By Randy Rosetta
Inspin.com/WagerWeb.com Contributing Writer
It’s a little early to call the Oklahoma State-Kansas game tonight the most important of the Big 12 season, but it’s hard not to place a lot of weight on the early-season showdown at 9 p.m. EST Wednesday night in Lawrence, Kan.
The Cowboys come in ranked ninth nationally, while the Jayhawks are No. 6. KU has ticked off seven wins in a row and is expected to be the team to beat in the Big 12. OSU was somewhat of a mystery before the season began but has re-emerged on the national scene.
The heart of this battle seems to come down to how the Cowboys’ high-octane attack will stack up against the Jayhawks' stifling defense.
OSU comes in averaging 84.9 points a game (second in the league), with the Big 12’s best 1-2 punch in senior Mario Boggan and junior JamesOn Curry. Boggan stands second in the league with 21.9 points a game, while Curry is fifth at 18.9. Those two have scored 20 points or more each in a game six times this year, including Saturday when Boggan logged 26 and Curry 20 as Oklahoma State began league play by holding off Baylor 81-77.
Kansas, meanwhile, is using defense and balance to plow past opponents. The Jayhawks have held 21 consecutive opponents below 50 percent shooting, and nine foes have failed to crack 40 percent this season. KU is the Big 12’s top shot-blocking unit with 108 and ranks second with 9.2 steals per game. The Jayhawks have also forced 20 turnovers or more five times this season.
Defending Kansas is a challenge for opponents because the Jayhawks have a bevy of different weapons. In fact, five different players lead KU in a statistical category this season – Brandon Rush is the leading scorer (13.3 ppg), Julian Wright is the top rebounder (8 rpg), Russell Robinson is the Jayhawks’ assists leader (71), Mario Chalmers’ 43 steals top the team, and Darrell Arthur paces the club with 32 blocked shots.
Chalmers has been an offensive spark lately, averaging 18.7 points over his last four games.
KU is an 8.5-point favorite on WagerWeb.com.
MISSOURI at TEXAS (8 p.m. EST Wednesday): Though a little less out of the spotlight than Oklahoma State-Kansas, this game looms large in the first wave of league play because Missouri’s frenetic style could pose problems for the youthful Longhorns. The Tigers have lost eight games in a row to Texas and are 8.5-point underdogs on WagerWeb.com. Don’t bet against Mizzou giving the ’Horns trouble, though. Missouri leads the Big 12 and ranks second nationally with 12.1 steals a game and can match up with UT at most spots on the floor. Two players who might actually give the Tigers an edge are 3-point marksman Matt Lawrence and unheralded forward Marshall Brown. Lawrence is one of the country’s top perimeter shooters, hitting 54.5 percent (61 of 112) from beyond the arc this season. He has been particularly damaging over the last three games when he has knocked down 13-of-20 3s and scored 51 points. Brown, an Austin native, is coming off a season-high 19-point, 6-rebound performance in a 66-65 loss to Iowa State. Freshmen and a sophomore continue to lead the Longhorns, who blazed past Colorado 102-78 in their Big 12 opener. Kevin Durant is the Big 12’s top scorer and rebounder (22.6 points, 10 boards per game), while first-year teammate D.J. Augustin leads the league with 6.6 assists per contest. UT sophomore A.J. Abrams could go toe-to-toe with Lawrence from 3-point range. Abrams is 54-of-126 from long distance – the most makes and attempts in the Big 12.
NEBRASKA at IOWA STATE (8 p.m. EST Wednesday): The Cyclones came back to stun Missouri 66-65 Saturday in the Big 12 opener. Iowa State overcame a 16-point second-half deficit as freshman Wesley Johnson tipped in a missed 3-pointer with 1.4 second left. Johnson scored the Cyclones' last four points in the closing 11 seconds and finished with 14 – 12 in the second half to fuel ISU’s rally. He also grabbed 13 rebounds and has corralled 37 caroms the last three games. Nebraska is the last team to open Big 12 play and comes in loaded with confidence after going 11-3 in non-conference play, the Cornhuskers' best start since 1994-95. Nebraska has hung up 80 points or more in its last seven games with Australian big man Aleks Maric leading the way with 18.1 points a game. Maric is the league’s top shooter (90-of-141, 63.8 percent) and also ranks sixth in the Big 12 with 7.5 rebounds per game. The Cyclones are 1-point favorites on WagerWeb.com.
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