By Rustin Dodd
As we wait for No. 5 Kansas to tip off against Oklahoma on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence (8 p.m. on ESPN), here are five things to know about the matchup:
1. Where does Kansas’ Big 12 title streak rank?
With a victory tonight against Oklahoma, Kansas can clinch its 10th straight Big 12 championship. The streak, according to the NCAA record book, would be tied for the third longest conference title streak in history.
13, UCLA, Pac-8/10, 1967-79
11, Gonzaga, WCC, 2001-11
10, Connecticut, Yankee, 1951-60
10, UNLV, Big West, 1983-92
9, Kansas, Big 12, 2004-
9, Idaho St., Rocky Mtn., 1953-61
9, Kentucky, SEC, 1944-52
2. Wiggins and awards
Andrew Wiggins is building a compelling case for Big 12 player of the year honors. Before we get to that, here are two quick caveats: 1. There are still four games left in the Big 12 season — that’s 22 percent of the conference slate — so it may be a little early to discuss postseason honors. 2. You could argue that freshman center Joel Embiid has been Kansas’ most important/dominating player for stretches, but foul trouble and injuries have limited his minutes. (He’s averaging just 22.6 per game and missed Kansas’ home victory against TCU.)
But for now, here are some of the most convincing arguments for Wiggins:
He’s the most productive player on a top-five team that will likely win the Big 12 by multiple games. And …
Using Ken Pomeroy’s player-of-the-year metric, Wiggins has been the most valuable player in the conference. After Saturday’s victory over Texas, Wiggins is averaging 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. The offensive numbers aren’t gaudy, but …
He’s the best rebounder from the guard position that Self has had at Kansas, pulling down 8.4 percent of available offensive rebounds when he’s on the floor. So yeah …
His offensive numbers could be slightly more efficient. He’s hitting just 49 percent from inside the three-point line, a fine clip but a shade below some of the top players in the country. (Doug McDermott is making 55 percent, while Duke’s Jabari Parker is at 51 percent. And both of those players are carrying a bigger offensive load.). But Wiggins’ two-way ability — he often guards the best scorer on the opposing team — had made up for some of the offensive struggles.
The Big 12 has some other solid candidates; DeAndre Kane might be the most complete guard; Melvin Ejim is probably the best scorer; and Juwan Staten might carry West Virginia back to the NCAA Tournament. But as Baylor coach Scott Drew said on the Big 12 teleconference on Monday, “To the victors go the spoils.”
That might be what separates Wiggins.
3. Oklahoma’s offense
Sophomore forward Ryan Spangler doesn’t shoot as much as Cam Clark or Buddy Hield, but Spangler is by far the Sooners’ most efficient offensive player. A transfer from Gonzaga, Spangler is shooting 62.5 percent from inside the three-point line.
Spangler battled foul trouble in Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas in Norman, scoring just four points on two-of-three-shooting in 23 minutes. So if Oklahoma wants to hang with KU inside Allen Fieldhouse, Spangler will need to supply some more offense in the frontcourt.
4. Defensive test
For a Kansas team that is trying to take another step on defense before March, Oklahoma should provide an intriguing test. The Sooners, which entered Monday ranked 12th nationally in offensive efficiency, will probably be the best offense Kansas sees until the NCAA Tournament. (West Virginia, 15th in offensive efficiency, might also have an argument). Oklahoma can shoot it from the outside (the Sooners score nearly 30 percent of their points on threes) and sophomore guard Buddy Hield (70 for 182 on threes) can clip off a lot of them.
5. Tharpe’s shooting
Naadir Tharpe is suddenly in a shooting slump. Perhaps that’s all it is, but the junior guard is still just two of 19 in his last three games — all KU victories. He’s also hit one of 13 from three-point range during the same span. Before the season, Kansas coach Bill Self said Naadir Tharpe had to be the Jayhawks’ most valuable player. But during the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks may need his outside shooting just as much as his intangibles.
Tharpe, before his shooting skid, has been the Jayhawks’ most reliable outside shooting. If he isn’t making shots, Kansas can struggle to find offense from three. In a one-and-done tourney, a cold shooting night could doom KU.