The Oklahoma Sooners are riding a 19-game home winning streak but to push it to 20 they are going to have to put together their best performance of the season. Don't let the 5 losses on the Kansas schedule fool you. This is a team that averages nearly 50% from the floor among their players who receive six minutes of playing time or more. They have three players shooting over 50% from the floor and one who shoots over 60%. More importantly Kansas is the three-time defending Big 12 Basketball Champion and like OU in football they are the Crown of the Conference until someone knocks them off.
Until Saturday night Oklahoma seemed poised to be the team to do that but a freak injury to Blake Griffin may have derailed the momentum train that OU had rolling. The Sooners are still in charge of their own destiny but now there is little room for error and much doubt as to whether Oklahoma's double-double machine will even play. With Blake in the game you have to favor the Sooners but without him the task of defending the home court becomes very tall.
OU didn't lose to Texas because point production dropped off. Willie Warren was more than capable of picking up the slack and with all due respect to AJ Abrams, Warren was the best player on the court. Oklahoma lost Saturday night because of rebounding (particularly during the last six minutes) and points in the paint. Those are usually two areas that the Sooners dominate in with Blake Griffin in the game. However, without him Saturday night OU lost the rebounding battle which meant they also lost5 opportunities for second chance points. His absence in the lane also felt defensively where Longhorn guards and post players were able to go uncontested to the basket several times.
Kansas is a much better shooting team than Texas is and also average almost 40 rebounds per game. Oklahoma needs a warrior in there to go toe-to-toe with Cole Aldrich and company. Aldrich is averaging over 10 boards per contest and leads the Jayhawks in shooting percentage with 61.8%. If Blake isn't ready to go the word on the street is that it will be Ryan Wright getting the start and not Juan Pattillo. Wright may not be able to provide the offensive production that Pattillo would give but gauging from Saturday night's performance he may provide a better defensive presence which will be needed even more because Warren, Austin Johnson and Tony Crocker would be called on provide extra points.
The way the league standing are shaking out this is a must win game for Oklahoma. Big 12 Conference regular season championship dreams live and die here. A loss would all but guarantee that the best Oklahoma could do is enter the conference tournament with the #2 seed. After tonight Kansas only has two big games left (Missouri/Texas) and both of those are at home. It is imperative that OU get a tie breaker advantage over the Jayhawks because there is no way that Kansas is going to lose two more games after tonight.
With a win Oklahoma could still win the Big 12 regular season even should they lose down the road at Missouri. The reason why is that OU would have the tie breaker over Kansas via the head-to-head result and I don't see Missouri winning at Kansas. Everything hinges on this game tonight and losing a star player doesn't diminish the significance of that.
Update: Word coming out of Norman this afternoon is that Blake Griffin will not play tonight.