Kansas makes their annual trek to the east to bring quality basketball to the good people of Kansas City. Here to help us scout out the opponent this week is Steven Ford (aka BlockUSteven) from Block U, who was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions for us.
RCT: So Utah-Kansas. Quite the rivalry going, right? Last time these two teams met, Nature was calling Ace Ventura, OJ was not guilty, and Gangsta's were living in Paradise. How have you guys been able to keep the fires of hatred burning for so long?
BU: It has been a while, but we hope to see the Jayhawks in Salt Lake City some day, and not for an NCAA Tournament game. The one and only meeting between the two teams was the opener of the 1995-96 season, a 68-79 loss for the Utes, also in Kansas City. Clearly, this is an uphill battle for head coach Larry Krystkowiak and his squad, but Utah will be prepared for a tough road game after their last game in Provo, Utah. Not even Syria has the kind of hostile environment you face in a Utah/BYU game.
RCT: Utah has a ton of talent down low and could definitely give Kansas a huge problem with their play. With so many large bodies to play, what has been the key for opponents in battling that rotation?
BU: Physical play and zone defenses have been the primary defense against Utah's bigs, especially talented Austrian 7-footer Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl needs more meat on his frame and can't play through contact at this point in his career, so bumping and shoving work well, especially if if the referees let them play like men underneath. BYU tried a 2-3 zone, which forced Utah into more of a perimeter game and really exposed two of the Utes great weaknesses, lack of a go-to shooter and poor entry passing. KU can limit freshmen forwards Brekkott Chapman and Kyle Kuzma by forcing them farther out on the floor. Doubling Poeltl and daring starting forward Chris Reyes to beat you seems to be effective.
RCT: Delon Wright is the unquestioned leader of the team, and is in the top 2 in points, rebounds and assists for the team. Who else do we need to keep an eye on in the Utes' backcourt?
BU: Brandon Taylor is the obvious answer, but I'll talk about him next. The player KU fans should really be aware of is the X-factor, Dakarai Tucker. Tucker is a 6-5 guard/forward who can really knock down the perimeter J. If Tucker gets hot, the Utes could really put the pressure on Kansas to pull away from the basket, freeing Poeltl up one-on-one in the paint, where the big Austrian is shooting 72.3 percent. 6-6 German sophomore Kenneth Ogbe is another that can get hot from the outside, but has the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. Ogbe only averages seven points per game but shoots 47.4 percent from deep.
RCT: Which matchup are you most excited to see? Which one worries you the most?
BU: Taylor is one of Utah's best guards, both scoring and distributing the ball. He's quick and has a better outside shot than he's shown thus far. He tends to drain threes when Utah needs them the most, or when the Utes are on a run to really blow the game open. But Taylor has struggled with bigger lineups the Utes have seen in recent games. That's why the matchup I'm most looking forward to is Taylor against Frank Mason III. It's about time Taylor can pick on someone his own size.
The matchup that worries me the most is Jayhawks forward Perry Ellis versus Utah's forwards, Reyes, Chapman, and Kuzma. (I'd feel much better about it if Utah had the services of junior forward Jordan Loveridge, but he'll be sitting and watching this game after recent knee surgery.) Utah will likely platoon defenders against Ellis and hope to keep him from getting to his favorite spots on the floor, attempting to force another player to pick up the slack.
RCT: Finally, what is your prediction for the game? Does Utah come in and avenge their previous loss to Kansas for Keith Van Horn, who had his spectacular effort wasted?
BU: Utah has had problems starting quickly against quality teams. The Utes fell behind to San Diego State and Wichita State, and I don't see them breaking that tendency in Kansas City. I expect Utah to struggle out of the gate, while playing their signature solid defense and rebounding well enough to keep them in the game. Utah may be down 2-4 points at the half, but after the break, the Utes will storm back. Ultimately, you don't fight from behind and win in KU's backyard. Utah falls in a close one 63-68. Utah will hold KU under their season average and have chances to win, but free throw shooting will probably do them in on the road.
A big thanks to Steven for taking time to help us out today. Don't forget to check out my answers to his questions.