A year ago today, Kansas traveled to Philadelphia and got demolished by Temple. That might leave a bad taste in our mouths when it comes to this season, but that was just the third time under Bill self that Kansas lost its last game before Christmas.
There are other tie ins to this game, as San Diego State is the last team to beat the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse, so now it's time for some revenge.
The Aztecs have struggled a bit this season, with a loss at home to Arkansas-Little Rock (who is still undefeated somehow), a loss to San Diego on a neutral floor, and then a loss at home to Grand Canyon. At issue has been the offense: San Diego State ranks 258th in KenPom's offensive rankings, and has scored over a point per possession just four times against Division 1 competition this season. San Diego State excels at getting to the line, with nearly a 50% FTA/FGA, but shoot just 45 percent on twos, 32 percent on threes, turn the ball over on 21 percent of its possessions, and rebound under 30 percent of its misses. That's pretty horrendous.
However, San Diego State is still a tough matchup, especially for Kansas. The Aztecs rank 7th in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency, 6th in effective field goal percentage allowed, and lead the nation in 2 point percentage allowed, allowing opponents to shoot just 36 percent inside the arc. The Aztecs also allow opponents to take just 27 percent of their shots at the rim, and shoot 50 percent once they get there (via hoop-math), so it's easy to see why their defensive numbers are so great.
San Diego State is 29th in effective height, and can trot out 6-10, 6-10, 6-9, 6-9, 6-8 along their frontcourt, so they have a lot of big bodies to throw at the Jayhawks. They also have a lot of size in their backcourt with the starting guards standing 6-4 and 6-3, so Kansas will certainly be undersized in this one. It looks like San Diego State is going to attempt to force Kansas into some longer jumpers, and while that usually is a bad shot, it might be a good one tonight with the combination of Kansas's jump shooting ability and San Diego State's interior defense.
Players to watch
Malik Pope is probably San Diego State's most talented player, but he's had a tough season. He's shooting just 32 percent on twos and 14 percent on threes, but he was efficient in limited minutes for the Aztecs last season and will probably break out at some point. Hopefully not tonight.
Dakarai Allen has the Aztecs' best shooting numbers, shooting 59 percent on twos, but he is a surprisingly bad rebounder despite standing 6-5 and has a turnover rate double his assist rate.
Freshman Jeremy Hemsley serves as the team's primary point guard, and he looks like a future star, even if he's not quite there yet. Hemsley has good size, shoots a pretty good percentage (50 percent eFG) and has an assist percentage higher than his turnover percentage (though not by much). I wouldn't be surprised to see Devonte Graham hound him a bit and force him into mistakes, but the size in the backcourt will cause some problems for Kansas defensively, especially when deciding who to have Frank Mason guard.
Skylar Spencer doesn't play a ton (just over 20 mpg), and has a usage rate of just 9 percent, but he is problematic for the Jayhawks because the 6-10 senior has a block percentage of 11.1 percent, which ranks 21st in the country. It's tough not to see him getting a couple tonight.
There isn't really a lot of logic behind this, and maybe I am reading a bit too much into last year's Temple game (though I shouldn't be), but Kansas playing a team like this worries me. Have Bill Self and the Jayhawks learned from previous debacles against teams who excel at rim protection? If Kansas launches threes, I think they'll win even if they don't shoot a high percentage just because San Diego State can't score at all, but I think they need one more lesson. I'll take the Aztecs in a nailbiter, 66-63, but I wouldn't be surprised pretty much no matter what happens.