I remember some years ago when Wichita State and their fans demanded that Kansas schedule them as some sort of manufactured rivalry. It's interesting that we only heard these demands during Greggg Marshall's few peak years when the program was actually good. Those Shocker fans have been quiet lately, especially with Greggg being fired for gross mistreatment of his players after WSU started falling off. Crazy how the universities never hear about this type of thing from their coaches until some losses start to pile up. For some reason I just thought of Lew Perkins. Don't know why.
Anyway, Wichita State's glory days are in the rear view mirror. After making the Final Four in 2013 and having an undefeated season spoiled in the first weekend of the 2014 tournament, WSU did ultimately get their wish in 2015 and played Kansas in the 2nd round of the tournament. KU's best player was hobbled already and received a blow to the head in the 1st half, and Kansas struggled and ultimately lost that game. The teams haven't played each other since, and Wichita State started a gradual decline after that year despite the Sweet 16 appearance.
WSU is now in year one of the Paul Mills regime, whom they hired away from Oral Roberts after Mills got ORU two tournament appearances in three years. It's been a tough start for Mills, with the Shockers sitting at 8-4, but ranked 117th in Ken Pomeroy's ratings. They're 7-1 against teams ranked outside the KenPom top 100, but 0-3 against teams within it. They've already played both Missouri and Kansas State, losing to both by ten and nine points, respectively. They've lost to Liberty and South Dakota State as well.
The team is stronger defensively (87th per KenPom) than offensively (174th). While Wichita State has taken care of the ball when they have possession, they force about as few turnovers as anyone in the country on the other side. That's good news for Kansas, who has somewhat limited ball handling and has been turnover prone at times. The Shockers are a terrible three point shooting team, hitting just 30.5% from outside, and hit roughly half their twos. They don't attempt many threes, but still haven't been able to get to the line much, which is typically a bad sign for an offense.
One thing the team does very well is rebound, ranking in the top-70 nationally on the glass on both ends of the court. They're a top-50 shot blocking team and their competition hasn't shot well from two this year, so defense and rebounding will be their main points of emphasis to try and stay in the game. The two teams have played at roughly the same pace this year, so I don't expect either team to try and pull the other into an uncomfortable tempo.
Wichita State ranks 36th in D1 in average height according to KenPom's numbers, so they're better equipped than most to try and limit Hunter Dickinson. They start a frontcourt of Kenny Pahto at 6'10” alongside 6'11” center Quincy Ballard. Pohto, despite his height, is more of a "stretch four" who's willing to shoot from outside (though just making 22% of 27 attempts), but also attacks the basket fairly well. Ballard is a more traditional big man, shooting only near the basket, leading the team in blocked shots, and rebounding well on both ends. Wichita State does have one legitimate three point threat in 6'4 junior Colby Rogers, who's hit 40.3% of 77 attempts this year. No one else with at least 20 attempts has made more than 31%.
Kansas has been awful on the offensive glass this year, and despite the talent gap, WSU is a team set up to take advantage of that. Neither team is particularly turnover prone or apt at forcing turnovers, so this is game is likely to be won operating in half court sets. Kansas has frequently looked listless with long bouts of offensive struggles even against poor opponents this year, which is why their ranks at all the analytics sites have slid to the mid teens even as they're out to an 11-1 start.
I don't know that KU is the type of team that will go up against a mid-major with a lot of height and simply execute so well in their half court offense that they run away with a game like this. With that said, it's unlikely that Wichita State will find much of anything to exploit when they have the ball either.
I'm just going to predict more of what KU has typically shown us in these games this year. A sluggish start, bouts of poor offense that doesn't lead to many points, but ultimately enough runs with their superior talent that they come out on top. The Sprint Center "curse" doesn't really get mentioned as much as it used to be, and despite it being fairly neutral ground, I don't think the environment will have a big impact on this game.
I expect Kansas to come out with a win, but one that leaves us with some familiar frustrations, especially on the offensive side.
Kansas 73, Wichita State 65