- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action.
No. 9 Kansas at No. 14 Oklahoma State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Kansas’ three-game losing streak in early February -- the one that temporarily blew its bandwagon into a ditch on the outskirts of Lawrence -- began with a flip. After his team had sealed the 85-80 victory Feb. 2 on a late layup, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart did a backflip at center court. And that’s not something Kansas players, coaches and fans have forgotten.
The image exemplified the vigor that the Cowboys have displayed since that upset, one that ended KU's 33-game winning streak at the Phog. That defeat launched a major slide for a Kansas squad that lost to TCU and Oklahoma in its next two games.
The Jayhawks have recovered in the polls, but they’re still fighting to earn a slice of their ninth consecutive Big 12 title. The winner of Wednesday’s game will enter into a first-place tie with Kansas State, a squad the Jayhawks already have swept this season.
Beyond the conference title implications, the game features two of America’s best freshmen. Ben McLemore (16.7 points per game) has soared up the NBA draft boards due to a series of phenomenal performances. Smart (15 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.9 spg) is a candidate for national player of the year honors.
Kansas wants payback for that first loss. That program hasn't lost twice to the same opponent in one season since 2001 -- and hasn't been swept by the Cowboys since the 1982-83 season. But will the Jayhawks get their revenge if they have more point guard problems? (Elijah Johnson went 3-for-14 and committed four turnovers in the first meeting.)
That strange funk appears to be in the past for Bill Self’s program, although the Jayhawks have lost their past two Big 12 road games. A convincing road win over a nationally ranked Cowboys team would leave little, if any, doubt about KU's potential on a national level. Yet the Jayhawks must overcome Oklahoma State’s home-court advantage and its defense (19th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy). The Pokes will need Markel Brown (28 points in the first matchup) to repeat his effort from the first game and not Oklahoma State’s past two home matchups (9-for-30 combined).
No. 22 Colorado State at UNLV, 10:15 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
Colorado State’s 66-61 win over UNLV on Jan. 19 sent a message to the rest of the league and the country about Larry Eustachy’s program. Two players -- Dorian Green (24 points) and Greg Smith (16 points) -- led CSU to a victory that has helped the Rams during their six-game winning streak. With a win, they’d remain atop the Mountain West with New Mexico.
The rematch in Las Vegas, however, could end with a different outcome. The Runnin’ Rebels have not lost to a Mountain West team at home this season. Colorado State has a tough anchor inside in Colton Iverson (13.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg), but the Runnin' Rebels are ranked 27th in adjusted defensive efficiency.
The Rams are a scrappy team (second in offensive rebounding rate, per Ken Pomeroy) that leads the Mountain West with 72.2 points per game despite shooting 33.7 percent from the 3-point line (fourth in the conference). During its win in the first meeting, Colorado State held UNLV standouts Khem Birch, Mike Moser and Anthony Bennett to 6-for-15 shooting from the field. But the Runnin’ Rebels lost by only five.
Can Colorado State neutralize UNLV’s frontcourt again? That seems to be the most critical question surrounding the matchup.