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Senior guard Ochai Agbaji looks to pass the ball. Kansas defeated George Mason 76-67 on Saturday, Jan. 1.

OKLAHOMA STATE OUTLOOK

Coach Mike Boynton’s Oklahoma State men’s basketball team brought back four of the five starters from last year – the only one missing is the 2021 NBA Draft No. 1 pick, Cade Cunningham. 

And similar to Kansas coach Bill Self, Boynton, brought in five players via the NCAA transfer portal. Most notably, sophomore guard Bryce Thompson who played at Kansas but after a hand injury and taking a back seat to Marcus Garrett and others, Thompson returned to his home state of Oklahoma. 

Of the four, junior and senior guards Avery Anderson III and Isaac Likekele probably bring back the most memories for their gritty, aggressive transition styles and hardnose basketball efforts. And senior guard Ochai Agbaji recalls why Likekele is so hard to guard even when he’s not looking to get his own. 

“He's a really different player in the aspect of, you know, he plays creating for others,” Agbaji said. “He's not really the one to look to score, but he still can get his if you want. [He’s] still really a dangerous player in the game of you know, their offense, their defense because he's a really good defender too.”

Since Agbaji’s freshmen year, Kansas has a 2-1 record versus the Cowboys in Stillwater, Oklahoma, falling 75-70 last season. But Self, who has more ties than anyone, especially after a career there as a player, is just 6-8 at Gallagher-Iba Arena as the coach of the Jayhawks. 

ROAD SUCCESS KEY TO VICTORY

Kansas is known for its unmatched home-court advantage, but what is surely unknown to some, is its success on the road. Self has lost just 62 away games, not including neutral sites, according to Kansas Athletics. 

“I think a lot of the guys just trace back to something always, like when we play everybody…we're always gonna get their best shot,” freshman forward KJ Adams Jr. said on what veteran guys have told him about playing in Stillwater and in conference matchups. “We always have to stay locked in, especially since us having a big name like Kansas.”

Oklahoma State hasn’t played a game since Dec. 18, when the program lost to Houston, whereas KU has played in two games thanks to rescheduling. Self thinks it will be a great game, not just because of the long periods between play, but also what conference play brings. 

“We expect them to come out [with] great energy, and they haven’t played in about two weeks and so you could say, ‘could that be an advantage to us,’ or you could say, ‘well, there'll be more turned up than they've ever been because they're so excited to play,” Self said. “So and plus, this is the first conference game so it'll be, they'll play athletic. I do believe that I think they're very athletic.” 

After most road victories, fans can see players and coaches alike having fun in visiting teams’ locker rooms, but it comes as a result of queueing into the task at hand first. 

“Scouting, scouting report, I think that's the thing that separates…teams from other teams in the conference because it is so tough and there's so much talent,” Agbaji said on what the key to winning is.” He later said, “...really just locking in on who you're going to be guarding, what they do, what their tendencies are…ways to shut them down.”

“Every place that we win at, there’s always something in the locker room,” Agbaji said. “That’s always fun.”

PLAYER INJURY STATUS

During the game against George Mason, Agbaji hyperextended his finger, but said: “it’s all good.” 

Super senior guard Remy Martin is suffering a “swollen and stiff knee,” after a fall in the game against Nevada on Wednesday. He did not play against George Mason and couldn’t practice on Sunday, but tried again Monday – the outcome of Monday’s practice is unknown but Self hopes he is able to go. 

“And we're all hopeful that he is [able to go] because I think that when you play against an athletic, fast team, especially one that's so good…we need as much quickness as we can have out there,” Self said.”

Freshman guard Bobby Pettiford remains out with COVID-19 after testing positive Thursday morning. As of Monday, no one else has tested positive.

“We have been certainly fortunate on that front,” Self said. 

The game tips off on Tuesday at 8 p.m.