Kansas-Iowa St. Preview
With a rapidly improving defense and freshman Kelly Oubre Jr. beginning to live up to his billing, Kansas is off to a strong start in its bid for an 11th straight Big 12 championship.
The ninth-ranked Jayhawks will have to overcome possibly their toughest competition for that title in order to stay unbeaten in conference play as they visit No. 11 Iowa State on Saturday night.
The Cyclones are 46-2 at Hilton Coliseum since Jan. 18, 2012, but both losses came to Kansas, which has won nine of its last 10 trips to Ames.
"The games up there have always been very competitive," Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. "It’s as good an atmosphere as we will play in this year."
Kansas (14-2, 3-0) was lackluster at times in non-conference play, losing 72-40 against top-ranked Kentucky and 77-52 to Temple. It is the only remaining unbeaten team in Big 12 play, however.
The Jayhawks haven’t been a particularly impressive offensive club, averaging 70.9 points, and shot 37.2 percent in Tuesday’s 67-57 win over No. 24 Oklahoma State. They held the Cowboys to 31.4 percent shooting, though, and have limited opponents to 36.1 percent and an average of 57.8 points during a five-game winning streak. They had previously given up 65.0 points per game on 42.1 percent shooting.
Self’s club has held teams to a Division I-low 32.4 percent on 2-point shots in conference play.
"I think our activity level has been way better," Self said. "… I think our help side guarding the ball has been better. I actually think we’ve done a better job of keeping the ball out of the paint and I think we’ve done a better job of blocking or contesting shots."
The highly touted Oubre, who had 14 points on five shots Tuesday, is averaging 13.6 points and shooting 51.6 percent while starting the last seven games. He started once in the previous nine, averaging 3.4 points on 34.8 percent shooting.
"Probably just playing time and seeing some good things happen," Self said. "Probably maybe me believing in him more, to be real candid, because maybe I didn’t trust as much early on, which probably affected him because he wasn’t performing well."
Oubre is also averaging team highs of 6.9 rebounds and 2.0 steals since becoming a starter, and he may need to play a major role defensively against a Cyclones team which leads the Big 12 in scoring (79.9 ppg) and field-goal percentage (48.8).
While Kansas’ win over Oklahoma State marked its first of four straight games against current Top 25 teams, this is the last in a similar stretch for Iowa State (12-3, 2-1). The first three were each decided by two points or fewer, with the Cyclones knocking off the Cowboys and No. 16 West Virginia before falling 74-73 at No. 22 Baylor on Wednesday.
Iowa State was outscored 16-1 at the start and trailed by 12 at halftime. The Cyclones still had a chance late after allowing the go-ahead jumper with 4.7 seconds left, but Georges Niang missed at the buzzer.
Coach Fred Hoiberg is hoping for a better start in a game that will have plenty of hype as the site of ESPN’s College GameDay.
"You have to come out of the locker room much better," Hoiberg said. "… I don’t know what the exact formula is for it, but I know our guys will be amped up. I’m confident our guys will respond."
Niang’s recent slump continued as he had 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting. He has averaged 11.5 points on 32.0 percent shooting after previously averaging 16.1 points and shooting 52.2 percent. He had 49 points in his last two games against the Jayhawks.
Kansas’ Perry Ellis is off to a similarly bad start in conference play, averaging 8.7 points on 34.8 percent shooting. The Jayhawks’ second leading scorer (12.2 ppg) has had 20-plus points in two of his last three meetings with Iowa State, however.