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Oklahoma State’s Smart, KU’s Wiggins lend intrigue to Big 12 battle

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at 10:53 p.m.

No. 9 Oklahoma State at No. 15 Kansas

When: 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence

Records: OSU 15-2, 3-1 Big 12; KU 12-4, 3-0

Radio: KFH, 1240-AM, 98.7-FM

TV: KWCH, Ch. 12

No. 9 Oklahoma State at No. 15 Kansas

POklahoma StateHt.Yr.PtsReb
FKamari Murphy6-8So.5.95.9
GLe’Bryan Nash6-7Jr.13.55.9
GBrian Williams6-5Jr.8.43.8
GMarkel Brown6-3Sr.16.65.2
GMarcus Smart6-4So.17.95.5

PKansasHt.Yr.PtsReb.
FPerry Ellis6-8So.13.36.7
CJoel Embiid7-0Fr.10.97.4
GAndrew Wiggins6-8Fr.15.86.3
GWayne Selden6-5Fr.10.32.8
GNaadir Tharpe5-11Jr.9.02.5

Oklahoma State (15-2, 3-1): In the preseason, the Cowboys were picked with Kansas as Big 12 co-favorites. But nobody expected Oklahoma State to lose big man Michael Cobbins to a torn Achilles tendon in late December. Led by Smart, the guard-heavy Cowboys are 3-1 since Cobbins’ injury, the only loss coming at Kansas State. Murphy has filled in nicely for Cobbins, but the injury certainly makes the Cowboys thin up front. Will they be able to contain Embiid? Oklahoma State certainly has enough offense to match up. The Cowboys are in the top 50 nationally in three-point shooting (39 percent) and rank in the top 20 inside the three-point line (54 percent). As a result, Oklahoma State ranks sixth in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.

Kansas (12-4, 3-0): Kansas didn’t have much confidence while suffering through four nonconference losses. That changed on Monday at Iowa State, when the Jayhawks handled a top 10 team in a hostile road environment. “I think we needed the confidence,” KU coach Bill Self said. So here comes Kansas, 3-0 in the Big 12 with No. 9 Oklahoma State returning to Allen Fieldhouse for the first time since the Cowboys’ victory in the Phog last year. One difference this year: Kansas has Embiid, who dominated a smaller Iowa State frontcourt with 16 points and five blocks. He is averaging 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in 22 minutes per game. And his potential appears to be growing by the day. “I think that Joel has a chance to be an NBA All-Star,” Self said this week. … Tharpe is also trending upward, averaging 14.6 points and 5.3 assists in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks will play host to No. 12 Baylor on Monday.

RPIs as of Friday: OSU 11, KU 1.

— One of the more intriguing college basketball rivalries involves a perfectly executed back flip, an egregiously short tie and a basketball game on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.

So let’s get everybody up to speed on the characters.

Character 1: The Backflipper. Otherwise known as Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart. You remember Smart’s first trip to Allen Fieldhouse, right? It was late last February. No. 2 Kansas had won 33 straight at home. And Smart celebrated an 85-80 upset with a back flip on James Naismith Court.

One year later, as the Back flipper leads No. 10 Oklahoma State back into the Phog to face No. 15 Kansas at 3 p.m. on Saturday, the aftershocks of last year’s upset can still be felt in Lawrence.

“I don’t have any comment on it,” said KU freshman Wayne Selden, who copped to watching last year’s game on television.

“I thought it was beautiful form,” KU coach Bill Self said. “I thought he tucked just at the right time and got full extension.”

Character 2: The Freshman. Otherwise known as Andrew Wiggins, the 6-foot-8 swingman who was supposed to challenge Smart for the title of Big 12’s best player.

On an early morning in October, Wiggins arrived at Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City wearing an orange dress shirt and a black tie about six inches too short. Oklahoma State and Kansas had been voted as Big 12 co-favorites in the preseason coaches poll. And Smart, perhaps the biggest threat to KU’s streak of nine straight league titles, delivered some direct and honest thoughts on the hype surrounding Wiggins.

“He puts his shorts on one leg at a time like me,” Smart said.

A few days earlier, he’d opened up more to USA Today:

“They are saying he is the best college player there is, and he has not even played a game yet,” Smart said. “Of course that hypes me up. It is all talk.”

If the comments irked Wiggins, he gave no indication this week.

“When someone says something,” Wiggins said, “and I don’t really care for the person, he doesn’t influence me or nothing like that, it doesn’t really matter what he says, unless you’re like my parents or my family, my friends.”

So this is the prologue, the rising action before Saturday’s climax. A supremely confident point guard. A talented freshman beginning to find his voice. And a surging Kansas team looking to avenge last season’s loss.

“They came here last year, and then won,” Wiggins said. “So we got to come up with the ‘W’ this time.”

With a victory on Saturday, Kansas, 12-4 and 3-0 in the Big 12, can move two games ahead of Oklahoma State, 15-2 and 3-1, which opened Big 12 play with a loss at Kansas State.

This is college basketball at its best, and part of the reason Wiggins chose to attend Kansas. His first couple months on campus included the usual doses of freshman suffering, of course, and Wiggins was left to learn the hard way. The Jayhawks lost four times before the Big 12 season. And Wiggins battled through a six-game stretch where he averaged 13.2 points and shot 33 percent from the floor.

Wiggins says he was just learning, growing by the day. He just needed calm.

“He’s learning how to impact the game more ways as he’s moving forward,” Self said. “He’s just young.”

In his last two games, Wiggins has began to show signs of that calm. He scored 13 straight points in the second half of a dominating victory over K-State, and he scored 17 points and grabbed 19 rebounds inside an angry and intimidating Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State.

In all, Wiggins is now averaging 20.2 points per game against ranked teams, his best performances coming on the biggest stages.

“People get hung up on overall stats,” Self said. “I think if you were going to ask NBA people, they’d want to see how they played when they played against the best competition and the best teams.”

Wiggins says he expects to guard Smart for stretches on Saturday. So on Thursday afternoon, two days before the Freshman was to face the Back flipper, a reporter asked Wiggins he’d seen the flip.

“Yeah,” Wiggins said. “I didn’t think nothing of it.”

Why?

“I can’t do it.”

Reach Rustin Dodd at rdodd@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.

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