Only three games remain in the 2020-21 regular season, but finally, the Bedlam series between the Oklahoma Sooners (14-6 overall, 9-5 Big 12) and Oklahoma State Cowboys (15-6, 8-6) tips off Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the Lloyd Noble Center.
Sporting the Big 12’s top two leading scorers in conference play, Austin Reaves (18.8 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game and 4.7 assists per game) and consensus top five pick Cade Cunningham (18.6 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game) will finally share the same basketball court. The two leaders will be playing for more than just bragging rights, as the Bedlam matchup carries huge implications on the seeding for the Big 12 Tournament.
A win means the Sooners could vault all the way to second in the Big 12 standings if other results across the league go their way on Saturday. A loss could cause OU to drop all the way to sixth, having to beat the Cowboys on Monday to avoid potentially playing on Day 1 of the conference tournament.
The matchup with Cunningham doesn’t add any extra fuel to the matchup, Reaves said during a video press conference on Thursday, as he just wants to do whatever it takes to win.
“It’s another basketball game and it’s another opportunity for everybody to go out there and prove theirselves, so everybody’s thinking the same way,” Reaves said. “At the end of the day, it really don’t matter how you play or whatever if you lose, so really winning is the main thing. And that’s what we’re focused on.”
The supporting cast has grown into the season for Oklahoma State.
Forward Kalib Boone has come on strong, averaging 9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, as well as Avery Anderson III sharing the load in the backcourt with Cunningham, adding 9.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. The higher level of play from the Cowboys’ supporting cast has propelled OSU to wins in four of its last five outings.
“They’re good. They do a lot of things well, Coach (Mike Boynton’s) done a great job,” Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said Thursday. “(Boynton’s) got a lot of weapons. Obviously, you know, (Cunningham’s) the center of a lot of it, but other really good players around him, so they’re good on both ends of the floor.
“They’re very, very active, they’re, you know, aggressive, playing with confidence, you know, rebounding the ball well. They do everything as a group. They do everything well, you know, they’re a good basketball team and I think they play with a lot of confidence.”
The Cowboy defense has settled in over the month of February, too. Throwing varying zone and man-to-man looks at opposing offenses, Oklahoma State has held opponents to 38.4 percent shooting from the field and 27.8 percent from deep over the past month, both below the Cowboys’ season average.
OSU’s added emphasis on defense could trouble the Sooners, who are coming off a poor shooting performance against Kansas State where their offense never looked settled. The Wildcats held Oklahoma to a dismal 39 percent shooting from the field, and allowed OU to sink just 4-of-20 attempts from 3.
Originally scheduled to play on Jan. 16 in Stillwater, a postponement due to COVID-19 protocols sets up an unlikely circumstance where the two teams don’t meet until the end of February. As a result, the two squads will play what is essentially a home-and-home series in consecutive contests for the first time since 2009.
“It’s kind of like the second preparation even though we haven’t played them before,” Kruger said. “That two or three days that we had in preparation a couple-three weeks ago, you know, made us more familiar at that time. And then I think when you watch games after that, you probably, a little bit, watch them a little bit different after having already prepared for (Oklahoma State).”
While the inevitable matchup of Cunningham versus standout Sooner defender Elijah Harkless will draw the interest of those watching, the Sooners’ team defense as a whole could tilt the game in OU’s favor. The Cowboys enter the game averaging 15.6 turnovers a game, the most in the Big 12. On the other end of the floor, Oklahoma surrenders a conference low 10.5 turnovers a contest.
The 241st edition of Bedlam basketball will be broadcast on ABC with broadcasting legend Dick Vitale on the call.