Oklahoma basketball: Sooners face must win against league-leading KU

NORMAN, OK - FEBRUARY 13: Landen Lucas
NORMAN, OK - FEBRUARY 13: Landen Lucas /

The men’s Oklahoma basketball season has reached a pivotal fork in the road, needing a must win over Kansas on Tuesday night to remain in the Big 12 championship race.

It helps some that the game will be played at OU’s Lloyd Noble Center, where the Sooners have won 12 in a row, dating back to last season, and are 9-0 this season. Five times this season, Oklahoma, the second-highest scoring team in the nation (91.6 points a game), has gone over the century mark when playing at home. OU is averaging 98.8 points at home this season and a winning margin of 19.8 points.

In the last six season under head coach Lon Kruger, the Sooners are 70-14 at Lloyd Noble Center, where Tuesday night’s national TV game is a sellout.

As successful as Oklahoma has been at home over a number of seasons, going back to the Big Eight years under the legendary Billy Tubbs, Kansas (16-3, 6-1) is the only team that owns a winning record over the Sooners in their own building. The nation’s fifth-ranked team and 13-time defending Big 12 champions are 146-66 all-time against Oklahoma and 50-42 in games played in Norman, including three of the last five.

The Tuesday showdown features a matchup between two of the best point guards in the county in Oklahoma’s sensational freshman Trae Young and Kansas senior Devonte Graham, the top two scorers in the Big 12. Only Young’s nation-best 30.5 scoring average is 18 points better than Graham, who is averaging 18.1 per contest.

You can expect Kansas to apply a lot of ball pressure on Young, similar to the game plan used by Kansas State and West Virginia to take him out of his game and force him to give the ball up or take contested shots. If the Sooners are going to beat Kansas, they are going to have to give Young more help on the offensive end and play much better defense than they have in losing three of their last five games.

The Sooners already have victories this season over five ranked teams. That ties them with Texas Tech for the most in the country.

Oklahoma is 12-1 under Kruger in games played in Norman against teams ranked in the top 25. The one loss was to Kansas in 2016, when the Jayhawks prevailed 76-72 over Buddy Hield and Company. That was the same season in which these same two teams battled to a triple overtime, 109-106 victory at Kansas, a game in which Hield scored a career-high 46 points.

A couple of other notable numbers to keep in mind in this game: The Sooners are 7-0 this season when they shoot better than 50 percent and/or collects 20 or more assists.

Game prediction: This is a game between two teams that lately are headed in opposite directions. The Sooners are struggling to get offensive rhythm and production from anyone not named Trae Young. They are creating too many turnovers and and their defensive effort has been lacking greatly. Kansas, on the other hand, is playing more complete basketball and not relying so much on perimeter shooting. The Jayhawks are playing more complete basketball and are getting good ball movement, highly characteristic of a Bill Self team, and attacking the basket more.

Despite this, I’m sensing a breakout game at home from the Sooners. Both teams are capable of putting up plenty of points, but I don’t necessarily see this as a quick-paced, high-scoring, run-and-shoot affair. I think the game will be relatively close, although expect scoring runs by both teams. The team that gets to 80 first will win this game.

Oklahoma 84, Kansas 79