There was a lot to dive into after Kansas knocked off Oklahoma 109-106 in triple overtime on Monday night. We talked about the game itself and the controversial call at the end already. Here are the three things that we can take away from the game moving forward:
1. Buddy Hield may very well be the National Player of the Year favorite after his performance: I mean, the guy entered the night averaging 24.7 points and shooting 49.2 percent from three for a team that was ranked No. 1 in the country in the Coaches Poll and was undefeated in January. He already was deservedly in the conversation, which is why we had him ranked third in our Player of the Year Power Rankings for a couple weeks now. But after this? He went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and torched the Jayhawks for 46 points, eight boards and seven assists on 13-for-23 shooting from the floor and 8-for-15 from beyond the arc on a night where the consensus (rightfully) was that Kansas played him well defensively. To put it another way, Brice Johnson had 39 points, 23 boards, three steals and three blocks at Florida State tonight and I’d argue that Hield’s performance was far more impressive.
In fact, when you factor in the locale, the opponent, the defense that was being played and the moment that it came in, I’m not sure I can remember the last time that I’ve seen a more impressive individual performance than this. Bill Self has led Kansas to 11 straight Big 12 regular season titles and he’s lost nine times in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Scott Drew, who has built a good basketball program at Baylor out of the rubble that was left by Dave Bliss, has lost nine times at Phog Allen in his 12-year tenure with the Bears. Oklahoma hasn’t won in Phog Allen in Hield’s lifetime.
And yet, if Khadeem Lattin makes a free throw at the end of regulation, Oklahoma would have won this game.
That’s how well Hield played.
While I’m not yet convinced that Hield is now the Player of the Year frontrunner just yet — my POY Power Rankings come out tomorrow — I wouldn’t necessarily argue with anyone that put him there.
Not right now.
2. We can’t doubt Oklahoma as a contender anymore: What was the knock on this Oklahoma team this season? They didn’t really have a four-man that they could trust? I’m not sure that story line is really a thing anymore, not after the way Lattin played. I know he missed that free throw at the end of regulation, but he finished the night with 10 points, 14 boards, six blocks and a pair of assists in 39 minutes. He was terrific, and played like a guy Oklahoma can rely on as Ryan Spangler’s front court counterpart.
Spangler isn’t a guy I would define as a ‘Land Warrior’, but his game isn’t built on explosiveness or athleticism. He’s strong and he’s physical, but offensively, what he’s most effective at is spacing the floor. He can set brutal ball-screens and his ability to knock down threes makes him a nightmare in pick-and-pop actions. He’s currently shooting better than 45 percent from beyond the arc this season. I say all that to say this: With the talent Lon Kruger has in his back court this season — Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard flanking Hield — Oklahoma can play four around one and not have to worry about having a low-post scorer all that much. Their guards are that good at playmaking. What Lattin provides — or at least provided on Monday night — was energy on the glass, a shot-blocking presence defensively and a guy that could finish off dump-offs and lobs at the rim.
I’m not expecting 10, 14 and six from him on a nightly basis, but that kind of effort level and production ceiling is a great sign for this group.
3. But the Big 12 still runs through Lawrence: That ain’t changing until someone makes it change, and Oklahoma came very close to doing in on Monday. The way to win a regular season conference title, particularly in a league with a double round-robin like the Big 12, is to defend your home court against everyone and to pick off enough opponents on the road that you finish atop the standings. As I wrote earlier, Kansas simply doesn’t lose games at home, and while they may end up losing four or five games on the road in a given season, they have a margin for error because … no one beats them in the Phog.
Oklahoma had the chance on Monday. They missed out on it, and now we’re looking at a situation where Kansas is, once against, in driver’s seat in the league title race.