With an opportunity to clinch the Big 12 regular-season title on Saturday night, the Kansas Jayhawks figure to come out flying. They will have a difficult road test against a talented Oklahoma State squad, however.
Although things haven't gone as expected for the Cowboys with an awful 6-9 record in the conference, they can still play their way into the NCAA tournament by virtue of an 18-10 overall record. Oklahoma State very nearly knocked off Kansas in January on the road, and it won't go down without a fight at home.
There are obvious March Madness ramifications surrounding this contest, but perhaps the most exciting aspect of it is the opportunity to watch several potential NBA stars on one court.
The 2014 NBA draft class looks to be stacked, and a few players from this game figure to be part of it. Here are the biggest stars who will inevitably steal the show when Kansas and Oklahoma State engage in a Big 12 battle on Saturday night.
Kansas center Joel Embiid wasn't even the most-hyped freshman on his own team entering the season, but the 7-footer from Cameroon has enjoyed a fantastic campaign, and he may very well be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft should he choose to enter.
Embiid may not have the same all-around game as teammate Andrew Wiggins; however, he is a dominant big man who is capable of controlling the game on either end of the floor.
On the season, Embiid is averaging 11 points, eight rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, while being limited to just 23 minutes per contest. His production is insane when extrapolated over a full 40 minutes, and he always makes an impact when he's on the floor. In fact, Embiid has already managed to set Kansas' freshman single-season record for blocks with 63, according to Kansas Basketball on Twitter:
During Kansas' 80-78 win over Oklahoma State earlier in the season, Embiid was a force. It can be argued that it was Embiid's best game, as he set a career high in blocks with eight to go along with 13 points and 11 boards.
The Cowboys simply didn't have an answer for Embiid on the interior, and it's likely that the same will be true on Saturday. If Embiid turns in a similar performance, then OK State is in big trouble.
Had Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart entered the 2013 NBA draft, the belief is that he would have been the top pick or at least among the first few players taken off the board. Instead, he made the somewhat surprising to decision to return to school.
It was an admirable choice, but perhaps it was the wrong one, as the Cowboys have struggled, and Smart has been embroiled in controversy stemming from an incident that saw him push a Texas Tech fan last month.
With all of that said, however, Smart is actually more productive this year than last. His scoring average is up two points at 17.4 points per game, and he is also averaging 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.6 steals per contest as well.
Smart can do a little bit of everything on the court, and he proved that after returning from the fan-pushing related suspension. Smart stuffed the stat sheet against Texas Tech and became the first player in Big 12 history to produce such a diverse line.
To say that Smart's previous game against Kansas was disjointed would be an understatement, though. Smart ended up with 16 points and was a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line; however, he struggled from the floor.
Smart converted just three of his 14 field-goal attempts in that game, and it stands to reason that the Cowboys would have emerged victorious had he played up to his usual standards.
There is no doubt that Oklahoma State needs a huge game from Smart in order to upset the Jayhawks, and his level of play since returning from suspension suggests that he'll be up to the task.
He certainly had competition, but the case can be made that Kansas' Andrew Wiggins was the most talked about freshman in college basketball entering the season. There was a ton of pressure on him to perform right away, but he struggled a bit out of the gate.
Wiggins has been fantastic for the past month, though, and college basketball fans are finally starting to understand why he was so highly touted and tabbed as the top NBA draft prospect.
Wiggins has been the driving force behind Kansas' impressive run as of late, and redemption has been a big part of his game. After playing poorly in a Kansas loss to Texas earlier in the season, Wiggins helped the Jayhawks earn a dominant 85-54 win over the Longhorns on Feb. 22. According to the Associated Press, Wiggins wanted to right the wrongs that occurred in the first meeting.
"We wanted to come out aggressive," Wiggins said. "Last time we got embarrassed at their place. We wanted to do the same thing to them, win every minute of every possession."
If revenge is still fresh on Wiggins' mind, then Oklahoma State had better watch out. Wiggins had his worst game of the season against the Cowboys in January when he put up just three points and made one shot from the field. The Jayhawks were able to rally around Embiid and pick up the win, but that showing had to stick with Wiggins.
The Canadian star now has a ton of momentum and confidence on his side, and it is highly unlikely that we'll see another three-point performance on Saturday.
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