Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Sunday’s game: No. 9 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Kansas, 4:15 p.m. at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. (CBS)
Opponent’s record: 20-14
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 35
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Point spread: KU by 8.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Transition defense: Michigan State’s greatest defensive strength is simply getting back. The Spartans are 61st nationally in limiting opponents’ fast-break attempts and eighth in effective field-goal percentage against in those situations.
▪ Interior defense: The Spartans have the 13th-best two-point percentage defense in the nation, but they use a weird formula to get there. The team allows an above average number of shots at the rim, but thanks partly to the shot-blocking presence of Nick Ward and Miles Bridges, those attempts don’t go in as often as you’d think.
▪ Three-point shooting: Michigan State isn’t afraid to shoot it from deep, hoisting up an above-average number of attempts while maintaining 37 percent accuracy.
▪ Turnovers ... both ends: This is one advantage KU should have on both ends, as the Spartans rank 308th in offensive turnover percentage and 313th in the defensive version of the stat.
▪ Fouling: Michigan State ranked 13th out of 14 Big Ten teams in defensive free throw rate, meaning KU could be at the free-throw line often if it remains aggressive on drives.
▪ Offensive rebounding: Statistically, this is coach Tom Izzo’s worst offensive rebounding team in more than a decade. The Spartans rank 164th in O-board percentage after finishing 16th in the same stat last year.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-8 forward Nick Ward (No. 44)
Plus: Team’s best offensive player
Plus: Takes a huge volume of shots when he’s in
Plus: Top offensive rebounder in the nation
Plus: Draws more fouls per 40 minutes than any other player in the country
Plus: One of nation’s top shot-blockers
Minus: Extremely foul prone player who often has minutes limited
Minus: Poor free-throw shooter
Six-foot-7 small forward Miles Bridges (No. 22)
Plus: Another player who takes on huge offensive role
Plus: Strong three-point shooter
Plus: Team’s best defensive rebounder
Plus: Decent shot-blocker
Minus: More a finesse player who rarely gets to line
Minus: Non-factor on offensive glass
6-foot guard Cassius Winston (No. 5)
Plus: Gifted passer who is second nationally in assist rate
Plus: Capable three-point shooter
Plus: Has ability to draw fouls and is 78 percent shooter there
Minus: Very, very, very turnover prone
Minus: Struggles to finish shots at the rim
There are reasons to think this could be a tough matchup for KU outside of the “Izzo in March” narrative.
Michigan State thrives in two areas that are vitally important against KU: The team has strong transition defense, and it also does a good job of discouraging three-point attempts, which is the Jayhawks’ biggest offensive strength in half-court settings.
There are other things for KU to worry about. Can it get out to three-point shooters? And will Izzo pull out something drastic and crazy again to help his team win on short rest in the NCAA Tournament?
KenPom’s projection has KU by seven, but that’s considering the BOK Center to be a neutral court (I don’t).
The problem for Michigan State, to me, is the likelihood that it is slightly worse than KU in so many facets. The Jayhawks should win the turnover battle. They should be the better rebounding team, especially if Ward faces foul trouble. They should definitely have the free throw edge.
The public seems to be betting on Michigan State after its impressive win Friday over Miami, but it’s also important to consider the 34-game sample this season where Michigan State showed itself to be a good-but-not-great team.
A week ago, I believed this was a potential good draw for KU based on team quality alone, and the last few days haven’t swayed me from that opinion.
I’ll take the Jayhawks for the win and cover.
Kansas 76, Michigan State 63
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
Michigan State’s point guards are turnover prone, and its entire roster is foul prone. That makes this a great matchup for Frank Mason, who has an opportunity to be KU’s best statistical player on both ends.
Last game prediction: Kansas 91, UC Davis 65 (Actual: KU 100-62)
2016-17 record vs. spread: 14-16-1
Last three seasons’ record vs. spread: 55-43-3