli (13) drives between Oklahoma State's Philip Jurick, left, and Marcus Smart during Saturday's game in Stillwater, Okla.

Team: West Virginia
Record: 9-10
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 107
All statistics from KenPom.com

3 Strengths

Offensive rebounding: Kansas has picked a nice year to be dominant on the defensive glass, as it faces yet another foe Monday that does a great job at hitting the offensive boards. WVU grabs 38.5 percent of its missed shots, which ranks 18th nationally, and leads the Big 12 with a 37.4 percent offensive rebounding rate since league play started. Unlike Oklahoma, which had a lot of players fare well on the offensive glass, the Mountaineers offensive rebounding comes mostly from two players: forward Deniz Kilicli and center Aaric Murray. Remember, KU shut down two elite offensive rebounding teams in Kansas State and Oklahoma last week, so we'll see if that trend continues.

Getting shots up: West Virginia ranks just 124th in adjusted offensive efficiency, but that isn't because of a lack of field-goal attempts. The Mountaineers turn it over on just 18.5 percent of their possessions, which is 68th nationally. WVU also does a good job of avoiding opponent steals, as foes come away with swipes on just 7.8 percent of the team's possessions (21st nationally). This appears to be a game where KU might not get many transition opportunities unless center Jeff Withey is able to start the break with blocked shots.

Getting to the free throw line: WVU has done a decent job of drawing contact offensively, posting the 109th best free throw rate nationally. Playing at a slightly below-average pace, WVU has averaged 22.5 free throw attempts per game. The Mountaineers have been especially effective drawing whistles at home, shooting 22 free throws against Kansas State and 31 free throws against TCU in its last two league home games.

3 Weaknesses

Shooting: West Virginia has been awful shooting both twos and threes, as the Mountaineers have made just 29.2 percent of their threes (311st nationally) and 43.8 percent of their twos (299th nationally). In case you're wondering, only 29.1 percent of WVU's shots are threes, so don't expect the Mountaineers to try to work around Withey by bombing away. Looking deeper, WVU has had big problems finishing shots at the rim, as it's made just 54 percent of its layups/dunks/tipins (NCAA average is 61 percent).

Fouling too much: WVU ranks 211th nationally in defensive free throw rate, with opponents averaging 20 free throws attempted per contest. That weakness hasn't gotten any better in Big 12 play, where the Mountaineers rank seventh out of 10 teams in defensive free throw rate.

Defensive rebounding: The Mountaineers grab 67.3 percent of opponents' missed shots, which ranks 208th nationally. KU has improved its offensive rebounding in Big 12 play (33.8 percent compared to 32.7 percent) but still isn't a team that relies much on it much for offensive production.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-10 center Aaric Murray (No. 24) is WVU's best offensive option. He makes a team-best 52.7 percent of his twos (59 of 112) and is especially productive at the rim, making 65 percent of his close shots. He does an above-average job at getting to the free throw line, drawing 4.7 fouls per 40 minutes while making 73 percent of his freebies. Defensively, he's WVU's best shot-blocker (69th nationally), offensive rebounder (188th nationally) and defensive rebounder (89th nationally). One of the only things holding him back is playing time, as he's averaging just 21.9 minutes per game.

Six-foot-9 forward Deniz Kilicli (No. 13, looks like a Mountaineer, see photo above) is a good rebounder but overall a below-average offensive player. He's best on the offensive glass (211th nationally) and drawing fouls (5.9/40 minutes, 89th nationally), but his production is dragged down by a poor stroke at the free throw line (34 of 67, 51 percent). The senior has struggled to make shots inside, shooting just 43 percent from two-point range and 51 percent on shots at the rim. He also will turn it over on occasion and is not a factor when it comes to shot-blocking.

• WVU fans have to wonder why 5-foot-11 guard Jabarie Hinds (No. 4) won't stop shooting. He fires up a team-high 27.1 percent of the Mountaineers' shots (252nd nationally) despite the fact he's the team's worst offensive player. He's made just 38 percent of his twos (42 of 112) and 26 percent of his threes (26 percent) while not even playing aggressive enough to get to the free throw line (just 29 attempts). Hinds' close shot numbers are astounding, as he's made a team-worst 38 percent of his layups/tips. Hinds does a good job of avoiding fouls defensively (69th nationally), but with as reckless as he is on offense, KU should want to keep him on the court.

