Kansas visits Kentucky in the latest iteration of the Big 12-SEC challenge, aka the most meaningless series in college basketball.
Kentucky comes in on a five-game winning streak, and they have scored at least a point per possession in all five of those games. While their offense has been good this year, there are a couple of reasons to believe Kansas could hold them down a bit.
The first is Kentucky’s lack of 3-point shooting. While they shoot a fair percentage from three (roughly 35 percent), they take a shockingly low number of them, just under 30 percent of their field goal attempts, which ranks 338th nationally. That rank has been even lower in SEC play.
Secondly, Kentucky relies a lot on their offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line to score. Kansas has struggled at times on the defensive glass this year, but did well against West Virginia, who hits the offensive glass at a similar rate to the Wildcats (although Kentucky has more size and athleticism).
Defensively, Kentucky is once again one of the best in the SEC and the nation. They’re allowing .93 points per trip in SEC play to lead the league, and have allowed more than 1 point per trip just five times this season. Kentucky doesn’t do any one thing spectacularly defensively, but they force an above average number of turnovers, keep opponents off the glass, and limit good attempts inside.
Kansas will have to take a few more threes than they’re probably comfortable with, and will have to make a few more than they usually do in order to win.
Players to Watch
Keldon Johnson, 6-6 freshman guard
Johnson started slow but has turned into an excellent guard for the Wildcats. He is shooting 38 percent from three and 57 percent on twos. This will likely be the matchup to watch as Marcus Garrett will probably guard Johnson for most of the game.
Reid Travis, 6-8 senior forward
The grad transfer from Stanford terrorized the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse two years ago, but was much quieter last year when the Jayhawks made the return trip. He’s at 56 percent on twos this season and has been one of the Wildcats’ best rebounders, but he’s also probably the guy to take advantage of defensively.
PJ Washingon, 6-8 sophomore forward
Probably the best athlete on the team, Washington has had a breakout sophomore season, shooting 55 percent on twos and over 40 percent from three (although on just 34 attempts). He’s been a terror on the glass and is a decent shotblocker without fouling too much. Getting him in foul trouble would be a huge boost for the Jayhawks.
Kansas and Kentucky are roughly equal teams, and I think Kansas matches up with Kentucky fairly well due to the Wildcats not taking a ton of threes. However, Kansas has some offensive challenges, and Kentucky is built to exacerbate those challenges. When things are even, I say tie goes to the home team. I’ll take Kentucky in a close, low scoring game, 67-62.