Before every KU men’s basketball game, Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Saturday’s game: No. 7 Kansas at Kansas State, 3 p.m., Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan
Opponent’s record: 10-7
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 55
Point spread: Kansas by 7
All statistics are from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
• Limiting fast breaks: Coach Bruce Weber does a great job of getting his guys to run back defensively, as K-State is 21st-best nationally in disallowing transition attempts.
• Ball security: The Wildcats have the lowest offensive turnover rate in Big 12 play (17%) — an impressive number considering most of the conference’s defenses thrive with picking off steals and creating opponent giveaways.
• Defensive rebounding: Though K-State has a short team overall, it has been excellent on the defensive glass, ranking 69th in D-board percentage while “loading up” a lot of its defenders in the lane with strong help.
• Transition offense: Though K-State runs in fast breaks only slightly less than an average team, its numbers there have been awful, as the team ranks 269th in adjusted shooting percentage in transition.
• Rim protection: The Wildcats have struggled to find consistency at the 5 position, and part of that has involved no one emerging as a defensive presence; the team is 329th in defensive block rate and had no swats in its previous road victory over Texas.
• Second chances: What used to be a staple in Weber’s early years at K-State is no longer that; the Wildcats are 259th in O-board rate while seeming to put more attention on getting back with transition defense.
PLAYER TO WATCH
5-foot-8 guard Markquis Nowell (No. 1)
Plus: Little Rock transfer who takes on largest offensive role for K-State
Plus: One of nation’s best passers
Plus: Has ranked top 50 nationally in steal rate the last three years and is sixth this season
Plus: 87% career free-throw shooter
Plus: High-volume three-point shooter who’s made 36% for his career (though only 31% this year)
Minus: Struggles to finish at the rim because of his size
Minus: Can be turnover prone
Minus: Hasn’t drawn much contact or created many fouls, which means he’s only had limited free-throw attempts
I have two conflicting beliefs about this game.
The first is that KU’s most significant concern should be turnovers. Bramlage Coliseum can get chaotic in a hurry when KU is in town, and it’s often difficult to keep composure there. Not to mention, with Remy Martin in and out of the lineup the last few games, the Jayhawks’ giveaways have skyrocketed, with their turnover rate in Big 12 play ranking eighth out of 10 conference teams.
That’s the bad news for KU. The good news is that I think the Jayhawks should be able to swing one offensive stat their way.
K-State crowds the lane to try to keep opponents away from the rim. That can leave the three-point line open, though, which is where opponents have fired up a much-higher-than-average 42% of their field-goal attempts against the Wildcats.
For now, this hasn’t caught up to K-State. Opponents have shot only 26% from three against the Wildcats this season, a number that is likely to be something like “one part good defense and three parts luck” mixed.
I’ll like KU’s chances if this turns into a HORSE contest from three-point range. Yes, the Jayhawks will have to avoid a catastrophe of turnovers as stated before; still, with Martin at least available off the bench now following injury, the worst-case scenario with giveaways seems like it should be more palatable for KU.
K-State has played some of its best basketball in its last two games, but it’s also worth noting Texas Tech and Texas both went 4 for 17 from three. I’d be surprised if KU shoots that poorly, especially with the number of long-range specialists it can put out there.
I’ll say the Jayhawks play their best game in a while. Give me KU for both the win and cover.
Kansas 76, K-State 63
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
HAWK TO ROCK
Though it’s tempting to put a KU big man in this spot ... Christian Braun has played too well in rivalry-type games to have anyone else here. The junior guard always seems to thrive off opposing fans — that happened last game at Oklahoma, in fact — and if he’s aggressive with his three-point shot, he should have plenty of opportunities to take over the game offensively while feeding off drive-and-kicks from teammates. Braun’s season-high for threes came against Oklahoma (three), and I’ll say he goes above that number Saturday.
Last game prediction: Kansas 71, Oklahoma 70 (Actual: KU 67-64) ✔️
2021-22 record vs. spread: 6-11
Last eight seasons’ record vs. spread: 136-116-3 (54%)