No matter the team, no matter the conference, Kansas will find a way to play against Shaka Smart. And aside from a fluke tournament game we won't get into, Bill Self has done an excellent job against Shaka, going 10-3 against Smart's Texas teams. Now, the Jayhawks must take on Smart's newest employer, the Marquette Golden Eagles.
Marquee made headlines last year as a team that had very few expectations. They started the year 76th in KenPom's ratings and didn't receive a single preseason 1st place vote in the Big East. They would go on to finish 17-3 in the conference, winning the Big East over several high-profile teams, including eventual national champs Connecticut. Offensively they were top 5 in the country from two point range while still shooting threes respectably and rarely turning the ball over. As Smart's teams typically try to do, Marquette forced a ton of turnovers, mostly through steals, and pressuring shooters. They did benefit from some three point luck and they were carried more by their offense than by defense, but they were a dangerous team. This year they're looking pretty similar on paper. They haven't turned it over much and though they aren't forcing as many turnovers, they're still forcing plenty of mistakes, and they get back on defense to prevent any easy twos, though it leads to pretty poor rebounding numbers. They do shoot a lot of threes and make almost 36% of them, so that's always something to worry about as the defense can only do so much to affect that.
In terms of the players on the floor, just about everyone who contributed heavily to last year's surprise run is back. Senior point guard Tyler Kolek is an assist machine who will hit an open three of you give it to him. 6'5 wing Kam Jones is their leading scorer, someone who can hit threes and get to the rim, where he finishes well and draws fouls. Though the team has two players listed at 6'11, they don't block many shots and they don't rebound well on either side of the floor. I'm sure Bill Self has spent the day drawing up ways for Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar to try and repeatedly exploit those shortcomings, because it certainly appears that Marquette's path to victory will have to rely on forcing quite a few turnovers and hitting their threes. This Kansas team has been just-ok at taking care of the ball, so they'll have to stay focused on taking care of it tonight, because you definitely can't afford to give Marquette a bunch of transition scoring opportunities. This may just come down to which team can execute its gameplan, because they'll be looking to do different things and make the other uncomfortable.
If this game were in March I think I'd feel petty confident about it. But the Golden Eagles thrive on forcing mistakes, while Kansas has several players who become a bit of a liability when they put the ball on the floor. At the same time, it certainly seems like a game where Hunter Dicksinson will force Marquette we'll outside their comfort zone, which could make the difference here. For that reason I'm giving the edge to Kansas, with the caveat that these teams are close enough to even that an especially hot shooting night from Marquette may be something the Jayhawks won't be able to overcome. Still, I like the team with the physical and athletic advantages over the team that has to hope for turnovers and a bunch of threes. Marquette's style of play will likely keep this close, but I do think Kansas ultimately wins it.
Kansas 78, Marquette 74