No. 11 Kansas to open Big 12 tourney play vs. No. 25 Oklahoma

Kansas Jayhawks

David McCormack has been a big key to No. 11 Kansas’ resurgence of late.

During the Jayhawks’ 7-1 finish to leap into a second-place finish in the Big 12, McCormack averaged 15.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and two assists as coach Bill Self adjusted his offense to run largely through the 6-foot-10 junior.

However, entering Kansas’ Big 12 tournament opener against No. 25 Oklahoma in a quarterfinal game on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo., Self will have to make a major adjustment once again.

McCormack, a power forward, and Tristan Enaruna, a key reserve forward, will miss the tournament due to COVID-19 protocols. The pair are roommates.

Self is trying to find the silver lining.

“We’ve gotten better playing through David the second half of the season,” Self said. “He’s had a really good last 10, 15 games. He’s been really good for us.

“The plus side, though, if we are going into the NCAA Tournament thinking we’ll have to play just one way and then that one way is taken from us, we haven’t really had a chance to prepare or practice for it. So I’m looking at it (like) we’re going to be better playing small in the NCAA Tournament even though we have Mitch (Lightfoot), obviously, because it forced us to change our game plan going into this one.”

McCormack and Enaruna, Self said, should be able to play in the NCAA Tournament.

This is just the second time in 13 seasons the Jayhawks have not been the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tournament.

“The fact we didn’t win the league and the league is so good I think adds some extra juice,” Self said. “You get a chance to validate your season. Some team will get to validate its season if it’s not Baylor (emerging as champion) this weekend.”

Oklahoma is certainly looking for some validation after finishing the regular season with four consecutive losses after rising as high as No. 7 in the rankings.

The Sooners beat Iowa State 79-73 in the first round at Kansas City on Wednesday for their first win in the event since 2016.

Sooners coach Lon Kruger said his team can’t afford to look past the short-handed Jayhawks.

“They’ll play great,” Kruger said. “We’ve got to raise our level. We’ve got to play better and understand how tough that’s going to be.”

The Sooners had plenty of success without starters during their rise in January and February, first losing Brady Manek and then Austin Reaves for stretches due to COVID-19 protocols. Thus, Oklahoma knows how dangerous teams can be after making significant lineup changes.

Oklahoma’s Elijah Harkless moved into the starting lineup Jan. 9 at Kansas with Manek out and since has been the Sooners’ defensive tone-setter. Harkless had 12 points, nine rebounds, six assists and five steals in the win over the Cyclones.

“We feed off of him on the defensive end,” teammate De’Vion Harmon said.

The teams split their season series, with the Jayhawks winning 63-59 in Lawrence, Kan., and the Sooners winning 75-68 in Norman, Okla., two weeks later.

–Field Level Media

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