Prediction

Like Oklahoma, West Virginia doesn't appear to have the personnel to change into a three-point shooting team to try to take down KU. Most of the Mountaineers' scoring will have to come from inside and at the free throw line, and while a one-game uptick shooting can happen, it's not something WVU should be banking on.

If the Mountaineers are to stay close and have a chance at winning, they'll almost certainly have to do it by drawing fouls and getting to the line. Doing that while also getting a couple early fouls on Withey would be a good formula for the Mountaineers to stay competitive in the first half.

Offensively, KU could have its transition points limited by another team that doesn't turn it over often, meaning the Jayhawks will most likely have to rely on half-court offense for their scoring. That hasn't worked out well recently for KU, which has struggled partly because of passive guard play, with Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe hesitating to drive past overplaying defenders.

With the way KU's defense has been playing, though, the Jayhawks should be fine even if they aren't great offensively, especially if Withey can stay out of foul trouble and KU can continue to keep its team fouls low.

Kansas 66, West Virginia 55

Hawk to Rock

I'll go ahead and double-down on Jeff Withey and predict that he stays out of foul trouble. WVU gets 54.4 percent of its points from twos (108th nationally), which means Withey should have plenty of opportunities to impact shots inside, much like he did against Oklahoma. I'll go with five blocks for Withey and say he helps the KU defense hold WVU to sub-35 percent shooting from two-point range.

Predictions tally
18-1 record, 211 points off (11.1 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)
Average: 4.2nd in KUsports.com ratings

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Two dangerous scorers lead Oklahoma offense

Kansas center Jeff Withey rejects a shot by Oklahoma forward Andrew Fitzgerald during the second half on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Jeff Withey rejects a shot by Oklahoma forward Andrew Fitzgerald during the second half on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Team: Oklahoma
Record: 13-4
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 53

3 Strengths

• Offensive rebounding: Oklahoma has grabbed 35.5 percent of its missed shots, which ranks 67th nationally. The Sooners actually have upped that total in Big 12 play, posting a 37.3 percent offensive rebounding percentage, which is second-best behind West Virginia. OU doesn't have one dominant offensive rebounder but instead has four guys in Amath M'Baye, Andrew Fitzgerald, Buddy Hield and Romero Osby that are above average on the offensive glass. Remember, one of Kansas' best strengths this year has been defensive rebounding, and after a strong effort on the defensive glass against Kansas State on Tuesday, the Jayhawks will be tested in that area again.

Turnovers: The Sooners have been solid on both ends when it comes to turnovers. They've given it away on just 18.9 percent of their possessions (92nd nationally) while forcing turnovers on 21.7 percent of opponents' possessions (110th nationally). Playing at an NCAA average pace, OU has averaged just 12.7 turnovers per game. Though KU coach Bill Self said this week he'd like to see his team get more opportunities in transition off his defense, that might be difficult against a Sooners team that emphasizes ball security.

Foul avoidance: OU ranks 54th nationally in defensive free throw rate, which measures the percentage of free throws shot compared to field goals. Opponents average just 16.2 free throw tries against the Sooners, and Texas had just 11 attempts in its 73-67 loss to OU on Monday. Because of its ability to avoid whistles, the Sooners have had just one foulout all season.

3 Weaknesses

• Three-point shooting: Not only is Oklahoma a poor three-point shooting team — it's a poor three-point shooting team while not attempting many. The Sooners have hit just 32 percent of their shots from deep this year (228th nationally), and that's with a low number of treys attempted (25.7 percent of field goals attempted are threes, 311th-highest split nationally). I wouldn't expect OU to completely change its offensive gameplan against KU's defense (the Sooners have the top offensive efficiency in Big 12 games so far), so be prepared for this team to take it inside against KU's interior defense while passing up most three-point shots.

