Kansas opens its season in earnest tonight against Indiana, who made the Sweet 16 last season. Indiana opens the season 16th in KenPom with a projected efficiency margin (points scored per possession minus points allowed per possession) of +19.09 points per 100 possessions.
I am not as bullish on the Hoosiers, at least early in the season, as nearly everyone else seems to be. Indiana lost Yogi Ferrell off last year’s team, which is going to be rough. I said it when discussing Texas losing Isaiah Taylor (and obviously Oklahoma losing Buddy Hield) but when a team loses a guy who has such an outsized impact on its production, things don’t usually go well the next season. Ferrell had a 24.8 percent usage rate, shot 49 percent on twos, 42 percent from three, had a 28.4 percent assist rate and a 16.9 percent turnover rate. All of that is gone.
Also gone are Troy Williams, Max Bielfeldt, and Nick Zeisloft, three lesser heralded but still key components to the team. Williams was oft hated by Hoosier fans, but had a usage rate even higher than Yogi and shot 56 percent on twos. He was also Indiana’s best defensive rebounder. Bielfeldt, meanwhile, shot 45 percent from three while Zeisloft shot 42 percent and also finished 8th in the nation in offensive rating as sort of a Travis Releford type without the defense.
Indiana finished 6th nationally last season in offense, but even with some really talented players back, it’s tough to see them being that great offensively without Yogi. They had a tough time with turnovers last season, and Yogi was one of the better players on the team at taking care of the ball. They also led the nation in eFG, which I don’t think will continue with the loss of those two great shooters.
Players To Watch
OG Anunoby is going to be Indiana’s best player this year. He had a coming out party in the NCAA tournament, but shot 61 percent from two and 45 percent from three last season. He’s also one of Indiana’s best offensive rebounders and its best perimeter defender.
He’s also very athletic:
It’s not surprising that he’s a little better in the open floor at this point in his career:
But needless to say he’s a bit of a terror going to the rim:
It’s really too bad Kansas doesn’t have multiple long rangy perimeter defenders who are also very good and one of the best interior defenders in America. Wait, they do? Oh OK then. Sarcasm aside, I don’t think Kansas will completely shut down Anunoby, but with the variety of looks they can throw at him I don’t think they’ll let Anunoby beat them.
Thomas Bryant had an underratedly very good freshman season. The big man shot 70.7 percent on twos, was a really good offensive rebounder, and got lots better at pick and roll defense as the year went along.
He will no doubt get his fair share of activity buckets. He’s too fast inside for KU’s big men to handle (except for probably Mitch Lightfoot, but that would be a giant mismatch). However, he’s just not strong enough to handle Landen Lucas inside. Bryant committed 5 fouls per 40 minutes last season, and I think the way to get him out of the game is to dump it inside repeatedly to Lucas. With his strength, Lucas should be able to get Bryant on his hip and get some easy layups and/or draw some fouls.
Things To Watch For
- Will Kansas take advantage of Indiana’s turnover woes? The Hoosiers ranked 272nd nationally in turnover rate last year but the Jayhawks famously don’t really turn guys over. If they don’t again tonight, Indiana might get some extra shots up that could be the difference in the game.
- Can Kansas hit the glass enough? Indiana is a rare offensive rebound hunting team, and three of the four Hoosiers who had offensive rebound rates over 10% are back this year. One thing that could help Kansas is having the type of perimeter guys to keep Anunoby off the glass, and having Lucas to keep Bryant off the glass.
- Can Kansas take advantage of an inexperienced Indiana backcourt? Ferrell vs. Mason/Graham would be a hell of a matchup, but Kansas has by far the better backcourt in this one. If they play like it, the Jayhawks should win comfortably.
Who knows in these early season games. Indiana is going to want to shoot a lot of threes but also play through Bryant as much as possible, whereas Kansas might be unveiling some new wrinkles with that 4 guard offense. That, combined with Indiana having to replace its best player, leads me to believe it will be a low scoring affair despite the teams’ offensive talent. I say the Jayhawks cancel out Indiana’s big strengths and the guards make the difference in a 74-66 win.