#2 Kansas (16-1, Big12 5-0)vs #13 Kansas State (15-2, Big12 4-1)
|Center||10||Jalen Wilson||Jr||6'8"||225||Denton, TX|
|Forward||24||KJ Adams Jr.||So||6'7"||225||Austin, TX|
|Wing||4||Gradey Dick||Fr||6'8"||205||Wichita, KS|
|Wing||15||Kevin McCullar||Sr||6'6"||210||San Antonio, TX||Texas Tech|
|Point Guard||3||Dajuan Harris||Jr||6'1"||175||Columbia, MO|
|Guard||0||Bobby Pettiford||So||6'1"||190||Durham, NC|
|Center||35||Zuby Ejiofor||Fr||6'9"||240||Garland, TX|
|Guard||1||Joseph Yesufu||Jr||6'0"||180||Bolingbrook, IL||Drake|
Kansas on Offense
The Jayhawks are good at everything on offense, but they’re not great at any one thing. I say that, but their offensive efficiency of 116.1 is 13th in the nation. It’s more of a “sum of its parts” offense than any one star player, but all the parts are really good. Their effective field goal percentage of 53.6 (46th nationally) leans heavily on their 37.6% (46th) three-point shooting, and not their 52.1% (98th) two-point conversion rate.
They’re decent at valuing the basketball, with 17.1% (73rd) of their possessions ending in a turnover. That’s on par with most Bill Self teams. They do a good job of limiting live ball turnovers though, and those are the killers. Their 8% (44) steal percentage is good (again, not elite) and their non-steal turnover percentage (shot clock violation, offensive foul, errant pass out of bounds, travel, etc) is 9.1% (163rd) is average. They offensively rebound at a respectable clip, at 31.2% (108), but thankfully are nowhere close to the offensive rebounding prowess of TCU.
They tend to play four-out, with K.J. Adams playing inside the arc but lifted above the foul line and setting screens instead of posting. Above all else, this team wants to keep the lane open for cutters and dribble drives. On the rare occasion that they throw the ball into the block, it’s to Jalen Wilson. They want to drive or hit cutters either off the ball or in the pick-and-roll to score inside the arc. Adams Jr. isn’t afraid to pull up at the free throw line and shoot if he’s ignored by the defense. Their three-point game is mainly facilitated by drive and kick opportunities but they have shooters capable of creating as well because of their absurd length on the wings. As with most teams, I’d rather hug their shooters and make them finish contested layups instead of giving up open threes in rotation.
Jalen Wilson is their leading scorer at 19.8 points a game. He’s a versatile wing playing the nominal “center” position for Kansas. He’s a tough player to focus on defensively because he can score in multiple ways. If you play off, he’ll pull up and hit a three. If you crowd him, he’ll put the ball on the floor, attack the basket, and finish through contact. He’s attempted 106 threes (first on the team) and 176 twos (first on the team). In total, he’s put up 282 shots, Gradey Dick is second on the team with 184 attempts. All things run through Jalen Wilson in the Kansas offense. Keyontae Johnson is the ideal matchup for the ‘Cats on Wilson, because he won’t get bullied on drives to the basket and is a savvy, experienced defender. It’s a gamble though. On the other end of the court, Johnson is the primary finisher for Markquis. If he gets in foul trouble checking Wilson, the ‘Cats will struggle.
Gradey Dick averages 14 points a game, and is the Jayhawks designated three-point assassin. The freshman is hitting an absurd 48% from deep. What makes him doubly dangerous is his willingness to pump a three and finish at the rim, if a defender isn’t in control on a close out. If you try and cut off his oxygen on the perimeter, he’s more than happy to put the ball on the floor and attack. At the same time, I’d rather deal with him at the rim, than let him get hot from three. He’s capable of putting on a personal nine-point run in the span of a minute. When he gets hot, he tends to get smoking hot and Kansas does a good job of finding him when that happens. The Wildcats can’t help off Dick. If it’s a choice between giving up a dunk at the rim, or leaving Dick open behind the arc, let the dunk happen. The absolute worst thing is Dick hitting an uncontested 3 early in the game and getting a taste for hitting them.
Kansas on Defense
Defense is the key to this vintage of Jayhawk basketball. Their adjusted efficiency of 91.7 is the 12th best in the nation. They do a solid but not spectacular job of guarding the three, allowing opponents to shoot 31% (33rd) and a good job inside the arc, allowing teams to hit 45.5% (39th) inside. Overall, teams have a 45.9% (33rd) adjusted field goal percentage against Kansas.
Unsurprisingly, creating live ball turnovers is a specialty for a team featuring a roster of long armed athletes at pretty much every position. Their 13.1% steal rate is 16th in the nation, and they specialize in turning live ball steals into transition buckets, either at the rim, or even worse, outside the arc. Gradey Dick, in particular, thrives on spot up threes in transition. It’s weird though, if they don’t create a steal, they don’t tend to create turnovers. Their 8.5% non-steal turnover percentage of 8.5 is 256th in the nation. It’s either or a steal of nothing for Bill Self’s defense.
Thankfully for Kansas State, they won’t face anything like TCUs zone tonight. Bill Self run straight man in the half court, and other than jamming the point guard in the back court, they don’t press much. Markquis should have a much easier time of getting the ball and either to the basket or to a shooter tonight. The TCU zone took away the best aspect of his game, by inviting him into the lane and then swarming him. He’ll have more room to operate against Kansas.
X-Factor - Depth
Kansas State replaced all but two players from last years squad and their starting center is out, but they still have more depth than Kansas. When I do the “bench” part of the roster, I usually only include players averaging 10 minutes off the bench. Kansas only has two of those players. Pittiford plays consistent minutes at the 2 guard, but other than that, Bill Self uses his bench sparingly. Yesufu averages 11.8 minutes a game, but that’s mainly because he played a ton of garbage time minutes early in the season. He only managed 7 minutes against Iowa State.
Needless to say, this is an intense rivalry, and that intensity could play into the ‘Cats hands. If Wilson or Harris get in foul trouble, the Jayhawks have nothing to bring off the bench in the front court. It’s hard to play Keyontae without fouling because of his strength and Markquis is a savant at using his body to draw fouls at the rim while getting off seemingly impossible shots. Both need to be in attack mode tonight. Anytime Keyontae gets matched up with Wilson, he needs to put his head down and try to force his way to the rim. If this were a boxing match, drawing fouls on the front court, especially in the first half would be considered a body shot. It may not drop Kansas early, but it could hurt them late.
The key word for the ‘Cats tonight is attack. Even if they get a few balls swatted or turn it over a few times, they must attack Kansas at every opportunity, and try to land those early body shots on a paper thin Kansas roster.
Kansas - 75
Kansas State - 73
Kansas - 78
Kansas State - 83
Not only am I contractually obligated to pick Kansas State in this game, I actually believe they are going to win. I like this matchup much better than I liked the TCU matchup. I anticipate this being an up tempo game, and I like Markquis and Keyontae in that type of game.
Look for both to have huge games in a Wildcat win.