The Oklahoma Sooners look to take down the Kansas Jayhawks for the first time since 2015, and Mike Plank of Rock Chalk Talk (follow them on Twitter!) is here to talk about the opponent.
The Jayhawks are atop the Big 12 standings, but they do seem a bit shakier than usual. Can most of that be chalked up to a lack of depth, or are there some other glaring issues that still need to be corrected?
Some people have tried to chalk up KU’s “struggles” to a lack of top-end talent. I’m not sure I’m sold on that - they guys they have are still really, really good, and were all highly rated coming out of high school. I would say most of KU’s issues can be traced back to depth, especially defensive breakdowns in the second half of games. Kansas has three players sitting out due to transfer rules this year, and a fourth transfer who would have been eligible this year (Jack Whitman) left KU after a week this summer. With top-15 recruit Billy Preston off to Europe, that leaves KU with just seven guys who see meaningful minutes, as Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe just can’t seem to gain Bill Self’s trust. Although, Silvio de Sousa is slowly being worked into games, and KU even ran some high-low for the first time all year on Saturday against Baylor. So perhaps by the end of February, KU will be able to go 8 or possibly even 9 deep if Cunliffe can work his way onto the floor.
Devonta’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk have been contributing for quite some time, and Udoka Azubuike has become a household name. Who else should OU fans know about?
There has been much consternation on RCT Twitter about comparing Malik Newman to Wayne Selden; however, the numbers bear out that the two players are indeed quite similar. Newman was a five-star talent who somehow ended up at Mississippi State, but made his way to Lawrence as a (yet another) transfer. But I would say that guy who is likely to surprise you is Mitch Lightfoot. Dude is tied for the team lead in blocks with Udoka Azubuike and is a high energy guy that the Jayhawks can count on off the bench should Doke find himself in foul trouble.
Speaking of Azubuike, what makes him such a special player (apart from his size)?
Oh, you mean Udunka Azubuckets? Well, he currently leads the nation in field goal percentage, but I suppose that’s due to his size, as a lot of his “shots” are dunks. He is getting better on the offensive end in terms of footwork and post moves, but he does still need to improve on getting position early in a possession, and not let defenders force him to set up farther away from the basket than he is comfortable. By the time Bill Self is done with him, he should be a pretty well-rounded post player.
I know the expectation is to win the Big 12 every season, but what are your expectations beyond that? How far can this team go in March?
With the way the roster is now, KU is one bad shooting night away from an early upset. Everything has to go right for the Jayhawks - Udoka has to stay out of foul trouble, and Graham/Svi/Newman need to hit their threes. And I suppose a lot of teams can say that, but Kansas fans are, historically, used to being able to get the ball inside and make something happen if shots aren’t falling. And sometimes, KU will fall back into the habit of driving into the lane and forcing things, often resulting in a turnover, when the current roster construction actually favors bombing away from behind the arc. The ceiling is still a Final Four run, but the floor is much lower this year - no one would be surprised with a Sweet 16 or second round exit.
How disappointed were Kansas fans when Trae Young chose to stay home? KU was still in the race for Trevon Duval at that point, but it seemed like Kansas fans were pretty set on Young. Also, were the fans surprised by the decision?
I’m not much of a recruitnik, but that was one player that I was really hoping Kansas would get. Self really wanted him, and with Frank Mason graduating, Young could have slid right in alongside Devonte Graham to make one of the best backcourts in the country. It’s hard to be surprised by a decision though, when a hometown kid sticks around to play college ball. Not so secretly, though, I just wanted revenge for OU football getting Amani Bledsoe out of Lawrence!
Who is the most beloved Kansas basketball player of all time?
Wow. Um. The easy answer is Danny Manning. For the younger fans, you could look at Kirk Hinrich or Mario Chalmers. Thomas Robinson is probably a dark horse candidate for this award, considering where he came from and what he went through his final (junior) year, with the multiple deaths in his family, including his mom passing, and the block to ice the comeback and save the final Border War game in Allen Fieldhouse.
Speaking of beloved Kansas basketball players, Nick Collison belongs to the state of Oklahoma now. Where does he rank on that list?
Ha! Collison is right up there... definitely top-10. His game against Texas is legendary in Kansas circles. He probably gets a bit of a bad rap for missing a bunch of free throws in the 2003 title game against Syracuse, though. But, “Nick and Kirk” are Kansas legends, and will forever be tied to each other. That happens when you take your team to back-to-back Final Fours.
Who is your favorite celebrity Kansas fan? There are some halfway-decent names to choose from.
Did you know Scott Bakula went to KU? So did Mandy Patinkin, of Inigo Montoya fame. My personal favorite is probably Paul Rudd, but Jason Sudekis or Rob Riggle are good choices as well.
Over/under for Kansas fans at the Lloyd Noble Center: 2,000. You taking the over or the under?
If I remember right, LNC holds a little under 12k? I’m not sure if Kansas will get close to 20% of the building or not. Or at least, they shouldn’t. Since it’s a mid-week game, I’ll take the under.
What’s your score prediction?
I have KU winning a surprisingly low-scoring affair, 75-73, but that’s predicated on the Jayhawks actually being able to play some defense on Trae Young. I put no stock in my prediction and have very little confidence in it. Young could easily hit 10-15 threes and it could be a blowout. But the Jayhawks have a knack for letting star players get theirs while shutting down the other guys and coming out with a W - Durant, Beasley, Hield all come to mind.
I think KU will win the regular season championship, but who will win the Big 12 Tournament now that Iowa State is having a down year?
Haha, those Cyclone fans sure are proud of their Big 12 rings, aren’t they? Fun fact: Kansas and Iowa State have combined to win 14 of the 21 Big 12 Tournament titles. Even funner fact: Of those 14, KU has won 10. I don’t think West Virginia’s style of play is sustainable for three nights in a row, so it will have to be a surprise team. I’ll hedge and say Texas Tech or TCU.