University of Kansas

Quick scout: Why two respected rankings disagree on the KU-Arizona State line

Bill Self describes how Arizona State, KU are different this year

Kansas Jayhawks basketball coach Bill Self talks about taking on Arizona State after the Sun Devils defeated the Jayhawks last season at Allen Fieldhouse. Self spoke to reporters on Dec. 20, 2018.
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Kansas Jayhawks basketball coach Bill Self talks about taking on Arizona State after the Sun Devils defeated the Jayhawks last season at Allen Fieldhouse. Self spoke to reporters on Dec. 20, 2018.

Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction. Stats are as of Friday afternoon.

Saturday’s game: No. 1 Kansas at No. 18 Arizona State, 8 p.m. Central, Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, Ariz.

TV: ESPN2

Opponent’s record: 8-2

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 49

Point spread: KU by 4.

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

3 Strengths

Creating contact: Arizona State ranks 20th in offensive free-throw rate, meaning the team has multiple guys who draw fouls often.

Rebounding ... both ends: The Sun Devils are seventh nationally in defensive rebounding rate and 26th in the offensive version of the stat.

Interior defense: Opponents have made just 46 percent of their twos against Arizona State, which is the 60th-best defensive mark nationally.

3 Weaknesses

Three-point shooting: Arizona State does not attempt many threes, and even while being selective, it ranks 201st in three-point accuracy.

Three-point defense: The Sun Devils’ man defense allows a high number of perimeter shots, which Vanderbilt took advantage of Monday when it made 12 of 28 threes (compared to 12 of 27 twos) in a 16-point home win.

Fouling: Arizona State puts opponents on the free-throw line often, ranking 287th in defensive free-throw rate. That also can hurt coach Bobby Hurley in another way, as his team isn’t very deep (282nd in bench minutes).

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-4 guard Luguentz Dort (No. 0)

Dort.jpg

Plus: Projected as 19th pick in next year’s NBA Draft by ESPN last month

Plus: Arizona State’s unquestioned go-to guy

Plus: Draws fouls often

Plus: Above-average three-point shooter

Minus: Poor finisher at the rim

Minus: Only 64-percent free-throw shooter

6-foot-8 forward Zylan Cheatham (No. 45)

Zylan.jpeg

Plus: Outstanding rebounder

Plus: Great passer for his size

Plus: Creates lots of fouls inside

Plus: Impressive finisher at the rim

Minus: Turnover prone

Minus: Not much of a three-point threat (2 for 8 this year)

6-foot guard Remy Martin (No. 1)

Martin_Remy.jpeg

Plus: Was one of Arizona State’s best players (21 points) in last year’s win over KU

Plus: Gets to line often and is excellent free-throw shooter

Plus: Good passer

Minus: Has struggled badly from three-point range after shooting well there last year

Minus: Poor shooter at rim

Minus: Settles for too many mid-range jumpers

Prediction

It should be quite the atmosphere at Wells Fargo Arena, with CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reporting celebrities like Michael Phelps, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill and even Arizona’s governor are expected to attend.

That should only add to a zany setting, as this KU roster faces its first true road test of the season.

This is a fascinating line because your opinion of it is likely based on whether you think KU is 1) better than it has showed or 2) exactly the team it has been while struggling to win against inferior opponents.

Case in point: KenPom (relying a lot still on preseason values mixed with this year’s data) has KU as a seven-point favorite; Bart Torvik, meanwhile (using a system that is more heavily focused on what’s happened this year) has the Jayhawks winning by one.

The question then becomes: Do you believe that KU will perform “above” its season level (like it did against South Dakota on Tuesday) or do you think this team, right now, is what it is?

In any case, this should be an inside affair. Arizona State doesn’t have the same shooters who aided the team during a 14-for-28 three-point performance in Allen Fieldhouse last year, and the offensive gameplan so far this season has centered around getting to the rim, drawing fouls and crashing the offensive glass.

KU, meanwhile, should have opportunities to get points in both transition and from the three-point line, though both areas haven’t been as solid this season as they were a year ago. With Arizona State’s length and athleticism, it’s likely not a team KU will want to challenge in the paint with short jumpers in a half-court setting. If guys like Dedric Lawson can get to the rim, there could be fouls to be drawn, though it’s worth noting the value of that also could be offset with a blocked shot or two on other possessions.

In the end ... I believe KU is better than it has showed so far. The team that romped South Dakota showed great defensive potential, and also a second half where it appeared more comfortable attempting three-pointers that will be vital to the team’s success.

I’ll say the Jayhawks win this one by more than Vegas is expecting.

Kansas 77, Arizona State 67

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

This is going way out on a limb ... but the matchup is a good one for Quentin Grimes if he’s able to clear his mind and take advantage. Even with all the early-season struggles, he’s been one of KU’s most productive players in transition, and the way Arizona State has played defense this year, it’s likely Grimes will have lots of room to knock down open threes. Predicting a breakout in this game is risky, but I’ll go with it.

Last game prediction: Kansas 78, South Dakota 55 (Actual: KU 89-53)

2018-19 record vs. spread: 6-4

Last five seasons’ record vs. spread: 83-66-3

Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.


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