• Two-point shot selection: Much like Kansas State, Oklahoma takes a lot of two-point jump shots — statistically the worst shot in basketball. According to Hoop-Math.com, 29 percent of OU's shots are at the rim (NCAA average is 34 percent), while 45 percent of its shots are two-point jumpshots (NCAA average is 33 percent). While KSU is an above-average team shooting two-point J's, OU isn't (34 percent, compared to 35 percent NCAA average). Despite great accuracy on close shots, the Sooners still are below the NCAA average for two-point shooting (47 percent compared to 47.3 percent). Much like many of the K-State teams under Frank Martin, it appears this OU team is best offensively when it can turn missed shots into offensive rebounds and easy points at the rim.

Defensive rebounding: Though OU is exactly on the NCAA average for defensive rebounding (68 percent), that's not a great stat considering the Sooners haven't faced an overwhelming number of great offenses. KU hasn't been a great offensive rebounding team this year, but it appears there may be some opportunity for second-chance points against the Sooners.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-8 forward Romero Osby (No. 24, red elbow pad) is one of the most complete players KU will see this season. The senior takes 24.9 percent of the Sooners' shots (458th nationally) while remaining impressively efficient because of his accurate shooting (289th in effective field goal percentage) and low turnover numbers (101st in turnover rate). His best skill, though, is getting to the foul line, as he draws 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes (21st nationally) and has made 82 of 100 free throws (during one six-game stretch, he made 31 straight free throws). Osby is OU's best defensive rebounder (202nd nationally), a talented shot-blocker (337th nationally) and also a good jump-shooter (leads OU regulars with 42-percent accuracy on two-point jumpshot percentage). Statistically, Osby should be in the running for first-team All-Big 12 honors, but he probably won't get there because his minutes (and, thus, counting stats) are limited by coach Lon Kruger, who subs out the senior more than he should.

Six-foot-4 guard Steven Pledger (No. 2) has basically maintained his above-average offensive skillset from a year ago. The senior combines a low turnover rate (377th nationally) with a good shooting touch, making 36 percent of his three-point tries (35 of 97). He also takes 24.6 percent of OU's shots (499th nationally), which means the highest portion of the Sooners' shots are coming from their two best offensive players. KU should have no fear about Pledger penetrating off the dribble, as only four percent of his field-goal attempts this year have been close shots. Pledger is a good two-point jump-shooter (41 percent), though, and much like KSU's Rodney McGruder, KU's defenders (most likely Travis Releford) will have to weave through a number of screens to try to keep him from getting loose. Pledger also could hurt the Jayhawks if they try to overhelp on Osby inside.

Six-foot-9 Amath M'Baye (No. 22) is an athletic junior whose specialty is leaping high to throw down alley oops. His other main offensive skill is rebounding, as he's the Sooners' best on the offensive glass (355th nationally). M'Baye — a transfer from Wyoming and native of France — still is a bit of a raw, though, as a high turnover rate and poor three-point shooting in limited attempts (1-for-9) has resulted in him becoming a below-average offensive player. M'Baye would be best suited sticking to shots at the rim, where he leads the team with 81-percent accuracy. Despite this, 49 percent of his shots have been two-point jumpers, which isn't his forte (32 percent).

Prediction

Give credit to Kruger, who has helped his team jump 31 spots in KenPom's rankings since Dec. 29. This is an improved team from a year ago, and also one that has played its best since Big 12 play began.

This feels like a tough spot for the Sooners, though. For one, the game is at Allen Fieldhouse, a location where OU has lost by an average of 21.7 points in its last three games.

For two, OU's two biggest offensive strengths (scoring inside and offensive rebounding) appear to line up perfectly with two of KU's biggest strengths (interior defense and defensive rebounding). OU doesn't get to the free throw line much either, meaning the potential for long offensive droughts will be there if the Sooners can't hit jump shots.

Here's my feeling: KU's offense will be able to score inside, while OU's offense will struggle there.

If that happens, expect a runaway victory for the Jayhawks.

Kansas 73, Oklahoma 56

Hawk to Rock

Travis Releford has a history of playing well against OU and also frustrating Sooners guard Steven Pledger. I'll predict that Releford backs up his outstanding game against Kansas State with another strong defensive effort against Pledger and OU.

Predictions tally
17-1 record, 207 points off (11.5 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)
Average: 4.2nd in KUsports.com ratings

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