Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Saturday's game: No. 8 Kansas at No. 6 Texas Tech, 3:15 p.m., United Supermarkets Arena, Lubbock, Texas
Opponent’s record: 22-6
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 10
Point spread: Texas Tech by 2.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Transition defense: Texas Tech's defense does a better-than-average job at limiting fast breaks while posting the eighth-best defensive shooting percentage numbers in that situation.
▪ Creating havoc: The Red Raiders have forced turnovers on 22 percent of their defensive possessions in Big 12 play. That number is best in the conference — and, yes, even better than West Virginia.
▪ Offensive rebounding: Texas Tech ranks 50th nationally in O-board percentage, and it dominated KU in that facet during the teams' first matchup. In that game, the Red Raiders grabbed 46 percent of their missed shots.
▪ Carelessness: Texas Tech ranks eighth in Big 12 play in offensive turnover percentage, with most of those giveaway issues appearing to come from the team's big men.
▪ Fouls: For the season, the Red Raiders rank 285th in defensive free-throw rate, which means the Jayhawks should have opportunities to get to the line Saturday.
▪ Three-point shooting: While Texas Tech's three-point accuracy is right about at NCAA average, the team does not attempt as many of those shots as most teams. The Red Raiders' main offensive focus is scoring inside and also getting fouled.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-3 guard Keenan Evans (No. 12)
Plus: Ranks seventh in KenPom’s national player of the year measure
Plus: Efficient player who takes on huge offensive load
Plus: Gets to line often and is 84-percent shooter there
Plus: Does great job creating for himself and finishing at rim
Plus: Strong passer
Minus: Had only two points and two assists in 25 minutes during Wednesday's game while battling through a toe injury
Minus: Below-average three-point shooter
6-foot-5 guard Zhaire Smith (No. 2)
Plus: Super-athletic wing
Plus: Thrives on the offensive glass
Plus: Efficient player thanks to strong two-point shooting
Plus: Gets fouled often and makes 71 percent of foul shots
Plus: Great shot-blocker for his size
Minus: Doesn't shoot threes often
Minus: Not much of a creator for others
6-foot-5 guard Jarrett Culver (No. 23)
Plus: Strong three-point shooter
Plus: Synergy's logs list him as "excellent" overall defender
Plus: Doesn’t turn it over much
Plus: Gets to free-throw line often
Minus: Only a 64-percent at free throw line
Minus: Poor mid-range shooter, though he doesn't attempt many of those
The good news? There's no way this prediction will be worse than my last one. Yikes!
Saturday's biggest unknown, obviously, is the Evans' toe injury. This is a Texas Tech team that leans heavily on him offensively, so if he remains hobbled, that would be a significant setback.
Then again, Texas Tech's identity this season has been defense, and Evans is not a main cog with that (in fact, he's probably the team's worst defender, according to Synergy's logs). The Red Raiders showed how good they could be in their 85-73 victory at Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 2, holding the Jayhawks to 1.01 points per possession while limiting transition and also forcing lots of contested jumpers.
There's something else to factor in here: Ken Pomeroy's numbers say Texas Tech has the sixth-best home-court advantage, with the Red Raiders getting a better-than-average while at home while also having the benefit of playing at altitude — something that is difficult for road teams to adjust to.
For a long time, I thought this would be the game KU would win to get back to the top of the Big 12 standings. With the Jayhawks leading by a game, though, some of the urgency is gone, as this contest is important but no longer a must in the team's pursuit of a 14th straight title.
I think we'll see a bounceback defensive effort for Texas Tech following Wednesday's road loss to Oklahoma State. KU struggled to score in the first matchup, and I can see that happening again Saturday against a motivated Red Raiders' team.
Texas Tech 71, Kansas 66
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Texas Tech
Hawk to Rock
I already mentioned above that Evans is Texas Tech's weakest player defensively, and add an injury onto that, and the clear pick for HTR is the player he'll match up against: KU's Devonté Graham. The Jayhawks' point guard also is the team's best at getting to the free-throw line, and that should only help his point total against the foul-happy Red Raiders.
Last game prediction: Kansas 86, Oklahoma 84 (Actual: KU 104-74)
2017-18 record vs. spread: 14-13
Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 72-56-3