Gameday Breakdown: No. 9 Kansas at Oklahoma
No. 9 Kansas Jayhawks (19-5 overall, 7-4 Big 12) at Oklahoma Sooners (12-12 overall, 2-9 Big 12)
Time: 12 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023
Location: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, Oklahoma
TV: CBS | Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network via Learfield
If you’ve followed this Kansas basketball team for even part of the current season, you’ve likely heard a number of KU players and coaches emphasize the importance of energy on game nights.
Makes sense. Basketball is a fast game, often played at an up-tempo pace throughout and it can be hard to keep up if you’re stuck in the mud.
While pinpointing the energy issue as a key has not been a problem for the ninth-ranked Jayhawks, bringing it consistently has been.
Kansas coach Bill Self said Thursday that every team in America faces that issue at some point during pretty much every season. And he went into greater detail about what bringing energy to the floor actually means.
“To me, it’s feet and hand activity, always bluffing at the ball, always digging at the ball, (explosive) first two steps in transition,” he began. “There’s a lot of things that go into it. And when you don’t do that — which very rarely do you do it all the time — things get exposed.”
The Jayhawks have survived a few of their low-energy nights this season. One of them came in the first meeting with the Sooners, who led by 10 with just under five minutes to play but watched Kansas turn up its tenacity to close the game on an 18-4 run for the victory back in January.
Other times, the Jayhawks have not been so lucky. All four of their losses in Big 12 play featured Kansas starting slow and never being able to fully make up for it. And the KU coaches and players have said routinely that this team is at its best when it plays with urgency and pretty ordinary when it doesn’t.
“We’ve got really good athletes that need to be turned up to become great athletes,” Self said. “And when we do that we’re pretty effective.”
When they don’t?
“We get real average,” Self added.
Part of the reason the energy equation has been so key for Kansas this season is because of how difficult it can be for players and teams to flip the switch once the game is underway. Self said a lot of having proper energy at tipoff starts with preparation — how you practice, how well you lock in, how motivated you are to start fast during the pregame warmup.
“If you don’t have it to start you’re usually not going to get it back,” Self said. “Everything’s about momentum in sports.”
On Thursday, Kansas senior Kevin McCullar Jr. was asked to pinpoint something other than energy that would be key for this team both on Saturday against OU and for the rest of the season.
He tried to do it without saying the magic E word, but couldn’t quite get there.
“I would say just trusting each other, depending on each other, going out there communicating,” McCullar began. “You said (don’t answer with) energy, but that’s really what it comes down to. We’ve got to create our own energy and just go out there and have fun.”
That will be particularly important in one specific matchup against the Sooners. In the first meeting with Kansas, OU guard Grant Sherfield got pretty much whatever he wanted in tallying a game-high 25 points in a four-point loss to the Jayhawks.
And that was with just one 3-pointer (off of four attempts), on a night when the Sooners made just two of 17 shots from 3-point range.
“We didn’t do a good job on him the first time,” Self said. “He scored three points from behind the arc and he still gets 25. He’s a guy that can go get his own, he got his shoulders past us, he elevated over us. There’s a lot of things that he did really well in the first game that we’ve got to be much better at this game.”
Sherfield enters this one seventh in the Big 12 in scoring at 16.8 points per game. He’s the only Sooner in the Top 20, however, and he’ll need to be at least as good in this one as he was in Lawrence in order to help the Sooners pick up their first conference win in nearly a month.
OU has lost six of its last seven games, with the only win in that time coming in a 93-69 beatdown of then-No. 2 Alabama in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Jan. 28.
The Sooners are ranked 54th in the latest KenPom.com rankings, with the nation’s 54th most efficient offense and 55th most efficient defense. While those marks put the Sooners in the upper tier of Division I, there aren’t many other things they do exceptionally well.
They’re not particularly good at forcing turnovers or taking care of the basketball. They don’t block shots. They’re a below-average offensive rebounding team. And they tend to play at one of the slowest tempos in the country.
That last part is by design because of second-year coach Porter Moser’s desire to force opponents to defend half-court sets.
The Jayhawks have won four in a row over the Sooners and lead the all-time series 155-69. Self’s team is a two-point favorite in this one according to KenPom, which gives Kansas a win probability of 58%.
No. 9 Kansas
G – Dajuan Harris Jr., 6-1, 175, Jr.
G – Kevin McCullar Jr., 6-6, 210, Sr.
G – Gradey Dick, 6-8, 205, Fr.
F – Jalen Wilson, 6-8, 225, Soph.
F – KJ Adams, 6-7, 225, Soph.
G – Grant Sherfield, 6-2, 201, Sr.
G – Milos Uzan, 6-3, 183, Fr.
F – Jalen Hill, 6-6, 218, Sr.
F – Jacob Groves, 6-9, 216, Sr.
F – Tanner Groves, 6-10, 235, Sr.