Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Friday’s game: UNC Greensboro at No. 3 Kansas, 8 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence
Opponent’s record: 1-0
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 100
Point spread: Kansas by 15 1/2.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Creating havoc: Fresh off a game with 28 turnovers, KU will face an opponent in UNC Greensboro that has ranked top 30 in both defensive turnover percentage and steal percentage the last two seasons.
▪ Ball security: The Spartans have ranked 33rd, 35th and 81th nationally in offensive turnover percentage the previous three years, then had only 10 giveaways in this year’s 83-50 season-opening victory over North Carolina A&T.
▪ Athleticism: UNC Greensboro has been top 100 in block rate in each of the last three years ... and also had 6-foot guard Isaiah Miller show off his jumping ability in this dunk from Tuesday.
▪ Shooting: At best, UNC Greensboro is an unproven shooting team, as it ranked 146th last year in effective field goal percentage while shooting below NCAA average from three-point range.
▪ Whistles: As is the case with most attacking defensive teams, the Spartans historically have had lots of fouls called on them while sending opponents to the free throw line often.
▪ Drawing contact: UNC Greensboro has been a below-average team getting to the free throw line in each of coach Wes Miller’s previous eight years with the school.
Player to Watch
6-foot guard Isaiah Miller (No. 1)
Plus: First-team all-Southern Conference last season according to the coaches
Plus: Named league’s defensive player of the year
Plus: Ball hawk; ranked second nationally in steal percentage in 2018-19
Plus: Go-to player offensively who rarely turns it over
Plus: Excellent finisher at the rim for a guard
Minus: Poor shooter from three (25% for career) and the free throw line (56%)
This is a tricky matchup for KU coming immediately off Tuesday’s Duke loss.
UNC Greensboro likes to press, play high up the floor defensively to pressure out and also has a legitimate shot-blocking weapon on the back end in 6-foot-10 junior James Dickey. The Spartans succeed by taking teams out of what they want to run offensively ... the exact formula that Duke used to defeat the Jayhawks three nights ago.
KU also didn’t get much time to prepare. The team arrived back in Lawrence around 4 a.m. Wednesday, which basically gave the Jayhawks only a single normal practice day to make necessary fixes for Game 2.
The worry for UNC Greensboro has to be Allen Fieldhouse. The Spartans play an aggressive style defensively, and there’s at least potential with that for 6-7 fouls before the first media timeout. Doing that would reduce the team’s assertiveness, while also exposing the danger of giving a struggling KU offense free points by putting it on the free throw line 30-plus times.
There are likely to be instances when KU makes UNC Greensboro’s defense look silly. KU coach Bill Self should be able to scheme a few lobs and dunks, and the Spartans’ defensive identity makes it so some of those are going to happen each game, regardless of opponent.
But after watching KU fail to take advantage of 4-on-3 or 3-on-1 advantages against Duke, I’m not optimistic the Jayhawks will be able to flip a switch on a short turnaround to make the Spartans pay for their defensive gambles.
Give me KU to win, but UNC Greensboro to keep it close.
Kansas 78, UNC Greensboro 69
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: UNC Greensboro
Hawk to Rock
KU’s Udoka Azubuike should have a pretty simple task a majority of the time Friday: Stand next to the rim and wait for teammates to throw it to him. Once KU is able to break pressure against UNC Greensboro, the next step should be to look toward the basket, where Azubuike should be able to finish off easy looks if teammates can find him. The aforementioned Dickey is springy but “light in the butt” as Self would say, and also, no player in Greensboro’s rotation weighs more than 215 pounds. That means in the half-court, Azubuike also has an advantage, and he could get to the free throw line a bunch as well with the way that the Spartans play defensively.
Last game prediction: Kansas 75, Duke 70 (Actual: Duke 68-66)
2019-20 record vs. spread: 0-1
Last six seasons’ record vs. spread: 99-77-3