Before we start the preview, a programming note: because it is Thanksgiving, there might or might not be a recap of this game and/or preview/recap of the championship or third place game. I’ll do my best, but I may be suffering from apple pie overdose. Happy Thanksgiving.
Kansas faces Marquette in the semifinals of the NIT season tip off, what used to be the preseason NIT, and what once was probably the premier Thanksgiving weekend event. Unfortunately it’s now at Barclays Center in Brooklyn rather than Madison Square Garden.
Marquette provides one distinct challenge to Kansas: they take and make a lot of threes and Kansas has had a horrible time defending the three. They haven’t shot lights out this year, but were the third best 3-point shooting team in the country last season and have largely the same personnel this season.
For the year, Marquette is attempting more than 45 percent of its shots from behind the arc, and when you combine KU’s inability to defend the 3-point line as well as their ability to defend inside the arc, Marquette is a threat to take 30+ threes, pitting Kansas in a fight against math again. When Marquette isn’t taking threes, they aren’t as much of a threat. They have turned it over a ton, and although they have some size, they aren’t a real threat on the offensive glass.
If Kansas can limit 3-point attempts, they should be able to keep Marquette’s offense in check, and even if they can’t limit attempts, the hope is enough of those long rebounds turn into transition opportunities for Kansas to at least somewhat make them think twice about attempting so many threes.
Defensively, Marquette currently ranks 10th in the country in 2-point percentage allowed. However, they have played just 1 opponent ranked inside the top 200 in KenPom, and that team shot 74 percent from two, so I am less worried about their defense. They were in fact horrible defensively last year (10th in the Big East), and ranked 304th nationally in 2-point defense, so Kansas should have a somewhat easy time scoring. Although they have some size on the wing, their tallest player stands 6-9, so it will probably be another game of heavily featuring Udoka Azubuike in the post.
Players to Watch
Markus Howard, 5-11 junior guard
I remarked on the podcast that Howard reminds me a lot of Devonte Graham. He will shoot a ton of threes, shoot them from anywhere, and shoot them both off the dribble and in catch and shoot opportunities. He led the nation in 3-point shooting as a freshman and shot 40 percent on 275 attempts last year. Whomever is on him (likely Devon Dotson or Charlie Moore) will have to make sure to stick to him, and probably face guard him for much of the game.
Sam Hauser, 6-8 junior forward
Hauser is another great shooter, shooting 46 percent for his career. He benefits a lot from defenses being keyed in on Howard, but is a great shooter in his own right. He’s mostly a spot up shooter, but given KU’s struggles off the ball, he will probably get free quite a bit.
Theo John, 6-9 sophomore forward
The man who will be tasked with defending Azubuike, John currently ranks 10th nationally in block percentage. However, he had zero against their lone top-200 opponent, and wasn’t a stalwart last season against big time opponents either. Still, it would behoove Kansas to either pick on someone else where possible or get John into foul trouble.
This certainly won’t be a cakewalk, especially if Kansas defends the 3-point line like it has done the last couple of games. However, I do think Marquette will turn back into a pumpkin defensively, and they don’t have the depth, experience, or size, to match up with Kansas. Make sure you take the over, however. I’ll say Kansas 88, Marquette 80.