Dajuan Harris’ first-round NCAA Tournament matchup is an ‘unbelievable point guard’

Rich Sugg/rsugg@kcstar.com

Acting Kansas coach Norm Roberts hasn’t seen a team quite like KU’s first-round NCAA Tournament opponent: No. 16-seeded Howard.

Roberts says the Bison don’t compare to any Big 12 opponent — with good reason.

Howard plays at a quick pace and forces opposing teams to play quickly as well. The average possession time of its opponents on offense is 16.5 seconds, ranking 6th in the nation, per KenPom.

“We want to play at a pace that’s fast, we practice with a 14-second shot clock on missed shots,” said Howard coach Kenneth Blakeney on Wednesday. “We try to get up and down the court within six seconds in practice and its something — from the perspective of players and fans — it’s fun for both sides.”

How do the Jayhawks counteract that? It all starts on the defensive end.

“You’ve got to defend; make them uncomfortable,” Roberts said. “Obviously, shoot good shots and attack the paint against them, but you don’t allow them to go out and get easy buckets.”

Coming into the matchup, Kansas has limited opposing teams to 34.2% on transition three–pointers but will have its work cut out against Howard.

Not only do the Bison excel at shooting from beyond the arc, ranking 32nd in the nation in three-point percentage (37.2), but they are even better in transition. Howard shoots 38.7% from beyond the arc in transition.

Elijah Hawkins leads the charge from deep for Howard, shooting a blistering 47.3% on three-pointers on four attempts per game.

KU sophomore guard Bobby Pettiford Jr. is familiar with Hawkins as they played against each other growing up. Hawkins played for an AAU team called New World. Every time the two players matched up, it was battle.

“He’s a great player,” Pettiford told The Star. “You have to make it tough on him, you know? He’s quick, fast and he can guard. Try to make him make tough passes and see how it goes.”

Shooting isn’t the only skill KU will have to worry about with Hawkins. As Pettiford said, Hawkins is quite the floor general. He averages 5.9 assists per game.

“They have an unbelievable point guard in Hawkins; he shoots 47% from three,” Roberts said. He’s an unbelievable quarterback, very similar to Juan (Harris). He gets the ball to the guys in the right position.”

The matchup of Harris vs. Hawkins is pivotal in this game. Let’s just say both teams are rocking with their guys.

“Dajuan Harris is the straw that stirs the drink for them, so we’re going to have to step up and accept that challenge, but I wouldn’t want to go to war with anybody but Elijah Hawkins,” said Howard’s Jelani Williams. “He’s a great point guard, defends the ball, gets us going and gets us opportunities, so I like him against any point guard in the country.

KU forward Jalen Wilson had a similar sentiment for Harris.

“I got the (Big 12) Defensive Player of the Year; I am riding Juan with anybody even without the accolades because Juan still deserves even more than that,” Wilson said. “I’m always riding with Juan, no matter what.”