The Oklahoma Sooners have started conference play with two consecutive wins over ranked opponents. Looking to stir up the Big XII with the possibility of winning it all, the program must focus in on each possession. As the quest for a championship continues, the Kansas St. Wildcats come to town. It's time they #TakeNotice. TheBigE from Bring On The Cats joined me to give us the scoop.
CCM - Under Frank Martin, the Kansas St. Wildcats remained one of the most physical teams in the Big XII. Now, Bruce Weber enters a third year as the head coach at K-State with a majority of the roster composed of players he recruited. Has the element of physicality suffered under the "new" direction in your opinion?
TheBigE - In my opinion, and in the opinion of many others, one word comes to mind: soft. Its absolutely a different environment; in fact, it's a swing of the pendulum to almost the entirely opposite end. If there was one thing Frank instilled in his players, it was an unbreakable toughness, both mentally and physically...unrelenting. One of the reasons I think Weber had as much success as he did his first two seasons at K-State was from his ability to combine the gameplan and schematic areas he excels at with the residual toughness from Frank's tenure. Now that Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson are the only two left from Martin's recruiting, you just don't see that toughness through the rest of the team. They don't defend as well, they don't rebound as well - both areas where toughness can lead to success.
CCM - Against Oklahoma St., the decision to bench star guard Marcus Foster was made. The sophomore responded with a 23 point performance against TCU days later as the Wildcats earned their first win of the new year. Did Foster simply need a bit of motivation?
TBE - Foster lost a spark. He played the entire season last year with a chip on his shoulder, because he felt slighted through the recruiting process. He fed off that, and looked to take it to every single opponent. He's played this season without that chip, without that attitude, without that aggressiveness. He's looked to be more of a shooter and less of a scorer. Speculating, but his invitation to the LeBron Academy this summer brewed some entitlement. He started a stretch after the Arizona loss in Maui where he wasn't playing well, the team was playing poorly, and we were losing games. Pressure mounts, and he didn't deal with it well. Foster isn't out of the doghouse completely yet, but his performance against TCU was more reminiscent of last year's Marcus, and showed he may be getting his head screwed back on straight.
CCM - The Sooners have steadily improved on the defensive end of the court and have not allowed an opponent to eclipse the 70-point mark. Do the Wildcats have the fire power to pull off an upset on the road?
TBE - Very doubtful, but not out of the realm of possibility. This same K-State team was able to play with Arizona on a neutral court for basically 40 minutes within one possession, and were able to mostly take care of Texas A&M (let them close back in late), so the capability is there to be competitive with better teams. Ultimately, though, this team is trying to rebuild their psyche right now and establish some level of consistency, so a road trip against a relatively elite team in Oklahoma is not what they need. If Oklahoma sleepwalks this one, the upset is possible. If the Sooners come out and play like they did against Texas, and very well could be a 20+ point rout. If there's anything that gives me hope, its that Oklahoma isn't crazy-good on offense, because our defense is barely passable at its best. But the Sooner defense is exceptional, and we've been having difficulty scoring.
CCM - At K-State makes the journey to Norman, Oklahoma, which player (outside of Foster) could have the biggest impact on the outcome of the game?
TBE - The obvious answer would be Thomas Gipson, and how effective he can be on the offensive end as well as slowing down TaShawn Thomas on the inside and keeping Ryan Spangler off the glass. But, I'm going to go a different direction, and say the biggest impact position for K-State in this game is point guard play. The combination of Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson run our point, and neither is exceptional by any means. We've got to take care of the ball and keep our offense moving on the offensive end of the floor, as well as be able to step out and defend dribble penetration by the three Oklahoma guards to have any shot in this game. I think that Nino Williams and Gipson can neutralize Thomas and Spangler to a certain level, but if our guards get beat off the perimeter, we're in for a long night.
CCM - Give us your score prediction.
TBE - Sooners win by 15. Too many OU weapons, too many OU horses, and not enough consistency on our end. I think we'll ugly the game up enough to keep it from getting too far out of hand, but the end of the benches get to play the last 90 seconds.