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Kansas Jayhawks Basketball vs UAB: A Preview

NCAA Basketball: Conference USA Tournament-UAB vs Western Kentucky Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas opens up the CBE Classic in Kansas City tonight against yet another good mid major opponent. UAB upset Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA tournament two years ago and won Conference USA by 3 games last season. Head coach Jerod Haase went to Stanford, but first year coach Rob Ehsan returns a big chunk of the group that blasted Conference USA last season.

We’ll start with the offense. UAB took huge strides on that end of the floor from two years ago to last year, finishing 98th in offense. UAB was 3rd in the country in assists per field goal made, and also was the 36th best 2-point shooting team in the country. The Blazers don’t take a ton of threes, but they do shoot them fairly well. Mostly, though, this is a team that likes to get it inside and score, which should play into KU’s hands. UAB has also had a problem turning it over so far, ranking 270th in that stat, but they were mostly middle of the pack last year, so I expect that to be closer to their true talent.

Defensively UAB has been mightily impressive. They are actually allowing teams to shoot better from three (38.6 percent) than two (36.3 percent). Given how Kansas has been this year, I don’t expect that to continue, but the Blazers have been impressive when teams get it inside the arc. The overall defense has suffered because UAB is also allowing teams to take a ton of threes (44.9 percent of attempts) but they rank 12th in 2-point defense and 4th in block percentage.

Players to Watch

William Lee, a 6-9 junior forward, currently ranks 5th nationally in block percentage and has games of 7 and 6 blocks already this season. He also commits just 1 foul per 40 minutes, which is insane for someone protecting the rim as well as he has been.

Chris Cokley has played just under 20 mpg so far, but is shooting 61 percent on twos and is the team’s best rebounder while amassing a 31.1 percent usage rate. He’s also drawing 7 fouls per 40 minutes. At 6-8, he certainly will be a handful for whichever Jayhawks draw his assignment.

Tyler Madison hasn’t played much this year, but the senior is drawing 8 fouls per 40 minutes, has an assist rate of 20.8 percent, and a turnover rate of just 5.3 percent. He’s also shooting 73 percent on twos. Maybe he should play more. Just not tonight.

Things to Watch For

Free Throw Shooting

The Jayhawks are shooting just 67.5 percent (204th nationally) from the stripe, whereas UAB is at 80 percent (18th) from the line this year. Furthermore, the likely closing lineup is shooting 100 percent, 88 percent, 83 percent, 80 percent, and 73 percent. If this one is close late, advantage UAB.

Jump shooting

As an analyst, I realize Kansas will eventually get things going and the 3-point woes (23.1 percent) are largely a function of small sample size. As a fan, I want them to stop dicking around and make a jumper or two.

Interior scoring

Like I stated earlier, UAB has done really well in terms of interior defense. This will be their first opponent in the top 200 of KenPom, however, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether that will continue. Still, William Lee’s block numbers are no joke regardless of opponent, and we’ll see if Frank Mason can continue his hot streak of scoring at the rim.

The Pick

This is virtually a home game for Kansas, and this is UAB’s toughest opponent by some 195 spots in KenPom. UAB shot well from three last year, but probably won’t shoot enough of them to pull the upset that way. They’ve also been a basically average team in terms of forcing turnovers, so that route is likely out as well. The easiest avenue for them to spring the upset is mostly not allowing Kansas to get inside and hoping the three point woes continue. I think Kansas will be able to win a grind it out game if it comes to that, though, and will take the Jayhawks 81-70.