Before every KU basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Saturday’s game: No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 2 seed Villanova, 7:49 p.m. on CBS
Opponent record: 32-5
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 2
Point spread: KU by 2 1/2 .
All statistics from KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Interior scoring: Villanova ranks third nationally in two-point percentage, a product of being great at the rim (11th) and stingy when it comes to taking mid-range jumpshots.
▪ Forcing turnovers: The Wildcats rank 48th in defensive turnover percentage and 52nd in steal rate, oftentimes pressuring teams into mistakes with trapping defenses.
▪ Ball security: Villanova has been criticized sometimes for taking too many threes, but in reality, those are good shots if (in Nova’s case), the team is attempting those shots in lieu of turnovers. The Wildcats are 63rd in offensive turnover percentage and thrive offensively by getting up a high volume of attempts.
▪ Three-point defense: Villanova gives up a lot of three-pointers, and this has to be the biggest worry against KU. The Jayhawks, who can sometimes shy away from outside shots, have made 42 percent of their tries this year and should have plenty of openings to shoot them Saturday.
▪ Getting to the line: Like Oklahoma, Villanova’s offense is dependent on spacing and jump-shooting. It makes sense, then, that Villanova doesn’t get to the line often, ranking 249th in offensive free-throw rate.
▪ Rebounding ... both ends: Villanova is a below-average offensive rebounding team and only slightly-better-than-average on the defensive glass. Much like Thursday’s game against Maryland, KU should have a clear edge when it comes to grabbing missed shots.
3 Players to Watch
Six-foot-5 guard Josh Hart (No. 3)
Plus: Ranks seventh in KenPom’s national player of the year rankings
Plus: Elite shooter at the rim for his size (75 percent)
Plus: Above-average three-point shooter who takes high volume
Plus: Rarely turns it over
Minus: Creates more for himself than others
Minus: Doesn’t get to free-throw line as often as you’d expect
Six-foot-6 forward Kris Jenkins (No. 2)
Plus: Prototypical stretch 4 who is team’s best three-point shooter
Plus: Made 39 percent of threes while attempting 241
Plus: Good shooter inside as well, as he’s 77 percent at the rim and 50 percent in mid-range
Plus: Secure ball-handler
Minus: Poor rebounder on both ends
Minus: Good free-throw shooter but rarely gets to line
Six-foot-3 guard Ryan Arcidiacono (No. 15)
Plus: Best skill is three-point shooting (38 percent)
Plus: Team’s best passer
Plus: Leads Villanova’s starters in steal rate
Minus: Only an average mid-range shooter and sometimes shoots too many
Minus: Doesn’t get to line often
This has a great chance to be the best game of the tournament.
There have been memorable endings in some other early games, but this has more potential to be 40 minutes of great basketball. These are two evenly matched, top-three KenPom teams playing on a neutral site with the Final Four on the line. It doesn’t get much better than that.
A big key defensively for KU will be Perry Ellis guarding Jenkins. Stretch 4s have had some success recently (think Iowa State’s George Niang) when Ellis has been slow to close out on three-point attempts. Any hesitation on Saturday, and Jenkins can take advantage.
Offensively, it’d help KU a lot to make a couple early threes. Outside shots will be the best way to score against Villanova, and while KU was fine deserting three-point attempts thanks to strong efforts from Ellis and Wayne Selden last game, that’s unlikely to be as effective Saturday against a much more balanced Villanova team.
KenPom has this as a 50-50 game. FiveThirtyEight gives KU’s a 59-percent chance of winning.
The final call? Give me KU by the slightest of margins.
Kansas 77, Villanova 76
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Villanova
Hawk to Rock
Villanova is a team that doesn’t get opponents in foul trouble, plays an anchor in the middle in Daniel Ochefu and also has struggled to rebound on both ends. Those are three positives for Landen Lucas, who seems like a lock for 10 rebounds with the potential for 15 or more.
Last game prediction: Kansas 73, Maryland 63 (Actual KU 79-63)
2015-16 record vs. spread: 18-15-1
Last two seasons’ record vs. spread: 40-27-2