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. 5 Maryland, 8:40 p.m. on CBS
Opponent record: 27-8
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 22
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Point spread: KU by 6 1/2 .
All statistics from KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Interior scoring: Maryland ranks seventh in two-point percentage and third in field-goal percentage at the rim. This will be strength against strength, as KU is 18th nationally in two-point defense.
▪ Foul avoidance: The Terrapins are 14th in defensive free-throw rate, meaning the Jayhawks shouldn’t count on getting many points from the line.
▪ Free-throw shooting: Maryland ranks seventh in free-throw shooting at 77 percent, and unlike UConn (which barely made it to the line at all), the Terrapins are just above NCAA average when it comes to earning free-throw opportunities.
▪ Turnovers ... both ends: This is the biggest statistical advantage KU should have. Maryland is 242nd in offensive turnover percentage and 278th in defensive turnover percentage, so expect the Jayhawks to pressure defensively to speed the Terrapins into mistakes.
▪ Rebounding ... both ends: The Terrapins are hovering around NCAA average in both offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding — something you wouldn’t expect given their height. This again could speak to Maryland being more finesse than physical.
▪ Three-point defense: Maryland surrenders more three-pointers than the NCAA average, meaning it sometimes can struggle to get out to shooters. KU, meanwhile, remains at fourth nationally in three-point percentage.
3 Players to Watch
Six-foot-3 guard Melo Trimble (No. 2)
Plus: Efficient offensive player who thrives in ball-screen settings
Plus: Most dangerous drawing contact; gets to line often and is an 88 percent shooter there
Plus: Team’s best passer who has great vision to find open players
Plus: Strong finisher at the rim
Minus: Below-average shooter in mid-range and from three
Minus: Will turn it over on occasion
Six-foot-11 center Diamond Stone (No. 33)
Plus: Team’s top shot-taker offensively
Plus: Nearly automatic scorer at the rim (74 percent)
Plus: Top-60 offensive rebounder who is fouled often and 75-percent free-throw shooter
Plus: Strong shot-blocker
Minus: Can be beaten on the defensive glass
Minus: Coach Mark Turgeon sometimes gives him a quick hook if he’s not playing well
Six-foot-9 forward Robert Carter (No. 4)
Plus: One of nation’s best interior scorers
Plus: Rare player who is exceptional in mid-range (54 percent)
Plus: Team’s best defensive rebounder
Plus: Strong complementary shot-blocker next to Stone
Minus: Below-average three-point shooter
The reason to be wary of Maryland is outlined well in this article from Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg, which quotes an anonymous Big 12 assistant coach. KU has had ball-screen defense issues in the past, and Trimble could expose that weakness. The Terrapins also have enough three-point shooters in Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman to be dangerous, and they at least have the bodies to match up inside with KU.
All that doesn’t stop me from liking the Jayhawks’ chances here.
Maryland’s KenPom ranking has lagged behind its human poll ranking all year, and the underlying numbers show a team that is strong offensively and defensively, but not elite.
A couple other small items could help KU: It had an extra day of rest and didn’t have to fly cross-country from Spokane, Wash., like Maryland did; and KU coach Bill Self has been pretty good with extra days to prepare, posting a 5-2 Sweet 16 record with the Jayhawks.
The two factors that could swing this game to KU: rebounding and turnovers. If the officials let some contact go, expect the Jayhawks to be the aggressors against a Terrapins team that will have to prove it can push back.
If KU wins those two areas while keeping Trimble off the free-throw line, I like its chances at a comfortable victory.
Kansas 73, Maryland 63
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
Landen Lucas will need to play smart. Trimble is likely to attack him, trying to draw whistles to get him out with foul trouble. That’s important for Maryland, because this is great matchup for KU’s junior forward. Lucas quietly has moved to 14th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, and he should have plenty of opportunities to find creases with Stone’s deficiencies on the defensive glass. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lucas matched his career-high with 16 rebounds ... if he is able to stay away from the bench because of fouls.
Last game prediction: Kansas 69, UConn 64 (Actual KU 73-61)
2015-16 record vs. spread: 17-15-1
Last two seasons’ record vs. spread: 39-27-2