Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Saturday’s game: No. 13 Kansas at Nebraska, 7 p.m., Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, Neb.
TV: Fox Sports 1
Opponent’s record: 7-4
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 92
Point spread: KU by 11 1/2.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Transition offense: Though Nebraska hovers around NCAA average when it comes to getting fastbreak chances, the team thrives when it gets those opportunities. The Huskers rank 60th in shooting percentage during the first 10 seconds of the shot clock and also have earned an “excellent” transition rating from Synergy.
▪ Three-point defense: Nebraska coach Tim Miles has long been a Ken Pomeroy disciple, so it’s not a surprise that the Huskers are one of the best defenses in the nation when it comes to three-point prevention (seventh).
▪ Ball security: Nebraska rarely turns it over, ranking 38th in offensive turnover rate.
▪ Shooting: The Huskers are 259th in effective field-goal percentage, with part of the problem coming from shot selection. Nebraska doesn’t get many attempts at the rim, takes a high percentage of mid-range jumpers and also ranks in Synergy’s 23rd percentile when it comes to half-court offense.
▪ Defensive rebounding: Nebraska is 63rd in average height but still has struggled on the defensive glass, ranking 321st in D-board percentage.
▪ Free throws: The Huskers only get to the free throw line at a moderate rate, and once there, they’ve shot slightly worse than an average NCAA team.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot guard Glynn Watson (No. 5)
Plus: Team’s most frequent shooter
Plus: Good passer
Plus: Rarely turns it over
Plus: Good defender who ranks in top 100 in steal rate
Minus: Has made just 28 percent of threes this year
Minus: High number of mid-range shots hurts his efficiency
6-foot-6 guard James Palmer (No. 24)
Plus: Team’s best at creating contact and drawing fouls
Plus: Solid passer
Plus: Above-average finisher at the rim
Minus: Just a 32 percent career three-point shooter
Minus: Like Watson, he settles for two-point jumpshots too often
6-foot-3 guard Anton Gill (No. 13)
Plus: Must guard him on three-point line; team’s best shooter there
Plus: Doesn’t turn it over often
Minus: Rarely creates for others
Minus: Doesn’t shoot often, especially from two-point range
This is an interesting — and perhaps unexpected — Vegas line considering the circumstances.
KU has struggled its last two games, looking the part of a tired team, while Nebraska is likely to get a home boost in a building where it’s already beaten Minnesota by double digits this year.
One would think sports books might shade toward the Huskers, but the opposite has been true. KU — a nine-point favorite according to KenPom — opened at minus-11, with the public betting KU enough to move that line to 11 1/2 by late Friday night.
I actually like KU’s defense to rebound in this particular matchup, as the Jayhawks should be fine on that end as long as they don’t allow uncontested points off turnovers. Nebraska doesn’t shoot a lot of threes, and its guards aren’t nearly as dangerous getting to the rim as recent opponents KU has faced.
Offensively, the Jayhawks aren’t likely to attempt many outside shots, but they still should have an opportunity to get both fastbreak and second-chance points.
In the end, I’ll take KU to cover in a game that is likely to feature better defense than offense.
Kansas 74, Nebraska 61
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
It’s a great matchup for Udoka Azubuike, if he can avoid foul trouble. KU should run its offense inside-out because of Nebraska’s defensive tendencies, while Azubuike also should have lots of chances for offensive rebounds against a team that will struggle to match his size and strength. Though the big man has only posted one double-double this year, this appears to be a great opportunity for No. 2.
Last game prediction: Kansas 96, Arizona State 78 (Actual: Arizona State 95-85)
2017-18 record vs. spread: 4-4
Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 62-47-3