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: New Mexico State vs. No. 2 Kansas, 7:30 p.m., Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
Opponent’s record: 7-1
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KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 93
Point spread: KU by 15.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition..
▪ Ball security: New Mexico State gets a shot on most possessions, ranking 19th nationally in offensive turnover percentage.
▪ Rebounding ... both ends: The Aggies are one of the nation’s shortest teams, based on KenPom’s average height measure, yet they rank in the top 50 when it comes to both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. Coach Chris Jans puts a huge emphasis on this part of the game.
▪ Depth: New Mexico State is No. 1 in the nation in bench minutes; reserves are in for 47.1 percent of the team’s total playing time.
▪ Three-point defense: The Aggies’ man defense allows more three-pointers than an average team, and opponents also have been successful with those shots.
▪ Creating havoc: Jans’ defensive philosophy is to be disruptive on the first pass to push teams out of their offenses, though he doesn’t pressure out as much as he once did earlier in his career. Partly as a result, New Mexico State ranks 261st in steal rate.
▪ Three-point shooting: Threes are a huge part of New Mexico State’s offense (59th in three-point rate), but the Aggies have been slightly below average accuracy-wise from the perimeter.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-8 forward Ivan Aurrecoechea (No. 15)
Plus: Efficient player who takes on large offensive role
Plus: Dangerous player as roll man on pick-and-rolls
Plus: Strong rebounder, both ends
Plus: Draws fouls often
Minus: Not a three-point shooter
Minus: Synergy’s logs rate him as “below average” defender who struggles especially in pick-and-rolls
5-foot-9 guard A.J. Harris (No. 12)
Plus: Ohio State transfer
Plus: Team’s best passer
Plus: Above average shooter in mid-range and from three
Plus: Rarely turns it over
Minus: Doesn’t get to free throw line often
Minus: Synergy rates him as “poor” defender who has struggled to stick with pick-and-roll ball-handlers
6-foot-2 guard JoJo Zamora (No. 4)
Plus: Utah transfer
Plus: Takes on large offensive load when he’s in
Plus: Scored 27 in last game vs. New Mexico while making 6 of 6 threes
Minus: Playing time has been sporadic
Minus: Synergy lists his defense as “poor”
There are reasons to like both teams’ chances of playing well Saturday.
Jans has done a great job at New Mexico State, and his use of analytics (discussed extensively in this podcast) come through in the Aggies’ tendencies. In particular, New Mexico State forces opponents to shoot in mid-range while mostly avoiding those attempts themselves.
In New Mexico State’s favor is also the Sprint Center factor. KU fans only have to look back to last season — exactly a year and two days ago — to see how the Jayhawks don’t always play well in front of the KU-fan-filled-but-dead environment.
For KU, though, I’m bullish on the Jayhawks’ offense after how the team looked playing with four guards against Wofford on Tuesday. The Jayhawks put up a 27-0 run in that second half, with guards like Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes and Charlie Moore all looking more comfortable on drives. Not to mention, KU’s four-guard setup should match up fine defensively against New Mexico State, which prefers to play with smaller, more versatile players.
KU’s defensive rebounding could be challenged, though, and the Jayhawks struggling at Sprint Center has happened too many times for me to consider that a small-sample fluke.
I’m expecting lots of points Saturday, but also New Mexico State to keep it competitive.
Kansas 85, New Mexico State 75
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: New Mexico State
Hawk to Rock
Nearly across the board, Synergy is not a fan of the defense from New Mexico State’s guards. That means, with KU likely turning to “Four game” as primary offense Saturday, Devon Dotson should have lots of play-making opportunities, whether that’s shooting open threes, getting to the rim on drives or finding Dedric Lawson on cuts to the basket. Dotson hasn’t taken on a big offensive load much for KU this season, but Saturday night could be an exception.
Last game prediction: Kansas 79, Wofford 70 (Actual: KU 72-47)
2018-19 record vs. spread: 3-4
Last five seasons’ record vs. spread: 80-66-3