Campus Corner

Quick scout: KU, K-State share a defensive weakness

KU’s Devonté Graham.
KU’s Devonté Graham. rsugg@kcstar.com

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

Tuesday’s game: Kansas State at No. 3 Kansas, 8 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse (ESPN2)

Opponent’s record: 12-1

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 33

Point spread: KU by 13  1/2

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

3 Strengths

▪ Interior defense: K-State’s defense has held opponents to 40 percent shooting from two-point range (sixth nationally) while thriving at the rim in particular. The Wildcats are 52nd in block rate and have held foes to 46 percent shooting on close shots (third nationally).

▪ Forcing turnovers: The Wildcats are eighth nationally in turnover rate, creating giveaways on 24 percent of their defensive possessions. Barry Brown is the team’s best in this area, ranking in the top 20 nationally in steal rate.

▪ Three-point shooting: This was a huge weakness for K-State a year ago ... but not any more. The Wildcats made 38 percent of their attempts (68th nationally) while also shooting the most threes of any Bruce Weber team in the last 10 years.

Kansas State will bring a 12-1 record into Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night against Kansas.

3 Weaknesses

▪ Defensive rebounding: K-State has worse-than-NCAA-average rebounding numbers despite playing one of the worst nonconference schedules in the nation. For the second straight game, KU’s Landen Lucas should have opportunities on the offensive glass.

▪ Spot-up defense: According to Synergy’s logs, K-State ranks in the 13th percentile on spot-ups while allowing 1.01 points per possession. Some of KU’s best offense has come from spot-up shooting, so the Jayhawks should be looking for open three-point attempts, as they’re the best way to score against the Wildcats.

▪ Carelessness: K-State ranks 174th in offensive turnover rate, and again, that comes against a weak schedule. This could be a good game for Frank Mason and Devonté Graham to heed Bill Self’s call for better perimeter defense, as there should be steals there for the taking.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-9 forward D.J. Johnson (No. 4)

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Plus: Elite shot-blocker

Plus: Good rebounder on both ends

Plus: Gets to line often and is 72 percent shooter there

Plus: Above average both at rim and in mid-range

Minus: No three-point attempts in four-year career

Minus: Sometimes gets into foul trouble

Six-foot-5 forward Xavier Sneed (No. 20)

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Plus: Efficient reserve off the bench

Plus: High-volume three-point shooter who’s made 38 percent

Plus: Great shot selection has led to 67 percent shooting percentage inside

Plus: Team’s second-best player at creating steals

Minus: Synergy’s logs grade him as an “average” defender overall

Minus: Creates more for himself than others

Six-foot-10 forward Dean Wade (No. 32)

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Plus: Versatile offensive player who can score inside and out

Plus: Has made 61 percent of twos and 42 percent of threes

Plus: Rarely turns it over

Plus: Has improved shot-blocking from last year

Minus: Still only a role player offensively who doesn’t look for his shot enough

Minus: Synergy’s logs grade him as “below-average” defender overall who has problems guarding in isolation

Prediction

It’s interesting that K-State and TCU share a lot of similarities.

Both are next to each other in KenPom (Nos. 33 and 34) and limit opponents in transition, which is a good start against this particular KU team. Both also create a lot of turnovers defensively, are weak on the defensive glass and surrender a lot of inside shots while keeping those shooting percentages low — something that might not hold up as well against KU.

K-State has been better from three-point range than TCU, though, and that should be a concern for KU, which has had issues at times getting out to spot-up shooters. The same can be said the other way, though, as the Jayhawks’ advantage offensively should be shooting over slow K-State closeouts for outside attempts themselves.

If this game is going to hinge on threes, I like KU’s chances considering the setting. The Jayhawks have made 52(!) percent of their three-pointers at Allen Fieldhouse this year, and while that doesn’t guarantee success Tuesday, it should make KU fans feel better about the Jayhawks’ odds of making enough to pull away.

Add the threes to a better defensive effort from KU’s guards and a few transition baskets off steals, and I like the Jayhawks for the slight cover.

Kansas 82, K-State 66

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

The Jayhawks will host rival Kansas State at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.

Hawk to Rock

K-State’s Barry Brown and Carlbe Ervin are two that have struggled in particular closing out on shooters, and at the off-guard position, both should be defending Devonté Graham quite a bit. This is the game for Graham to shelve his pump-fakes and instead put up the open threes when he gets them. If he does that, he’s got a great chance at topping his season-high of 18 points.

Last game prediction: Kansas 70, TCU 67, (Actual: KU 86-80)

2016-17 record vs. spread: 6-5

Last three seasons’ record vs. spread: 47-32-2

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self spoke Monday about the improved play of Landen Lucas and Tuesday's game against rival Kansas State.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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