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UC Irvine Preview

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas plays its last nonconference game before beginning Big 12 play this weekend, and with the snowy weather in Kansas it's only fitting that a team with guys the size of the abominable snowman is coming to town.

UC Irvine features 7-2 Ioannis Dimakopolous.......and he's not even the tallest guy on the team. That of course is Mamadou Ndiaye, who stands a whopping 7-6. As you may have guessed, Irvine leads the country in effective height, both because of those two and because they have two other 6-10 guys to stand in the front court and a starting backcourt that is 6-2 and 6-3. Yikes. Needless to say, Irvine doesn't allow many teams to score inside, ranking 24th in opponents 2 point percentage, but Irvine is exactly average at defensive rebounding and 28th in FG% at the rim (via hoop-math). So they're certainly big and good, but maybe not as good as one would expect when seeing how big they are.

Offensively, Irvine takes more threes than Kansas does despite shooting just 32.6 percent behind the arc and having two monsters inside. Irvine is attempting just 36 percent of its shots at the rim, though I am guessing that is partly due to the two big guys playing roughly 40 mpg combined. Other than that, Irvine is pretty nondescript. They don't get a lot of shots blocked (duh), but they are pretty average at offensive rebounding, taking care of the ball, and shooting twos. They're a good team and a tough matchup for Kansas, but average won't be good enough.

Players to watch

Mamadou Ndiaye is shooting 66 percent this season, is a top 100 defensive rebounder, and ranks 21st nationally in block percentage. The native of Senegal overcame a pituitary tumor and is now maybe the tallest player in college basketball history. He has the longest wingspan I've ever heard of at 8-1 (seriously), but he still has a ways to go. He's not terribly mobile (duh) and doesn't have a lot of touch on his shots. Irvine will likely sit in a zone with him in the middle, which could provide a lot of open looks from deep for the Jayhawks.

Luke Nelson isn't as tall as Ndiaye at 6-3, but he's been a very good point guard for the Anteaters. He has an assist rate of 31.3 percent and a turnover rate of just 14 percent. He's not a good shooter, but KU's guards will have their hands full with Nelson.

Alex Young has also been a good point guard for the Anteaters, and although he hasn't played as much as Nelson this season, he has played more over the last few games. Young has a 32 percent assist rate and just a 12 percent turnover rate. He's also a terrible shooter, but he will put pressure on KU's guards as well.

The pick

UC Irvine is a tough matchup, but they'll have to play a lot of zone which will play right into KU's hands. It will be interesting to see who Self favors in the big men rotation. Lucas and Diallo might be the best options because of their rebounding ability and overall size, but there's probably room for Mickelson and Traylor as well. Assuming Ndiaye doesn't block everything in sight and the Jayhawks can handle Irvine's backcourt, this should be a comfortable win for Kansas. I'll say 81-69, but it could be interesting for a bit.