Oklahoma St.-Kansas Preview (Jan 14, 2017)

BY AP • January 13, 2017

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The forgotten man in a four-guard basketball lineup can be the pivot.

Then again, it could be that Landen Lucas is as recognizable as any of the starters No. 2 Kansas (15-1, 4-0 Big 12) puts on the court.

The senior is easily the tallest at 6-foot-10, and also been around the longest since this is his fifth year in the program.

After slumping earlier in the season when he was relegated to a bench role, Lucas is averaging a double-double (10.7 points, 10.7 rebounds) over the last seven games, contributing to first-place positioning in the Big 12 entering a game Saturday against Oklahoma State (10-6, 0-4) in Allen Fieldhouse.

"He's doing what he can do," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "He's a great defensive rebounder. He's an opportunistic offensive rebounder without question. Some of the best possessions we've had all year is because Landen has kept balls alive and stolen us some extra possessions."

Lucas' role certainly has changed inside. Fewer plays are run through the post, particularly without as much high-low action involving another big.

That has led Kansas to create new plays, or re-name other sets that it began using more often with the four-guard lineup.

"We definitely have more plays for it," Lucas said. "I mean before, last year we probably had one."

Despite the attention given to the offensive changeover, Lucas has become increasingly valuable. Some of that is based on experience and some based on the depth problem created by a season-ending wrist injury freshman center Udoka Azubuike suffered in December prior to the start of Big 12 play.

"Landen is hard to take out," Self said, "because (he's) such a good defender and rebounder. He's hard to take out, and he's smart too."

In addition, no one off the bench has provided much frontline punch to warrant keeping them on the floor for extended minutes.

The top reserve among the Kansas bigs is 6-10 sophomore Carlton Bragg. He is averaging fewer than 15 minutes and just 3.8 points in conference play. Problems catching the ball in the post have led to seven turnovers against Big 12 opponents.

"I don't think his hands are bad, but I just think he loses focus," Self said.

Under first-year coach Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State lost to only North Carolina and Maryland in nonconference play, but is winless in four Big 12 games.

The skid is the worst for Underwood since he took over as a Division I coach at Stephen F. Austin in 2013-14. He never dropped more than six games in a season during a three-year run in which Underwood went 89-14 with the Lumberjacks.

Sophomore Jawun Evans (18.4 ppg.) trails only Kansas senior Frank Mason (20.4) among the Big 12 scoring leaders. Both are point guards.

Evans, however, has struggled in Big 12 play, shooting just 31.1 percent while averaging 13.5 points. He averages 6.7 assists.

"He's maybe trying too hard," Underwood said of Evans, who missed the second half of Big 12 play last year with a shoulder injury. "He's got to learn to rely on his teammates more. I'm probably expecting too much of him. ...

"But he works at it. He'll get it turned around and we'll help him in those areas. He's too good of a player to struggle like he has. More importantly, it's keeping him on the court. It's hard to play when you're not in your rhythm from the jump."

Junior wing Jeffrey Carroll ranks third in the Big 12 with a 16.4-point average, while the Cowboys' 88.6 team average ranks second in the Big 12.

Oklahoma State was the last Big 12 rival to win in Allen Fieldhouse when Marcus Smart keyed an 85-80 win in 2013. Since then, the Jayhawks have won 34 consecutive conference games at home. Their overall home win streak (52, including 49 in Allen) is the longest active streak nationally.



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