Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- The defending national champions, #44 Kansas (11-4) begin conference play against in-state rival #60 Kansas St. (11-4, 0-1).
Kansas St. entered conference play on a 6-game winning streak, but dropped its first Big 12 game to Oklahoma. The Wildcats have yet to win a game against a power-conference opponent, with their best win coming at Horizon League contenders Cleveland St. Kansas has had an up-and-down season, getting some good wins over the likes of Tennessee and Washington, but taking tough losses to Massachusetts and Arizona, along with losing badly on Saturday against Michigan State.
Kansas St. may have lost Michael Beasley, but its offense still takes big advantage of the boards, as the Wildcats are one of the nation’s best in grabbing offensive rebounds. They also excel at getting to the free throw line, though their 65% success rate at the line hurts their overall efficiency. Getting these extra chances is critical, because Kansas St. is merely an average group of shooters, and doesn’t have a really strong offensive option. Kansas hasn’t done well defensively in their last three games, being particularly vulnerable on the boards and to strong three-point shooting. The Jayhawks also tend to commit a fair number of fouls, and the combination of rebounding and fouls could really hurt them in this game.
Kansas has done well offensively on the inside, making over 50% of its attempts from inside the arc and getting back a good number of its own misses, though not as many as Kansas St. tends to. The Jayhawks also have an advantage at the free throw line, where they make over 70% of their shots. They’ll need these advantages against one of the nation’s best defenses, as Kansas St. has shut down most of its opponents very effectively. The Wildcats manage this by forcing a lot of turnovers, nearly one for every four opponent trips down the floor, and by stopping shots, something they have done both inside and outside to great success. The problem for Kansas St. will be free throws, as it is one of the worst offenders nationally in terms of committing fouls, and Kansas will have plenty of opportunities to use the advantage mentioned above.
Kansas St. is a very young team, featuring only a single senior on the roster, and depending on several freshmen and sophomores in important roles. One of the sophomores is the team’s leading scorer, Jacob Pullen, who has taken a large chunk of the offensive load Beasley carried last season, without his percentages suffering. He also leads the team in both assists and steals, and has improved his three-point shooting from his freshman year. Inside, senior Darren Kent is an important rebounder, and does well from the free throw line, but doesn’t shoot a high percentage from two. Dominique Sutton and Luis Colon start alongside Kent in the frontcourt, both are effective scorers and rebounders, but don’t take a lot of shots. Miami transfer Denis Clemente is the fifth starter, an good complimentary guard to Pullen. Ron Anderson and Jamar Samuels have been very effective off the bench in the frontcourt, both shooting nearly 60% from the field, Anderson being one of the teams’ better rebounders and Samuels the Wildcats’ best shot-blocker. Sophomore guard Fred Brown is a good long-distance shooter who averages double-digits in points in under 20 minutes a game.
Kansas is another very young team, with only a single upperclassmen playing significant minutes, junior Sherron Collins. Collins’ role has ballooned this season, and he’s managed to keep his percentages pretty much the same, while managing to get to the free throw line a lot more often. He leads the team in both assists and points, and has been key to Kansas’ offensive success. Cole Aldrich has also stepped his play, showing an excellent inside scoring touch and being one of the team’s best free throw shooters. Aldrich also leads the Big 12 in blocks and is second in rebounding, just short of 10 boards a game. Tyshawn Taylor and Brady Morningstar start alongside Collins in the backcourt; Morningstar is a very good three point shooter who commits very few turnovers, while Taylor is an efficient scorer from inside the arc. Tyrell Reed is another good shooter who can come off the bench. The main help for Aldrich inside comes from the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus. Markieff has shot a better percentage from the field, but plays much less, partly because of his struggles with foul trouble. Marcus has been a solid rebounder, but still has some room for improvement on the offensive end. Both brothers are fairly poor free throw shooters, the two worst on the team.
Kansas should have enough offensive ability to get through a tough home game, but the Jayhawks will have to be careful, as Kansas St. are definitely capable of causing a lot of confusion for a very young team. If the Wildcats can avoid sending Kansas to the line too often, they should keep it close and have a good shot at a surprise road win.
Prediction: Kansas Margin: 4-8
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.