Kansas, Oklahoma poised for possible 1-2 matchup in Lawrence
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - There is a nice bit of symmetry to the fact that Kansas and Oklahoma are meeting Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse as the top two teams in the country.
That's because they were also 1-2 the last time their league had such a matchup.
Of course, those were the days of the old Big Eight, before the Big 12 expanded to 12 - and then became 10. It happened in the conference tournament semifinals at Kansas City's Kemper Arena, when the top-ranked Sooners ran roughshod over the second-ranked Jayhawks on their way to the title.
This time, Kansas is No. 1 and Oklahoma No. 2 after both moved up a notch in the Top 25 this week. Previous No. 1 Michigan State lost to Iowa on Saturday and dropped to fifth.
''It's going to be fun,'' Sooners star Buddy Hield said.
The matchup comes just three days into the conference schedule. The Jayhawks blew out then-No. 23 Baylor 102-74 on Saturday while the Sooners rallied past then-No. 11 Iowa State 87-83, setting up the 1-2 matchup.
Kansas (12-1) has not lost since blowing a lead against the Spartans in the Champions Classic in Chicago in mid-November. The Sooners (12-0) are off to their best start in 28 years.
The two teams couldn't be more similar, starting with their experience.
The Jayhawks return most of their core from last season, led by high-scoring guard Wayne Selden and steady Perry Ellis, making them one of Bill Self's most experienced teams.
Oklahoma has four players - Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler - that have each started the last 80 games. Khadeem Lattin gives the Sooners's top five 332 combined starts.
Then there's their composition.
The Jayhawks have become a backcourt-oriented team that starts two point guards in Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham. They're shooting 46 percent from the 3-point line, second best in the NCAA, and are averaging 88.3 points, trailing only The Citadel and Duke.
The Sooners likewise have a pair of exceptional ball-handlers in Cousins and Woodard. Throw in Hield and Oklahoma has a backcourt trio that is a big reason the Sooners are shooting 45.3 percent from 3, a notch behind Kansas, and averaging 87 points - sixth-best nationally.
''I've seen them play a couple of times. I watch their guards and stuff,'' Graham said. ''They're aggressive, just like we are. They can knock down open shots. Good one-on-one players. We have to keep them out of the paint, just like we have to keep them out of the paint.''
The last meeting between No. 1 and No. 2 occurred on Nov. 12, 2013, when Michigan State knocked off Kentucky in Chicago. But there have only been five such meetings since the turn of the century, and one of those was the 2005 national title game when North Carolina beat Illinois.
Even rarer is a 1-2 matchup at Allen Fieldhouse.
The storied building has bathed in such a spotlight only once, when second-ranked Missouri beat No. 1 Kansas 77-71 on Feb. 13, 1990. Self was a young assistant at Oklahoma State at the time, and the Jayhawks would go on to lose to the Sooners in that other 1-2 matchup a few weeks later.
''What could be really cool, it doesn't happen often, is where 1 plays 1,'' Self said, alluding to the fact that Kansas may top the AP poll and Oklahoma may lead the coaches' poll. ''I think that makes for a pretty interesting story line.''