Tonight in Madison Square Garden Kansas faces off against Kentucky in a matchup against the preseason #2 ranked Wildcats (and the team Ken Pomeroy currently has atop his ratings system). Currently he has Kansas as having a 28% chance to win tomorrow, with a predicted score of 76-69. I am right with him on the chance to win, but the scoreline could be a tad optimistic. Kentucky is extremely young and inexperienced, but this is very possibly the worst Kansas team in a decade.
Still, this is Kansas and it is Bill Self, so a win is not out of the question. Let's take a look at a few things that need to go KU's way tonight:
1. Stay out of foul trouble
Last year Thomas Robinson committed 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes. Because he only played in 31.6% of the team's minutes this was OK, and I thought he would foul a bit less this year given that he would be playing a much larger role on this year's team. But he picked up two quick ones against Towson (we can debate the merits of the foul calls, and I am about 100% sure that at least one wasn't a foul, but the point remains he can't even get in that position). While Kansas could deal with Towson without him (or Withey) on the floor, they won't be able to deal with Kentucky.
Speaking of, I realize it goes against HCBS's philosophy, but if someone picks up 2 quick fouls, please do not leave him on the bench for a long time. A quick rest to get his head straight is fine, but keeping a guy out to keep him from fouling out is counterproductive: yes there is next to no chance he will then foul out in the game's waning minutes, but there is a much greater chance that the game will be decided and put out of reach while that player is on the bench. Hopefully we don't need to learn that lesson tomorrow night.
2. Slow the game down
This has two purposes. For one, Kansas is undoubtedly less talented than Kentucky. The slowing down of the game will allow for there to be fewer possessions in the game and thus a lesser chance for the "proper" outcome to manifest itself. A game with fewer possessions means Kansas has to shoot well (or Kentucky shoot poorly) for a smaller amount of time, and thus more chance of an upset.
Secondly, while Kansas doesn't have a lot of talent back from last year's team, they still have main cogs and people who ran the offense every day in practice last year. Kentucky has Terrence Jones as far as key contributors who are back. Kentucky is far more athletic, but if Kansas can turn it into a game of execution they have a chance.
3. Shoot the three
Kansas shot really well from three despite a 2-7 effort from Elijah Johnson (even if you don't think he is as good of a shooter as I do, he's not a sub 33% shooter), and while a near 50% effort probably won't happen, just remember that shooting 38% from three is equal to shooting 57% from two.
Secondly, I have some serious doubts about KU's rebounding abilities outside of Robinson, and especially against an Anthony Davis (24.8% defensive rebounding rate in the season opener v. Marist) and Terrence Jones (22.5% defensive rebounding rate last year) front line. Shooting a lot of threes allows for some longer rebounds and more offensive rebounds.
Kansas will definitely need some luck to beat the Wildcats tonight, but if they can keep their starters in the game for a large portion of it and turn it into a half court game they'll have a chance. No matter what, we should know a lot more about the team in just a few hours.