Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Monday’s game: UAB vs. No. 5 Kansas, around 8:30 p.m. at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Opponent record: 2-1
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 100
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Point spread: KU by 18 1/2.
All statistics from KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Free throws: UAB has scored 31 percent of its points from the line, which is the 14th-highest split nationally. The Blazers rank 16th in free-throw rate and also have made 80 percent of their freebies.
▪ Rim protection: The team’s defense is anchored by 6-foot-9 forward William Lee, who ranks fifth nationally in block rate. UAB also is fifth as a team in block percentage.
▪ Defensive rebounding: Lee and 6-foot-8 teammate Chris Cokley have both been excellent on the defensive glass, helping the Blazers to a top-100 mark in defensive rebounding so far.
▪ Three-point defense: UAB has the double whammy when it comes to perimeter defense, allowing lots of threes with opponents making 39 percent of those attempts so far. In fact, 48 percent of opponents’ points this year have come from the outside.
▪ Carelessness: After losing point guard Nick Norton for the season, UAB has had issues with turnovers, giving it away on 22 percent of its possessions (270th nationally).
▪ Finishing inside: Though UAB gets a lot of shots at the rim, it ranks 254th in field-goal percentage on those shots.
3 Players to Watch
Six-foot-8 forward Chris Cokley (No. 3)
Plus: Team’s go-to guy offensively who is efficient player
Plus: Top-300 rebounder on both ends
Plus: Strong shot-blocker
Plus: Versatile scorer who is above average at rim, in mid-range and with drawing fouls
Minus: Will turn it over
Minus: Doesn’t have three-point range (one attempt in three-year career)
Six-foot-9 forward William Lee (No. 34)
Plus: Elite shot-blocker
Plus: Almost never fouls (has two in three games)
Plus: Strong on defensive glass
Plus: Crashes offensive glass well
Plus: Has three-point rnage (39 percent career shooter)
Minus: More of a role player offensively
Minus: Low free-throw rate indicates he’s not a physical player down low
Six-foot-2 guard Hakeem Baxter (No. 0)
Plus: Great at drawing fouls
Plus: Career 78-percent free-throw shooter
Minus: Was awful shooter last year in mid-range (6-for-38)
Minus: Also struggles on shots at the rim
This is one of those games that is tough to predict because of the great unknown: KU’s outside shooting.
The Jayhawks should shoot a lot of threes. That’s clearly UAB’s weakness, as the Blazers have struggled to get out to shooters in both the half-court and transition.
History tells us, though, that KU coach Bill Self likes his team to go at elite shot-blockers like it would any other defense. And one shouldn’t be surprised if the Jayhawks think twice about threes considering they’ve made 23 percent of their outside shots so far.
In other words, watch KU’s three-point shooting closely. Something like 13-for-30? KU should win in a blowout. If it’s more like 4-for-13 (especially if the team’s attempts are low), there’s a greater potential for a close game into the second half.
I’ll split the difference and say KU keeps its three-point attempts low but still makes enough of them to win by double figures.
Kansas 78, UAB 66
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: UAB
Hawk to Rock
As mentioned before, UAB has been especially poor with three-point defense in transition, allowing opponents to shoot 47 percent in those situations. So who is KU’s most likely to fire up threes on the break? From last year ... it’s Svi Mykhailiuk, so this seems like a good opportunity for him to break out of his mini shooting slump.
Last game prediction: Kansas 93, Siena 74 (Actual: KU 86-65)
2016-17 record vs. spread: 2-1
Last three seasons’ record vs. spread: 43-28-2