Scouting reports are all about details. Kentucky basketball blows up the details, makes them irrelevant because of its size and athletic ability.
Wichita State associate coach Chris Jans is responsible for the scouting report for the biggest game of the NCAA Tournament, Sunday’s matchup between his top-seeded Shockers and eighth-seeded Kentucky. The high stakes and high drama won’t change his presentation. Jans is known for his precise information and all-business demeanor.
“He’s amazing with the scout,” Wichita State senior Chadrack Lufile said. “He goes into so much detail that’s it’s so easy to recognize what they’re going to do on the court. If a guy goes left or right, he’s going to tell me the guy goes left and the counter-moves. He really forces it into our head so it’s second nature.”
Scouting Kentucky, however, is less about anticipating plays and stuffing tendencies and more about withstanding the onslaught of taller, stronger athletes. For the 35-0 Shockers to keep this historic season rolling into the Sweet 16, they will need to handle the most physically imposing team they’ve played in coach Gregg Marshall’s seven seasons.
Sunday’s winner advances to the Midwest Regional semifinals in Indianapolis.
The Wildcats, 25-10, boast projected NBA first-round picks in forward Julius Randle, center Willie Cauley-Stein and guard James Young. Several others will get a shot.
They don’t need to run a lot of plays because they can beat you one-on-one. They don’t need to worry about passing up good shots to get great shots because they can leap over you for rebounds. They don’t need to be clever, because they are more talented than you at every position.
“It’s a little harder to manipulate the game,” Jans said. “They don’t run as many sets, so it’s hard to take things away. They rely more on scoring off their defense, running and having great athletes on the floor.”
That takes some of the fun away for Jans.
“It’s easier in terms of presentation,” Jans said. “I don’t like it, but it’s easier. We pride ourselves on helping the players, giving them a crutch or two, and I’m not sure we’re going to be able to do that.”
Wichita State played most of its previous 35 games with an edge in size and depth. That flips on Sunday. The Wildcats lead the SEC with a plus-9.9 rebound margin and grab a conference-best 42.2 percent of available offensive rebounds.
“They’re bigger and, inch for inch, pound for pound, more athletic,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “We’ve got to do a great job and be very diligent in checking out every time, rebounding with five (players).”
With fewer plays to dissect, the emphasis on the scouting report moves toward the fundamentals.
“Sprinting back on defense, building our defense,” Jans said. “When the shot is taken, all five guys having the mentality to do what it takes to get our team the ball. Boxing out my guy. Boxing out somebody else’s guy. Securing the ball.”
Wichita State’s big men won’t look so big next to 7-footers Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson.
“Nothing changes — I’m just going to be as physical as I can,” Wichita State center Kadeem Coleby said. “The scouting report shows you how to be aggressive towards their personnel. People can be aggressive and physical in different ways. We’ve got to be aggressive holding our checks and boxing out.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari watched five games by the Shockers before taking a break.
“You’re talking about a team that understands each other, has an outstanding point guard,” he said. “It has big people that will put bodies on you. Defensively, they’re keeping people under 40 percent (shooting) and under 30 percent from the three, because they close out. They know who to play.”