Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Sunday’s game: No. 16 Arizona State at No. 2 Kansas, 1 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse
Opponent’s record: 8-0
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KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 43
Point spread: KU by 11.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Drawing contact: Washington was elite when it comes to creating fouls, but Arizona State is even better. The Sun Devils are No. 1 nationally in offensive free throw rate, meaning KU will have to guard against foul trouble again, especially in the post.
▪ Shooting ... everywhere: Arizona State attempts a lot of threes and has 42 percent accuracy there. It also ranks 32nd in two-point percentage and also is a 73-percent free throw shooting team.
▪ Turnovers ... both ends: The Sun Devils often win the ball security battle, ranking 32nd in offensive turnover percentage and 79th in defensive turnover percentage.
▪ Transition defense: The Sun Devils give up lots of fast-break opportunities and aren’t good at defending in those situations, which makes this one overwhelming advantage KU has on Sunday.
▪ Three-point defense: Forty-four percent of opponents’ shots have been threes, and those teams have hit an above average number of those shots against the Sun Devils.
▪ Depth: Arizona State actually has used its bench less than KU has this season. The Sun Devils typically do a good job of avoiding fouls, but like the Jayhawks, they don’t like to go more than seven deep.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-1 guard Tra Holder (No. 0)
Plus: Only NCAA player, besides KU’s Devonté Graham, to have two 35-point games this season
Plus: Great three-point shooter
Plus: Team’s best passer
Plus: Does good job drawing contact and is 75 percent career free throw shooter
Minus: Struggles to score inside against length
Minus: Synergy’s logs list him as “poor” overall defender
6-foot-8 forward Romello White (No. 23)
Plus: Creates lots of contact; fourth nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes
Plus: Elite offensive rebounder
Plus: Nearly automatic finisher at the rim
Plus: Synergy lists him as “excellent” defender
Minus: Not a great free throw shooter (60 percent)
Minus: Does not shoot threes
6-foot-1 guard Shannon Evans (No. 11)
Plus: Good three-point shooter
Plus: Gets to line often and is accurate there
Plus: Distributes well and doesn’t turn it over often
Minus: Struggles inside; shoots better from three (43 percent) than two (42 percent)
When this KU team plays nonconference opponents at Allen Fieldhouse, I usually look at two defensive traits first: Does the opponent surrender a lot of threes? And does it get back in transition well?
The Jayhawks have a tendency to exploit teams with those particular weaknesses at home, and that sort of profile is what Texas Southern had when KU put up its best offensive effort in the Bill Self era earlier this year.
Arizona State, of course, is much better than those previous non-Power-Five foes. The Sun Devils are an elite offensive team, ranking better than KU when it comes to efficiency, and they should test the Jayhawks on that end following their poor effort against Washington on Wednesday.
For KU, though, the points should come much, much easier. The Jayhawks have made 49 percent of their threes at Allen Fieldhouse this season, and they should get plenty of open attempts Sunday. They also one of the nation’s best teams on fast breaks, and there should be opportunities to run against the Sun Devils.
KU will have to better avoid foul trouble, which won’t be easy, but if it that happens, I like the Jayhawks to put up enough points for a comfortable home win.
Kansas 96, Arizona State 78
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
Malik Newman has had a couple rough shooting games in a row, but this looks like the perfect spot for a bounceback. He’s made 56 percent of his threes at Allen Fieldhouse, he’ll likely be defended by Holder (a subpar player on that end) and Synergy lists Newman as one of KU’s best transition players. I’ll say he leads the Jayhawks in scoring.
Last game prediction: Kansas 85, Washington 68 (Actual: Washington 74-65)
2017-18 record vs. spread: 4-3
Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 62-46-3