CCM - After dominating the Big XII for over a decade, Kansas sits in a three way tie at the top of the league. Are fans legitimately worried the Jayhawks will finally be dethroned?
RCT - I think the Kansas fans have been legitimately worried since the loss at Oklahoma State. Fatigue from the triple OT game against the Sooners was at least a plausible explanation for the loss to West Virginia, especially when combined with the fact the game was on the road and the high pressure style that the Mountaineers play. But when the Jayhawks got pasted by the Cowboys, a team that wasn't expected to be a contender for the conference title, it was easy to question just how well this team was going to be able to use their talent. There really appeared to be something off with the team, and adding in a third loss at Iowa State immediately dug a hole. And honestly, the Sooners and Mountaineers both looked so good that it was likely that at least one of them could keep the winning going. For the first time in a long time, Kansas wasn't really in control of their fate.
But then Kansas State did us a solid, taking advantage of a dip in the Sooners game, and we are starting to see signs of the typical Kansas run at the end of the season to close in on the conference lead. The main difference is that the entire conference is dangerous this year, so it is easy to see any of the top contenders slipping in the next few weeks. There aren't just a couple games that the race will hinge on, but an entire remaining slate of the conference.
CCM - Last time out, Frank Mason III showcased elite defensive skills through three overtimes. Does he draw the assignment of guarding Buddy Hield this go around?
RCT - I don't know that he will stay on Hield the entire time. He is probably still our best lockdown defender, but he seems to be suffering from fatigue a lot earlier in this season than in previous ones. Kansas has started to rotate multiple defenders to give a bit of a break to Frank and also to exploit different looks and matchups. There have been quite a few breakdowns, but the last couple games have shown Kansas to be getting back to their usual defensive ways. There is still a ways to go, but I would expect Frank to stick to Hield late in a close game.
CCM - When these two take the court, they'll bring with the two of the nation's premier three point shooting groups. Will 3-pointers decide this game or will it be another factor?
RCT - Three point shooting SHOULD be the main deciding factor, mainly because both teams are so good at it. But Bill Self seems reluctant to fully embrace the outside shooting prowess of this team. We've all heard the stories about the teams that live and die by the three and how well they actually do in the tournament, and Bill has been using the same system for years and having great success with it, so I'm not really that concerned by his unwillingness to adapt to the team, but it has been just a bit frustrating to see this team pass up so many open looks from the outside, especially when it was ending up with a guard driving right into three defenders in the lane and forcing up a wild shot that wouldn't fall. Now that the team is starting to see development of the inside-out game and some of the role players finally settling into their role, it's been a lot easier to remind ourselves that Self does indeed know what he is doing.
CCM - Perry Ellis has been absolutely dominant in his past five games. However, Landen Lucas has made a name for himself as of late. Talk about his evolution briefly.
RCT - Landen Lucas always seemed to be a bit of an enigma at Kansas. He was a talented player that came in with 5 other freshmen, including Perry Ellis, and ended up redshirting because he was the odd man out (and had super-talented Jeff Withey in front of him on the depth chart). After his redshirt, he ended up behind Jamari Traylor as the backup for starters Tarik Black and breakout sensation Joel Embiid. Basically, he was recruited as depth, and there was always going to be a question of whether he could develop enough to push past the talented freshmen coming in. As Self said this week, Lucas wasn't recruited to be a starter, but more as a program guy who had a chance to develop into a starter in his junior or senior season. What he has been able to do these past three years is to learn the system, work on his strength and prepare for when his veteran presence would be essential. Lucas finally appears to have put everything together, and the lack of development of incoming freshman Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo has given him the opening to pick up significant minutes. What has really changed is his aggressiveness on defense. In the past, he has been hesitant to go after shots as he couldn't seem to stay out of foul trouble. But he really stepped up that defense and easily got a career-high in blocks against West Virginia. Hopefully he can step up alongside Ellis and give us another complete player down low that we can rely on in big moments. He is probably going to be the X-factor in the game as he will likely draw the defensive duty on Ryan Spangler.
CCM - Finally, will this one go into overtime once again? And who wins it?
RCT - I'm having a hard time deciding on this one, as it appears that Kansas is hitting its stride and Oklahoma has been having some problems recently, but this is still the Big 12 and Oklahoma is still the home team. I think this game does live up to the hype, I'm expecting another close game at the end, and I wouldn't be surprised to see another overtime game. However, I think that Landen Lucas is able to shut down Spangler, Wayne Selden finds his stroke, Buddy Hield goes berserk yet again, but Kansas is able to hold off the late charge and steal back the lead in the conference. These are the types of games that college basketball games live for. Kansas 86, Oklahoma 85.