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Kansas - UConn Preview

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas plays its second game of the NCAA tournament this evening when it takes on a Connecticut team that hasn't lost an NCAA tournament game since March 15, 2012 when it lost in the first round to Iowa State. However, the AAC tournament champs probably wouldn't even be here if not for a 3/4 court heave at the end of the 3rd overtime of their AAC tournament quarterfinal game.

On the surface, Connecticut is pretty much the picture of a team Kansas doesn't want in the second round. The Huskies are 5th nationally in 2 point defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 41.6 percent on twos, and starting center Amida Brimah has a 14.1 percent block percentage, one of the best in the nation.

Offensively, the big worry in KU land has seemingly been Connecticut's prowess from the line, as the Huskies shoot 79.3 percent on freebies, which leads the nation. However, they are just 329th in the nation at getting to the line, so even though Kansas does have some foul prone guys, this likely will only come into play if the game is tight late or Kansas needs to foul to catch up. Elsewhere offensively, Connecticut doesn't attempt a lot of threes, which is nice, and shoots 36.2 percent from deep, which is about as low as you'll see from a dangerous second round opponent. Connecticut is more proficient from two at 50.6 percent, but it's worth noting they shot just 47 percent on twos in AAC play. Some of that is probably just variance, but some of it is probably them struggling more against more talented opponents.

As I mentioned, defense is the major worry. Connecticut is one of the best 2-point defenses in the country, they have a lot of rangy defenders who can give Kansas trouble, and they have a good shotblocker sitting behind all that. It is worth noting, however, that against A rated opponents in KenPom, Connecticut allowed a point per possession or more in 8 of the 12 games, so it's no foregone conclusion that the Huskies will be able to stifle the Jayhawks. Furthermore, with Perry Ellis's improved range and ballhandling ability, Kansas can certainly create more mismatches offensively, although I would expect the Huskies to put Brimah on Lucas to avoid having him come out to guard Ellis on the perimeter. I still expect the Jayhawks to be able to create some mismatches on the perimeter and create some mismatches similarly to how they did against Texas.

Players to Watch

Daniel Hamilton is Connecticut's go to guy with a 25.5 percent usage rate, but he's not the most efficient go to guy. Hamilton shoots just 42 percent on twos and 32 percent on threes. He also functions as a point guard for Connecticut despite being 6-7, with a 28.6 percent assist rate and a 17.7 percent turnover rate, so he'll be a tough cover for whichever Jayhawk has the task of guarding him.

Shonn Miller is probably the player to be most worried about. Also 6-7, Miller shoots 60 percent on twos and, while he hasn't attempted many (24), is shooting 37.5 percent from three, so he can at least step out and be a threat out there. Miller also draws the most fouls on the team and shoots 80 percent at the line.

Sterling Gibbs is Connecticut's big threat from deep, shooting 38.5 percent on 195 attempts so far this season. Oddly enough, that's about equal to what he shoots from two (38.3 percent), so running him off the 3-point line will clearly be a key for whomever guards him.

The Pick

Connecticut's ability to defend inside the arc and their matchup problems they can create on offense are a bit more worrisome than I would like in a second round opponent. I will say, however, that their rebounding issues are good news, and that plus Connecticut only having a couple good outside shooters leads me to think we might see the triangle and two broken out a bit today. Offensively, Kansas will need to get and make some open threes, and hopefully create some situations where Brimah has to defend Perry in space. In the end, KU's best bet is probably turning this game into a jump shooting contest. There are good things and bad things about this matchup, but with Kansas finally healthy in March for the first time since 2013 I think the Jayhawks have what it takes to move on with a 74-65 win.