The dynamic of the Syracuse game will be eminently familiar tonight, thanks to Washington hiring longtime Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins over the offseason. Hopkins hasn’t deployed Syracuse’s trademark zone as often as the Orange did, but they will definitely be trotting it out against the Jayhawks.
To say Washington isn’t as good at zone defense as the Orange would be a massive understatement. Washington is currently 211th defensively, and is allowing opponents to shoot 54.3 percent from two. They’re also giving up a ton of three point attempts, but without the corresponding effect on three point shooters, as opponents are making 38.3 percent of their attempts from deep. Certainly some regression is coming, but whether it will be tonight is anyone’s guess.
The Huskies do have some size, though not as much as Syracuse. Their starting lineup goes 6-0, 6-4, 6-5, 6-6, and 6-11. Although they’ve done well to block shots (46th nationally) and grab steals (15th nationally), it hasn’t corresponded to preventing good shots. They also haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row schedule, playing just two KenPom top 100 opponents, and only 4 KenPom top 200 opponents.
Offensively, Washington somewhat resembles the K State teams of old in that they live by grabbing offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line. They rank 5th nationally at getting to the free throw line, and given how much foul trouble the Jayhawks were in against Syracuse, it will probably be as bad tonight (so welcome, James Sosinski). They’re not a great shooting team from deep, and shot under 50 percent from two against both their top 100 opponents.
Players to Watch
Noah Dickerson, 6-8 junior forward
Dickerson has lived at the free throw line this season, ranking 3rd nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and in free throw rate. He’s also been effective once there, shooting 73 percent at the line. He’s no slouch otherwise, shooting 68 percent on twos, and ranking 14th nationally in offensive rebounding rate.
Matisse Thybulle, 6-5 junior wing
Thybulle ranks 7th nationally in steal percentage, though he likes to steal possessions from his own team as well, taking the 2nd most threes on the team despite shooting just 27 percent from deep.
Sam Timmins, 6-11 sophomore forward
Timmins is the team’s top shot blocker, and while he doesn’t take a ton of shots, he’s shooting 58 percent on twos. He’s also 22nd nationally in offensive rebounding.
Keys to the Game
- 3-point shooting - Kansas has shot 29 percent and 35 percent from deep in their two neutral site games. The Sprint Center is a more familiar environment, so maybe closer to 40 percent tonight.
- Fouls - Although Kansas probably won’t lose even if they need to go to Clay Young (or Young and Sosinski out there together), Azubuike and Lightfoot need to learn to play without fouling at some point.
- Secondary scoring - It seems Graham is going to play well pretty much no matter what, but who will step up to provide extra offense. The obvious pick is Lagerald Vick, who did well against the middle of the Syracuse zone late in the game after struggling early.
Washington isn’t very good, and they don’t present the same matchup problems Syracuse did. I think the KU offense will rebound a bit, and it would be nice to see them do it against a power 5 opponent. I’ll take the Jayhawks 87, Washington 69.