It’s my favorite time of the sports writing year! We have officially reached recycled preview season! I wrote a preview for the first Kansas game on January 17th, and now I’m going to write another preview on January 30th. That means I get to look back at what I wrote earlier in the month, keep what I like, scrap what I don’t, and hopefully get closer to the target. Luckily for me, my first Kansas preview was pretty close to perfect (per usual).
#7 Kansas State (18-3, Big 12 6-2) vs #8 Kansas (17-4, Big 12 5-3)
Dillon’s Sunflower Showdown
January 31st, 7 P.M.
Lawrence, Kansas - Allen Fieldhouse (unless its condemned)
|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||23||Ernest Udeh Jr.||Fr||6'11"||250||Orlando, FL|
|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 115.2 is 13th in the nation. Their effective field goal percentage of 52.8 (68th nationally) is impressive seeing how they shoot 35.8%(86th) from 3 and 52.4%(85th) from 2. They’re a little above average from both inside and outside the arc.
They weren’t great at valuing the ball the first time they played Kansas State, and have become worse over the last two weeks. 17.6%(109th) of their possessions end in turnovers that includes an 8.9% steal percentage and an 8.7%(136th) non-steal turnover percentage. Since their loss to K-State in the Octagon of Doom, they were blown out by TCU 83-60, which included 17 Jayhawk turnovers and a 75-69 loss to Baylor that included 15 turnovers. The righted the ship against fellow “blueblood” Kentucky, and limited their turnovers to 10. Kansas turned the ball over 15 times in their first meeting against K-State and it would behoove the Wildcats to either match or exceed that tomorrow.
They tend to play four-out, with K.J. Adams playing inside the arc, lifted above the foul line and setting screens instead of posting up. 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 when he gets a mismatch. 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. The Wildcats went with this game plan in the first matchup and limited the Jayhawks to 6-29 shooting from 3(21%). If Kansas shoots 21% from 3 in the second matchup, it’s going to be hard for them to win.
Jalen Wilson is their leading scorer at 21.4 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 135 threes (first on the team) and 277 twos (first on the team). In total, he’s put up 362 shots, Gradey Dick is second on the team with 234 attempts. All things run through Jalen Wilson in the Kansas offense.
In the first matchup, Wilson led the way with 38 points. In the 2nd half, the Jayhawks entire offense revolved around giving Wilson the ball and getting out of his way. He eventually fouled out Nae’Quan Tomlin, and Tomlin should be his primary defender on Tuesday. Tomlin has the length and athletic ability to (in theory) keep Wilson from getting clean looks from 3 and bother him around the rim. Keyontae Johnson is the other potential defender for Wilson, but I don’t expect to see this matchup until the game is on the line because if Johnson gets in foul trouble, the Wildcats will struggle. Throw in the fact that the game is in Lawrence, and it’s probably a smart idea to keep Keyontae far away from Wilson until it’s winning time.
Gradey Dick averages 14.8 points a game, and is the Jayhawks designated three-point assassin. The freshman is hitting 42.7% 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. Coach Tang went with this strategy in the first matchup and held Dick to 16 points on 1-8 shooting from 3. He used his ability to put the ball on the floor to get to the line 8 times (hitting 7) and went 3-5 from inside the arc. I expect something similar on Tuesday. Dick has the ability to go off, but has been in a shooting slump recently, hitting only 6 of 26 3’s in the last 4 games. He’s too good to not get hot again, but it’s in Kansas State’s best interest to not let that happen (that you captain obvious, this is the deep analysis y’all pay for).
K.J. Adams is the 3rd scorer. His game is similar to Keyontae’s, but he does all his work from inside the arc. He went off for 17 in the first matchup, went on 2 game slump, scoring 4 points against both TCU and Baylor, before bouncing back against Kentucky and putting up 17. For my money, Adams, not Dick is the key 2nd scorer for Kansas. He gives them the tough points the otherwise finesse roster can’t muster. He leads Kanas with 52 offensive rebounds, and had 2 against Kansas State earlier this month. It’s imperative for the Wildcats to keep him off the boards tomorrow.
Kansas on Defense
Defense is the still the key to this vintage of Jayhawk basketball. Their adjusted efficiency of 92.8 is the 16th best in the nation. They do a decent job of guarding the three, allowing opponents to shoot 31.6% from behind the arc (47th) and are solid at defending the 2, allowing teams to hit 46.5% (57th). Overall, teams have a 46.9% (47th) adjusted field goal percentage against Kansas. K-State lit up Bill Self’s vaunted defense for 83 points in the first go around, shooting 41% from 3 and 42% from 2. That’ll be hard to duplicate in Lawrence, I expect the 3 point shooting to take a step back (although K-State only hit 7 3’s in Manhattan) which means the 2 point shooting needs to take a step up.
Creating live ball turnovers is a specialty for a team featuring a roster of long armed athletes at pretty much every position. Their 12.6% steal rate is 17th in the nation, and they specialize in turning live ball steals into transition buckets, either at the rim, or worse, outside the arc. Gradey Dick, in particular, thrives on spot up threes in transition, that’s how he gets going from the outside. It’s weird though, if they don’t create a steal, they don’t tend to create turnovers. Their 8.2% non-steal turnover percentage is 295th in the nation. It’s either or a steal of nothing for Bill Self’s defense. In Manhattan, Kansas State turnovers got Kansas back into the game late. It’s up to Markquis and Keyontae to avoid live ball turnovers in this one. The ball will be in their hands the majority of the game, and if they turn it over, Allen Field house will get moderately, and the risk of complete structural collapse is possible.
Markquis had a terrible game against the Jayhawks in the first game, but Desi Sills filled in with 24 points. Kansas State can win the game if the Nowell/Sills combination hits 28 points against tonight, but that means Markquis will need to score to 20+ points. Loved the Sills game, but it was unexpected for a reason, and unexpected things don’t tend to repeat themselves. If Nowell can’t find his way again on Tuesday, Kansas will win the game.
X-Factor - Depth
Kansas State is a hard team to guard without fouling. Nowell and Johnson put immense pressure on defenders with their ability to drive the ball. In the first matchup, the Wildcats managed to foul out 3 Jayhawks (Dick, Adams, McCullar) and it hurt them in overtime. Losing Adams, in particular, was a blow, because he does stuff no one else on the Kansas roster wants to attempt.
That’s the game plan again tomorrow. Jerome Tang needs to have his star players attack the rim at every opportunity early in the game to try and draw fouls and get into Kansas’s paper thin bench. They only managed 8 points in the first game, and only Joseph Yesufu played more than 10 minutes (he played 22). If K-State can land body blows early, and force Bill Self to utilize his bench, things should work out for the good guys.
Kansas - 76
Kansas State - 69
Confidence - 71%
Kansas - 77
Kansas State - 85
Kenpom likes Kansas to win this game because they’re at home, and their metrics look better on paper. Kenpom doesn’t like K-State much because it doesn’t measure toughness and resilience, which are 2 of the more important characteristics of the Wildcat team. Advanced stats don’t like teams that win by any means necessary.
I think this Kansas team is soft, and that’s why I like the Wildcats to pull off the sweep. They’ll made a run or two, might even come out hot and take and early lead, but I look for Coach Tang’s crew to out tough them in the end, and pull away late in the game once foul trouble becomes an issue.
*Plus, let’s be honest here, I wasn’t going to pick against Kansas State in this game.