Before every KU basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Thursday’s game: No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 16 Austin Peay, 3 p.m. on TNT
Opponent record: 18-17
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 212
Point spread: KU by 26.
All statistics from KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Drawing fouls: Austin Peay ranks fifth nationally in free-throw rate, shooting 47 free throws for every 100 field-goal attempts. KU, meanwhile, has been right at NCAA average when it comes to putting opponents on the line.
▪ Creating steals: Austin Peay picked up its defensive intensity late in the season, leading the 12-team Ohio Valey Conference in steal percentage during league games.
▪ Interior offense: The Governors’ offensive strength is inside, as they rank 75th in percentage of shots at the rim, 90th in field-goal percentage on close shots and 104th in offensive rebounding percentage.
▪ Three-point defense: More than 40 percent of opponents’ shots against Austin Peay are threes, with foes making 36 percent of those attempts. This has to be one of the biggest concerns for the Governors, as KU has made 42 percent of its threes this season.
▪ Carelessness: Austin Peay ranks 307th in offensive turnover percentage, meaning there should be opportunities for KU guards Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham to create steals.
▪ Getting back: The Governors rank 295th nationally in shooting percentage against in transition while surrendering more opportunities than an average NCAA team.
3 Players to Watch
Six-foot-8 forward Chris Horton (No. 5)
Plus: Team’s best offensive option who is efficient player
Plus: Elite rebounder on both ends; ranks eighth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage
Plus: One of nation’s best at getting to free-throw line and drawing fouls
Plus: Strong finisher at the rim
Plus: Team’s only shot-blocking threat
Minus: Only a 62 percent free-throw shooter
Minus: Does not shoot threes
Six-foot-2 guard Josh Robinson (No. 4)
Plus: Takes on large offensive role for his team
Plus: Does great job at creating contact
Plus: Nearly automatic free-throw shooter (83 percent)
Minus: Struggles to finish at rim (49 percent)
Minus: Below-average three-point shooter
Six-foot-5 guard Jared Savage (No. 2)
Plus: Three-point specialist
Plus: Has made 40 percent of 124 long-range tries
Plus: Almost never turns it over
Minus: Not a threat to score inside arc
Minus: Doesn’t create much for himself or others off dribble
In KU’s worst-case scenario, two things would happen: Horton would gain confidence while getting Landen Lucas in early foul trouble, while the Jayhawks would miss a few open threes early to make themselves hesitant on other open attempts.
Thing is, even if KU isn’t hitting from the perimeter, it still might not be a close game. If Graham and Mason keep up their recent defensive play, there should be plenty of opportunities for steals and points in transition. That alone might be enough to get KU a double-digit victory.
From a big-picture perspective, I typically don’t like lower-level teams’ chances against KU with Austin Peay’s profile (average offense and poor defense, especially in transition). The Jayhawks typically can limit good interior offense while carving up poor defensive teams, and it feels like that’s what will happen here.
Kansas 93, Austin Peay 64
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
For help with the Hawk to Rock, I decided to go to Hoop-Math.com and find KU’s player finishing at the rim in transition. The winner? Junior guard Wayne Selden, who was ahead of runners-up Mason and Perry Ellis. Add in a few Selden open threes to go with the transition points, and the potential is there for him to get 20-plus points in KU’s NCAA opener.
Last game prediction: Kansas 79, West Virginia 71 (Actual KU 81-71)
2015-16 record vs. spread: 17-14
Last two seasons’ record vs. spread: 39-26-1