Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Thursday’s game: No. 3 Kansas at UNLV, 8 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas (CBS Sports Network)
Opponent’s record: 7-5
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 187
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Point spread: KU by 21 1/2
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Free throws: This is one of coach Marvin Menzies’ specialties, as for a four-year stretch with New Mexico State, his team ranked in the top 10 in offensive free-throw rate. UNLV is above average at getting to the line and also a 72-percent shooting team once it gets there.
▪ Defensive rebounding: UNLV ranks 80th in defensive rebounding percentage, though the team’s best defensive rebounder, Dwayne Morgan, has sat out the last three games with a shoulder injury.
▪ Three-point shooting: UNLV shoots threes about as often as KU while making 37 percent of those tries (102nd nationally).
▪ Turnovers ... both ends: UNLV plays passive defensively (296th in defensive turnover percentage) and careless offensively (243rd in offensive turnover percentage). As a result, the Runnin’ Rebels allow lots of transition opportunities — a part of the game where this KU team thrives.
▪ Finishing at the rim: UNLV ranks 296th in close-shot percentage and has been greatly affected by opposing shot-blockers.
▪ Allowing close shots: Forty-one percent of opponents’ field-goal attempts have come at the rim — a number that is too high for any team trying to maintain defensive success.
3 Players to Watch
Six-foot-7 forward Tyrell Green (No. 3)
Plus: Team’s most efficient player offensively who isn’t afraid to shoot
Plus: Has made 25 of 50 threes this year
Plus: Good finisher at the rim
Plus: Doesn’t turn it over often
Minus: Not a threat to draw contact and get to free-throw line
Six-foot-4 guard Jalen Poyser (No. 5)
Plus: UNLV’s second-best scoring option
Plus: Team’s most frequent three-point shooter who’s made 39 percent this year
Plus: Draws fouls often and is 87-percent free-throw shooter
Plus: Top passer on team
Minus: Is prone to turnovers
Six-foot-2 guard Jovan Mooring (No. 30)
Plus: Excels at drawing fouls and is strong free-throw shooter
Plus: Can make threes, though he doesn’t shoot a lot of them
Plus: Synergy’s logs rank him as “good” defender
Minus: Turns it over way too often
Minus: Awful finisher at the rim (38 percent)
I’ve got to admit: The pressure is on to give a correct pick here with KU playing in Vegas.
Here’s what I like about the matchup for the Jayhawks: UNLV allows fast breaks, and that’s this particular team’s specialty. And though this is listed as a road game, it probably won’t be one, as I’m guessing there will be at least as many KU fans there as UNLV ones.
On the flip side ... the sports books seem to be factoring this in. KenPom has KU by 18, and the line is up to 21 1/2 , meaning those that are taking the Jayhawks have to surrender a few extra points.
UNLV’s best chance is pounding it inside. Get two early fouls from Landen Lucas, and suddenly, KU would find itself thin on the front line against a Rebels team that loves to challenge teams at the rim.
I’m honestly feeling like this line is about right. Give me the extra points and also the possibility that KU’s walk-ons swing this from a cover to a non-cover.
Kansas 90, UNLV 70
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: UNLV
Hawk to Rock
This screams of a big game for Josh Jackson, who should be able to create steals, get out in transition and score in the half-court against so-so defender Tyrell Green. Don’t be surprised if Jackson tops his career high of 22.
Last game prediction: Kansas 82, Davidson 74 (Actual: KU 89-71)
2016-17 record vs. spread: 4-5
Last three seasons’ record vs. spread: 45-32-2