Buddy Hield will eventually receive just about every Player of the Year trophy ever created, but Devonte' Graham was the MVP of Saturday's game, a 76-72 road win for No. 6 Kansas over No. 3 Oklahoma.
For the most part, Round 2 of what is now unequivocally the best rivalry of this college basketball season went exactly as expected. In our preview of the sequel, we noted a lot of statistical trends over the past 10 games for each team that held true in game No. 11:
- Kansas was averaging 13.8 turnovers committed and 10.7 turnovers forced. Those numbers were 14 and 11, respectively.
- Oklahoma had an average rebounding margin of minus-0.8. The Sooners lost the battle of the glass 38-33.
- Wayne Selden was shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from beyond the arc. He was even worse than usual, scoring just six points on nine shots, including 1-of-5 from downtown.
- Hield was averaging 24.9 points per game and finished the day with 24.
- Even the pace (68 possessions) and point total (148) were right on par with expectations.
Given those parameters, Oklahoma should have won this home game in relatively convincing fashion.
What we couldn't forecast, though, was Graham having the best performance of his life on both ends of the floor.
Jon Rothstein @JonRothstein
KU's Devonte Graham was the best player on the floor today. And that includes the NPOY. Kid was beyond sensational. #kubball2/13/2016, 9:40:13 PM
After the first game, everyone praised Frank Mason III for the incredible job that he did on defense in limiting Hield to 46. That might sound crazy, but even Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters Hield could have gone for 60 if not for Mason's tireless effort.
Thus, it was a little weird to see Graham up in Hield's grill on the first defensive possession of the game—and pretty much every single possession thereafter. But he did a sensational job on defense against the prohibitive favorite for the Wooden Award.
Hield finished the game with 24 points and five made three-pointers, but he didn't make a single shot from the field in the first half. As Dan Patrick used to say on SportsCenter, "You can't stop him; you can only hope to contain him." And Graham contained him quite nicely.
Even when Hield was making buckets, they weren't for lack of effort from Graham. Two of his triples came off set plays involving multiple screens intended to free up Hield, and he still just barely got an inch of space with Graham hot on his tail. One came in transition off a Selden bricked three-pointer, and another came off an offensive rebound of a shot that Graham forced Hield to alter—neither of which can be blamed on Graham.
If he seemed like he was playing like a man on a mission, it's because he was.
"Just seeing all the stuff on ESPN about how we couldn't guard Buddy...I just took it personally," Graham told ESPN's Shannon Spake after the game.
Despite giving 110 percent effort to be Hield's shadow on defense, Graham was also Kansas' best offensive weapon by a country mile.
His previous career high was 22 points, and he needed all three overtimes in the first game to reach that total. He had never made more than three triples in a game. But Graham scored 27 points while shooting 6-of-9 from beyond the arc.
He should have been running on fumes by the end of the game, but he scored 13 of the Jayhawks' final 17 points and even had enough left in his legs to sink a pair of crucial free throws with 19 seconds remaining.
"You can't emphasize it enough: Devonte' Graham was the player of the game," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. "The man of the match. And when I say 'Man,' he was a man on both ends of the court. To accept the challenge of guarding Buddy Hield and then the challenge on the other end of leading the team on the offensive end? A magnificent performance by Devonte' Graham. Magnificent."
And because of that incredible effort from the sophomore who originally signed with Appalachian State, Kansas is the front-runner to win the Big 12 regular-season title for the 12th straight year.
So at least something makes sense in this crazy season.
Matt Norlander @MattNorlander
Kansas in the Big 12. https://t.co/GaIzlFKJkB2/13/2016, 9:37:40 PM
At the end of January, the Jayhawks were 5-3 in conference play and seemed to be struggling. They didn't just lose three straight road games. They lost by a double-digit margin in each one—including an unfathomable 19-point loss to Oklahoma State.
Meanwhile, Baylor, Oklahoma and West Virginia were all tied for first place at 6-2, and the Bears and Sooners still had home games remaining against Kansas.
Any other team would have been all but dead and buried, but this is Kansas and Bill Self we're talking about. The Jayhawks simply don't know how to finish anywhere other than first place in the Big 12.
If you're surprised that Kansas has won five straight, including three games against legitimate contenders for the national championship (Kentucky, West Virginia and Oklahoma), what have you been doing for the past decade?
Kansas is now tied for first place with West Virginia at 9-3 with shockingly similar schedules remaining:
|Remaining Big 12 Schedules|
|vs. Oklahoma State (Feb. 15)||at Oklahoma State (Feb. 27)|
|at Kansas State (Feb. 20)||vs. Oklahoma (Feb. 20)|
|at Baylor (Feb. 23)||at Baylor (March 5)|
|vs. Texas Tech (Feb. 27)||vs. Texas Tech (March 2)|
|at Texas (Feb. 29)||at Texas (Feb. 16)|
|vs. Iowa State (March 5)||vs. Iowa State (Feb. 22)|
The schedules seem to favor Kansas, but even if they were reversed, do you really want to bet against the Jayhawks in the Big 12?
For a while, it looked like this would finally be the year that their reign ended. Baylor started out hot. Texas has been on fire lately. Iowa State and West Virginia each beat Kansas and have looked elite while playing wildly different styles. Oklahoma is one of the favorites to win the national championship.
But this is just what Kansas does.
Maybe next year, Big 12 also-rans.
2016 still belongs to the Jayhawks.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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