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Kansas - Austin Peay Preview

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas begins its NCAA tournament trek this afternoon with a first round matchup against Austin Peay. (Let's get this out of the way right away: do you think their fans chant "Peay is number 1"?). Austin Peay comes into the tournament having won 6 straight games, with just 1 of those coming at home, so they are certainly hot. That corresponds with freshman Jared Savage making his first start, and maybe Austin Peay is a bit better than their 209 KenPom ranking would suggest.

Offensively the good news is Austin Peay doesn't take a lot of threes, so it is much less likely for Kansas to fall victim to them going 20-30 from deep or something. If they're going to pull the upset, they have to earn it. Austin Peay lives offensively by getting to the line, ranking 5th nationally in free throw rate, but even though KU's big men can be foul prone I don't see Austin Peay getting enough trips to the line to score enough. It's also worth noting they shot just 66.7 percent at the line in league play, so even if they do get to the line a lot they might not score a bunch. Peay also turns it over a lot (20.4 percent of possessions) but, West Virginia game aside, Kansas hasn't turned teams over much lately so that might number likely won't be as high today. Shooting wise, Peay does shoot 51.2 percent on twos, but the OVC wasn't exactly a defensive league, and Kansas is certainly the best 2-point defense they've seen this year. They shoot 35 percent from deep but, again, that is on relatively few attempts so we'll see.

Defensively Austin Peay ranks 272nd in KenPom's adjusted efficiency rankings, but had a couple things going for them in conference play. Austin Peay led the OVC in turnovers forced and steals, and with how bad some of KU's secondary ball handlers have been with turnovers, maybe they can force a few KU turnovers. Still, they allowed opponents to shoot 53 percent on twos and 52 percent on twos in league play and they allow teams to shoot a ton of threes, ranking in the bottom 50 nationally in that statistic, so there should be a ton of options for KU today.

Players to Watch

Chris Horton is Peay's best player by a wide margin. At 6-9, he shot 60 percent from two this season and is the 7th best offensive rebounder in the country. Given how well Devin Williams played against KU last Saturday, it is certainly possible that Horton could have an impressive game today. He also draws 7 fouls per 40 minutes, and will be a tough task for Landen Lucas defensively.

Jared Savage is a 6-5 freshman who is shooting 39 percent from three (though he shot just 32 percent from deep in conference play). Savage doesn't do much else offensively, so he will probably be shadowed and face guarded by whomever draws the assignment.

Josh Robinson shot 44 percent on twos and 34 percent on threes this year, but he has taken a ton of shots for the Governors and is the prime candidate to have one of those games where he goes 6-6 from three and puts some pressure on the Jayhawks (see: him going 7-12 from three on January 30th against Southeast Missouri State).

The Pick

Nerves about being the #1 overall seed aside, Austin Peay just isn't a great matchup. Chris Horton will probably play well and Austin Peay could keep it close for awhile, but defensively they just aren't good enough to stop KU from piling on the points unless they have an abysmal day both from deep and at the rim. Hopefully the Jayhawks can get some playing time for Diallo and Bragg and some bench time for Mason to rest his foot. I'll take the Jayhawks to win 91-74.