University of Kansas

Quick scout: A conflicted prediction for KU's Elite Eight game vs. Duke

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. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 2 seed Duke, 4:05 p.m., CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.

TV: CBS

Opponent’s record: 29-7

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 3

Point spread: Duke by 3.

All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.

3 Strengths

Offensive rebounding: Duke's biggest strength is crashing the offensive glass, ranking as the nation's top team in O-board percentage while pulling down 39 percent of its missed shots.

Foul avoidance: The Blue Devils do a good job of playing defense without contact, posting the nation's No. 1 defensive free-throw rate.

Finishing close shots: Duke is 11th in field-goal percentage on shots at the rim and 15th in two-point percentage. The Blue Devils also get more close attempts than an average NCAA team.

3 Weaknesses

Defensive pressure: This is KU's third straight game facing an opponent that does not create much defensive havoc. Duke ranks 256th in defensive turnover percentage, waiting for opponents to make mistakes while primarily playing a 2-3 zone.

Giveaways: In league play, Duke ranked 12th out of 15 ACC teams in offensive turnover percentage. Guard Trevon Duval, in particular, has a higher turnover rate than one might expect.

Transition defense: This makes sense considering how big Duke plays and how much emphasis the team places on offensive glass. If KU is able to secure the defensive rebound, it should have an opportunity to beat the Blue Devils to the other end.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-11 forward Marvin Bagley (No. 35)

Bagley.jpg
Duke's Marvin Bagley

Plus: Named first-team All-America by Sporting News, NABC and USBWA

Plus: Ranks second in KenPom's national player of the year rankings

Plus: Go-to guy offensively who is outstanding finisher at the rim

Plus: Good rebounder on both ends

Plus: Draws fouls often

Minus: Only a 62-percent free-throw shooter

6-foot-10 forward Wendell Carter (No. 34)

Wendell Carter
Duke's Wendell Carter

Plus: Ranks 10th in KenPom's player of the year ranking

Plus: Excellent shot-blocker

Plus: Great rebounder on both ends

Plus: Well-above-average finisher at the rim

Plus: Creates contact often and is 74-percent shooter at line

Minus: Sometimes battles foul trouble

Minus: Synergy's logs show he can struggle to get out to three-point shooters

6-foot-5 guard Grayson Allen (No. 3)

Allen.jpg
Duke's Grayson Allen

Plus: Preseason All-American who has deferred more this season with talented players around him

Plus: High-volume, accurate three-point shooter

Plus: Good finisher at the rim for a guard

Plus: Synergy's logs list him as "excellent" defender

Minus: 85-percent free-throw shooter but hasn't created as many fouls as years past

Prediction

This game has me conflicted.

Duke is an elite team and was underseeded as a 2. The Blue Devils are excellent offensively and have found a defensive identity ever since switching to a primary zone defense in the last month and a half.

Then again ... I like KU to play well in this game too. I might as well steal some my own words here from an article I wrote after the brackets were released on Selection Sunday:

A win (in the Sweet 16) would set up some great drama. The Jayhawks would almost certainly play either Duke or Michigan State, and if that happened, they'd play an unfamiliar role as a 1 seed.

KU, most likely, would be the betting underdog.

Perhaps that wouldn't be terrible for this team, which is 3-1 in games when it hasn't been favored. The pressure to advance past the Elite Eight round might not be as severe based on expectations, and this KU roster also has seemed to play well in the moments it has been doubted most.

All of what's above still applies to Sunday's game.

There are obvious positives and negatives with this matchup for KU. Duke's offensive rebounding has the potential to expose the Jayhawks' biggest flaw, while Bagley and Carter present the type of mismatch KU's defense hasn't faced this season.

One doesn't have to squint hard to see how KU's offense could succeed, though. The Jayhawks' two best weapons — transition and threes — are both areas where Duke is vulnerable. It's also worth noting that the Blue Devils' last 10 opponents have combined to shoot 26 percent from three, and while a zone like Duke's can sometimes affect three-point shooting percentages, the impact is usually minimal.

In other words: KU's three-point percentage this season (41 percent) is closer to what we should expect from the Jayhawks' outside shooting rather than what Duke has allowed this season (32 percent).

I see KU playing and shooting well. I see the Jayhawks running in transition and having success. And even with that, I think Duke is good enough to still overcome those issues because of how talented it is.

In the end, I can't get it out of my head that these are the exact types of games that coach Bill Self seems to always win. The Jayhawks played the "nobody believed in us" card all the way to a 14th straight Big 12 title, and now, I could see the same thing propelling them to San Antonio as well.

Kansas 85, Duke 81

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

When KU faced a similar zone defense against Syracuse earlier this season, Devonté Graham was KU's MVP, scoring 35 points on 10-for-17 shooting while showing off his NBA three-point range. Graham has struggled KU's last two games, but this is the perfect moment — and matchup — for him to re-emerge as the dangerous scoring threat he's been most of the season.

Last game prediction: Kansas 76, Clemson 67 (Actual: KU 80-76)

2017-18 record vs. spread: 17-19

Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 75-62-3

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