In the final Selfless (get it?) game of the early season for Kansas, the Jayhawks play host to the Southern Utah Thunderbirds. This sounds like a ho-hum early season game against an opponent that will get run out of Allen Fieldhouse quickly, and perhaps that’s what it will be. However, Southern Utah appears to be a good step or two better than KU’s early roadkill in Omaha and North Dakota State.
Omaha and NDSU are currently ranked 331st and 232nd by KenPom, respectively. Southern Utah hasn’t provided much relevant data yet this year, but they sit at 167th, making this at least slightly more of a challenge than the first two opponents, respectively. At least on paper. That said, Kansas just beat Duke on a neutral court, so it’s not as though they’ll be nervous about the Thunderbirds coming to town.
The reason I said that Southern Utah hasn’t provided much relevant data is that while they’re 3-1, those three wins came against D2 schools, leaving their loss to be against the only D1 school they’ve even played. That game was against 117th ranked New Mexico, and they lost a high scoring, 89-81 affair. Yes, since then they’ve really beaten the hell out of La Verne, St. Katherine, and Bethesda, but how much does that really tell you? KenPom doesn’t even look at games against sub-D1 competition, so their combined 164 point margin of victory in those games just doesn’t mean much.
With that in mind, take their stats with a grain of salt. As a team they’re shooting 36.7% from three so far. Granted that’s against teams with no where near the athleticism and length to close out on shooters that Kansas has, but we also know that 3 point percentage isn’t affected much by the defense, so a better-safe-than-sorry approach would dictate that we assume this team can shoot the ball a little bit. I’m not diving into rebounding or defensive shooting numbers because, well, they’ve been playing the Topeka YMCA for the last 10 days.
Their leading scorer by some margin is 6’7 wing Tevian Jones, who averages 18 points a game while hitting 40.7% of his threes. While good big men are usually tough to find on these mid-major teams, a 6’7 wing who appears capable of scoring in multiple ways while creating 2 steals per game is arguably harder to find, as guys like that are typically gobbled up by the bigger schools. Fittingly, Jones actually started his career at Illinois before transferring, seemingly still an afterthought at the end of the bench after two years there. He’s scored between 14.6 and 18 ppg in his years at Southern Utah since then, so it’s safe to say this is going to be one of the better players you’ll see in the WAC.
Aside from Tevian Jones, I just don’t see much to worry about with this Southern Utah roster. They do start a 6’11 center, but even against bad competition he’s playing less than 20 minutes per game, while putting up mediocre rebounding numbers and even against D2 schools failing to show up as a rim protector, so I’m not concerned about this team’s size. Unless the Thunderbirds get it rolling early from three and keep it rolling, there’s just very little potential for them to threaten Kansas. KenPom sees this as a 21 point game, and I think it’ll be more of a blowout than that.
Kansas 92, Southern Utah 64