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Kansas Jayhawks Basketball at Kentucky Wildcats Preview

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas attempts to help the Big 12 to conference supremacy in a rematch from last year’s classic which saw the Jayhawks defeat Kentucky at Allen Fieldhouse. With Kansas ostensibly down to 6 guys after the suspension of Carlton Bragg, however, tonight’s matchup figures to be a bit more difficult.

Kentucky has the 2nd best offense in the country via KenPom, but they have gotten there a bit differently from the Jayhawks. Kentucky is shooting right around 35 percent from three, but is making 56 percent of its twos. Even though Kansas ranks 3rd in the Big 12 in 2-point defense, it will be a tall task to keep Kentucky from scoring inside. The Wildcats take right around 39 percent of their shots at the rim, a number which will probably be even higher tonight. They’re also one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, although Landen Lucas should be able to corral that somewhat.

Defensively, Kentucky is currently just 5th in the SEC, and they’re allowing conference foes to shoot a higher percentage on twos than Kansas is. They’ve also been poor at turning teams over, although one thing to note is they have been very good at limiting 3-point attempts. With the length of De’Aaron Fox and the general tenacity of Isaiah Briscoe, it might be tough for Mason and Graham to get off a lot of attempts. Kentucky also has been really good this year at keeping opponents from getting to the rim. It is surprising with their length, though, that they are in the 200s at defense at the rim, allowing opponents to shoot 60 percent there. Kansas certainly has the talent to win a game via jump shooting, but if they can get it to the rim they should be able to finish as well.

Players to Watch

Malik Monk, freshman guard

Monk is shooting just under 40 percent from three on 159 attempts, but is maybe the streakiest shooter in America. He has games of 7-11 and 8-12 from three this year, but also games of 1-9 and 3-13. If he’s on, Kentucky is maybe the hardest team in the country to beat, so this will go a long way to determining the winner tonight. He can score in other ways, but doesn’t do much other than score.

De’Aaron Fox, freshman guard

Fox is probably Kentucky’s best perimeter defender, although Isaiah Briscoe certainly could be as well. He also has an assist rate of 32.6 percent compared to a turnover of 14.4 percent. He can’t shoot (just 7-39 from three) but he still can score pretty well if he gets into the lane.

Bam Adebayo, freshman center

Adebayo is 4th in the nation at getting to the free throw line, is probably the best offensive rebounder on the team (although surprisingly he isn’t a very good defensive rebounder) and he shoots 62.4 percent. With KU as thin as it is on the front line, Adebayo might have 30-20.

Things to Watch For

  1. Transition - Kentucky loves to run. They have the shortest possessions in the SEC, they take roughly 36 percent of their field goals in transition, and are much better when they can get out and run. Kansas is better when they run as well, but in this case, they’re probably better off slowing the pace.
  2. Jump shooting - Kansas won’t get a lot of open looks from three probably, so they will need to maximize the jumpers they do get. While they can score at the rim, they’ll probably have some mid range jumpers available and (I can't believe I am saying this) they might need to take quite a few of them. Kentucky, meanwhile, is definitely not a good jump shooting team, so Kansas will want to pack it in and let them try to shoot over the top as much as possible.
  3. Wing play - Kentucky has a very good defensive backcourt, and the front court has definitely shown potential, but their 4 men (Derek Willis and Wenyen Gabriel) can’t stick with Josh Jackson, Svi when he slides down there, and so a lot of pressure will be on those 2 and Lagerald Vick to assert themselves offensively.

The Pick

The Carlton Bragg suspension doesn't change a lot defensively, but he would have been a tough matchup on the other end for Kentucky. Landen Lucas is definitely good enough to slow Kentucky down down low, but he’s either going to get into foul trouble or have to give up some baskets to avoid foul trouble. I don’t really think Mitch Lightfoot is strong enough to contain Kentucky’s front line, and for some reason Dwight Coleby hasn’t gotten any playing time lately. That lack of size and depth down low is going to be tough to combat. I think KU’s backcourt is better than Kentucky’s, but only by a little, and that’s not going to be good enough to overcome the depth issues down low. If Jackson, Svi, and Vick really chip in the Jayhawks have a chance, but I am going to take Kentucky 93-79.