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: No. 16 UC Davis vs. No. 1 Kansas, 5:50 p.m. at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. (TNT)
Opponent’s record: 23-12
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 216
Point spread: KU by 23 1/2.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Forcing mistakes: UC Davis ranks 98th nationally in defensive turnover percentage and also was second-best (out of nine teams) in the stat during Big West conference play.
▪ Creating contact: The Aggies are 37th in offensive free throw rate, and they improved that ranking significantly during the last half of their season.
▪ Transition defense(?): UC Davis has allowed an above-average number of shots in transition, but the team has the 54th-best effective field-goal percentage against in those situations. It’s difficult to discern how much of that is strong defense and how much is the result of a weak schedule.
▪ Shooting: UC Davis ranks 291st in adjusted offensive efficiency, and a team can’t be that bad without multiple flaws. The Aggies don’t shoot many threes and are inaccurate from two-point range and the free throw line, which is not a good combination.
▪ Carelessness: Look for KU coach Bill Self to turn up the pressure defensively (think full-court press) to speed up the pace and make the Aggies uncomfortable. UC Davis ranks 294th in offensive turnover rate, so steals will be there if KU pursues them.
▪ Size: UC Davis is 305th nationally in KenPom’s “average height” measure with no starter taller than 6 foot 7.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-4 guard Brynton Lemar (No. 0)
Plus: Team’s most efficient offensive player
Plus: Accurate, high-volume three-point shooter
Plus: Gets to line often and is good shooter there
Plus: Rarely turns it over
Plus: Synergy’s logs label him as “excellent” defender
Minus: Can fall in love with mid-range jumper, which isn’t his strength
Six-foot-6 forward Chima Moneke (No. 11)
Plus: Elite defensive rebounder
Plus: Strong on offensive glass as well
Plus: Best offensive skill is getting fouled
Plus: Strong shot-blocker
Minus: 64 percent free throw shooter
Minus: Can struggle to finish shots at rim
6-foot-3 guard Siler Schneider (No. 5)
Plus: Kansas native who was high school teammates with KU’s Clay Young
Plus: Not afraid to put up shots
Plus: Above average in mid-range and is comfortable shooting off the dribble
Minus: Turnover prone
Minus: Below-average three-point shooter
UC Davis is the worst-ranked KenPom team in the NCAA Tournament, so it shouldn’t be surprising KU is such a heavy favorite.
The Aggies’ strength is defense, even though that might be a bit of a mirage too. The team allows an above-average number of threes, with opponents making just 32 percent of those shots. That number is typically mostly opponent- and luck-based, and one would think KU would take better advantage of those open shots than teams in the Big West.
The Jayhawks should pressure a bunch as well. Self has learned from previous NCAA Tournaments that speeding up the pace is beneficial when you clearly have the better team, and if UC Davis does turn it over more, that would potentially lead directly to KU’s greatest strength: scoring in transition.
It’s still a tricky betting line. KenPom has KU by 21. The line is up to 23 1/2 . And there’s also a possibility that walk-ons could turn a late 27-point lead into a 22-point victory.
Through all that, I like KU for both the win and cover, believing Self will exploit the worst of UC Davis’ flaws.
Kansas 91, UC Davis 65
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
It’s probably best to not overthink this. Josh Jackson has KU’s best steal rate going against a team that turns it over often. He’s solid in transition and should have some opportunities on the offensive glass. He’ll also be taller than everyone in UC Davis’ starting lineup and will have a noticeable athleticism advantage. If the freshman can avoid foul trouble, he should be in line for a big game.
Last game prediction: Kansas 73, TCU 62 (Actual: TCU 85-82)
2016-17 record vs. spread: 13-16-1
Last three seasons’ record vs. spread: 54-43-3