OSU's Marcus Smart vs. KU's Elijah Johnson
Analysis: If there's one hangup in the Jayhawks' bid to remain elite, it's the point guard spot, where Johnson has struggled to the point of being called out by KU coach Bill Self. In the first meeting, Johnson went 3-of-14 from the floor and committed four turnovers in the loss, prompting Self to say afterward: “We don't have a point guard.” Smart dominated that game — as he has many in OSU's seven-game winning streak. Sophomore Naadir Tharpe has been getting more exposure at the point, providing positive results. Still, this is a matchup the Cowboys can and must exploit.
OSU's Markel Brown vs. KU's Ben McLemore
Analysis: McLemore, along with OSU's Smart, is a front-runner for Big 12 Player of the Year. And there's mounting evidence that Brown deserves consideration, too. The Cowboys junior was the firestarter in Lawrence, providing early energy and confidence with a 3-point barrage. He finished with seven 3s and a game-high 28 points in OSU's win at Allen Fieldhouse. McLemore, a projected high NBA Draft pick, can take over games as a shooter or a slasher. He averages 16.7 points to Brown's 15.8 and is also a strong perimeter shooter.
OSU's Le'Bryan Nash vs. KU's Travis Releford
Analysis: Nash is coming off his best game of the season, a 26-point performance against Oklahoma that also featured his hard work on defense and around the basket. While the points aren't a necessity, the effort is against a fundamentally sound team like KU. Releford is a seasoned vet who provides steady production and leadership. He leads the Big 12 in field-goal percentage at 59.9 percent and has shot 71 percent or better in 11 games.
OSU's Michael Cobbins vs. OU's Kevin Young
Analysis: A senior getting his first opportunity at full-time duty, Young is an energetic forward who gives the Jayhawks solid work on the boards. He had 12 points and seven boards in the earlier loss to the Cowboys. Cobbins has been a valuable cog in OSU's streak — scoring, rebounding, defending and blocking shots. His eight points and eight rebounds were big in complementing the rest of the Cowboys in the win at KU.
OSU's Philip Jurick vs. KU's Jeff Withey
Analysis: Withey ranks among the nation's top centers and is a projected first-round draft pick. He can dominate games in the post, particularly on defense, where he's already the KU and Big 12 all-time blocked shots leader with 265. He's tied for second in the conference with nine double-doubles. Jurick isn't flashy, but he's fundamentally sound and has given other traditional big men troubles. And he helped contain Withey in the first meeting, when the KU center managed 11 points and eight boards.
OSU's Phil Forte vs. KU's Naadir Tharpe
Analysis: Tharpe's role has increased, and he's been a calming influence, handing out 13 assists with just two turnovers in the past three games. As a scorer, however, he's unreliable, shooting just 33.8 percent in conference play. Forte averages 11.4 points off the bench, mostly as a perimeter threat who stresses defenses and opens up opportunities for teammates. He was clutch down the stretch in Allen Fieldhouse, making critical free throws to keep the Cowboys ahead.
OSU's Kamari Murphy, Brian Williams and Kirby Gardner vs. KU's Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor
Analysis: Williams didn't play in the first game. He was held out as he was still gaining comfort in the system following offseason wrist surgery. He's progressing and should be more of a factor this time. Murphy is again providing quality minutes, and Gardner is good for giving Smart a rest. The Jayhawks are uncharacteristically thin. Beyond Tharpe, Ellis is the only KU reserve who averages double-digit minutes. An elite recruit, Ellis hasn't made a major impact as a freshman, averaging 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. Traylor is a bit player, but a bulky body at 6-8 and 220 pounds.
OSU's Travis Ford vs. KU's Bill Self
Analysis: Ford is in the conversation for Big 12 Coach of the Year, having guided a young team through some early conference rough patches to a seven-game winning streak and contention for the conference crown. Self, a five-time Big 12 Coach of the Year, has led the Jayhawks to eight straight Big 12 regular-season championships, a 290-57 record and the 2008 national championship.