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Quick scout: The biggest fear for KU against Purdue

Bill Self on Purdue: Can't just worry about low post

The top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks will face the fourth-seeded Purdue Boilermakers in Thursday's Midwest Region semifinal at about 8:39 p.m. at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
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The top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks will face the fourth-seeded Purdue Boilermakers in Thursday's Midwest Region semifinal at about 8:39 p.m. at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

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

Thursday’s game: No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 1 Kansas, 8:40 p.m. at Sprint Center (CBS)

Opponent’s record: 27-7

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 12

Point spread: KU by 5.

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

3 Strengths

▪ Three-point shooting: Purdue ranks sixth nationally in three-point accuracy (40 percent) while shooting a high volume of outside shots. The Boilermakers have five rotation players hitting better than 40 percent, and Synergy’s logs have the team posting 1.21 points per possession in spot-up situations — the second-best mark nationally.

▪ Defensive rebounding: Helped by Caleb Swanigan, Purdue is dominant on the defensive glass, ranking eighth nationally in D-board percentage.

▪ Foul avoidance: Purdue is not a foul-prone team, working defensively to avoid contact while trying to force teams into the mid-range. The Boilermakers have the third-best defensive free-throw rate nationally, which could help to reduce the impact that officiating has Thursday night.

3 Weaknesses

▪ Creating havoc: Purdue does not pressure defensively, ranking 287th in defensive turnover percentage. This is KU’s third straight NCAA matchup against a team with this defensive characteristic, and the Jayhawks took advantage Sunday when they posted just seven turnovers in a 70-possession game against Michigan State.

▪ Rim protection: This is probably surprising given all the talk about Purdue’s big men, but the Boilermakers 305th nationally in block percentage. As mentioned above, Purdue’s defensive philosophy centers more around forcing teams to the mid-range ... much like Iowa State did under former coach Fred Hoiberg.

▪ Transition defense: Though Purdue is above average when it comes to opponents’ shooting percentage in transition, the team allows more fast-break opportunities than an average NCAA team. This could be a big factor against KU, which has thrived in transition all season.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-9 forward Caleb Swanigan (No. 50)

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Plus: Fourth in KenPom’s national player of the year rankings

Plus: Nation’s third-best defensive rebounder

Plus: Gets to line often and is 79 percent shooter there

Plus: Nearly automatic finisher at the rim

Plus: Has range to three-point line (43 percent)

Minus: Not as good of a shot-blocker as you’d expect

Minus: Left-shoulder dominant in post; not as comfortable with left hand

Six-foot-8 forward Vincent Edwards (No. 12)

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Plus: Great three-point shooter at 4 position

Plus: Makes 83 percent at line

Plus: Good passer

Plus: Can get to rim on drives and strong finisher there

Minus: Not a great mid-range shooter

Minus: Synergy’s logs list him as “average” defender who struggles in pick-and-roll situations

7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas (No. 44)

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Plus: High-usage offensive player who comes off the bench

Plus: Draws lots of fouls and is 71 percent at line

Plus: Strong rebounder on both ends

Plus: Great finisher at the rim

Minus: Can be turnover prone

Minus: Not a good passer

Prediction

“How will KU defend Caleb Swanigan?” remains one of the biggest questions in this particular matchup.

Single him, and you risk Landen Lucas getting in foul trouble. Double him, and you risk him passing out to open three-point shooters, which actually has been Purdue’s more efficient offense.

Overall, I think the biggest fear for KU shouldn’t be Swanigan, but Purdue’s three-pointers. Iowa State made 18 of 34 and won at Allen Fieldhouse. Indiana made 15 of 31 and won the season opener. Teams that have shot a lot of outside shots against KU typically have had strong point-per-possession totals.

There are other factors to consider from Purdue’s perspective too, though.

How will the Boilermakers guard Josh Jackson? As mentioned above, Edwards isn’t a great defender, and Swanigan struggled guarding Iowa State’s Deonte Burton last week.

Another looming question is whether Purdue will be able to get back in transition. The Boilermakers would love to make this a half-court game, but that will be tough against a Jayhawks four-guard lineup that has often been able to create fast-break opportunities following opponents’ misses.

Purdue seems like a team that shouldn’t be affected much by home-court officiating — the Boilermakers don’t foul often — but I still think the pro-KU crowd should swing a few calls the Jayhawks’ way.

KenPom has KU by three while considering Sprint Center a “semi-home” environment, and I like the Jayhawks a little more than that. KU’s defense has been better in the NCAAs, and its lack of depth hasn’t been as much of a factor because of the tournament setup that allows extra rest during timeouts.

Though Purdue’s three-pointers could sway the outcome, I still like KU as the better team here, believing the Jayhawks will be able to get enough in transition to outscore any defensive issues.

Kansas 85, Purdue 77

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

I didn’t overthink the Hawk to Rock last game against Michigan State, and I won’t here either. Josh Jackson might have trouble getting offensive rebounds against Purdue, but he faces a mismatch whether Edwards or Swanigan is guarding him. Look for KU to get him involved with Frank Mason in a lot of high pick-and-roll situations, which should allow him to make plays on the perimeter against someone not comfortable defending him.

Last game prediction: Kansas 76, Michigan State 63 (Actual: KU 90-70)

2016-17 record vs. spread: 15-16-1

Last three seasons’ record vs. spread: 56-43-3

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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