If Kent State was the exact type of team Kansas would want to play coming off a tough loss, UNLV is the type of team Kansas will try to avoid for the next few months. The Rebels have their flaws, but they are big, long, athletic, and just the type of team to give Kansas trouble in Allen Fieldhouse.
Starting with the height. UNLV ranks 22nd in effective height (and 4th in average height) and sophomore Christian Wood and freshman Goodluck Okonoboh will likely each see big minutes in this one. UNLV ranks 14th nationally in 2 point defense and while some of that is the schedule they've played, they're going to be a tough matchup for the Jayhawks, who are still struggling to score inside against all but the weakest opponents. UNLV ranks 4th nationally in rim defense (via hoop-math), just roughly 2 percent worse than Kentucky, which obviously did a number on the Jayhawks.This will be a good test of Bill Self's comments that Kansas will look to take more threes this year and press and run.
The good news for the Jayhawks is that's basically where UNLV's superlatives end. They struggle to force turnovers, they're a bad rebounding team, and they're not very good at scoring. The optimist in me takes this to mean that Kansas will get an opportunity to score against a tough defense while not really having to worry about the Rebels being able to take too much advantage if they can't. (of course, I thought that last year against San Diego State in an early January game on CBS and whoops).
UNLV is led by freshman forward Rashad Vaughn, a high school teammate of Kelly Oubre, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the two matchup against each other in this one. Vaughn shoots 49 percent from two, 34 percent from three, and does so while taking well over a third of the team's shots while he's playing. If Oubre can slow him down it will go a long way to an easy day at the office for the Jayhawks.
Elsewhere, Kansas has subtly gotten better at two point defense, and while I don't expect the Jayhawks to be a vintage Bill Self defense, I do think they can be good enough to give the Jayhawks a chance to win games if they don't crater offensively. They've allowed under a point per possession in five of their last seven games, but naturally we remember the Temple disaster more than those other games (and probably should).
One final thing to watch is the fouls. Kansas relies on getting to the free throw line to score, and UNLV is one of the lesser fouling teams in the country. Kansas will probably get a friendly whistle at home, but if they don't it could be tough to put up points, unless they shoot a ton of threes. (shoot a ton of threes, please).
I'm 8-4 on the season in my game predictions, and the Jayhawks are favored by 13.5 in this one, and I'm taking UNLV to cover. I will pick Kansas to win a close one though, 70-63.