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. 11 Kansas at Texas, 8 p.m., Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas
Opponent’s record: 9-3
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 32
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.
▪ Interior defense: Texas ranks ninth nationally in two-point percentage defense and also seventh in block rate. Only one opponent (Duke) has shot better than 50 percent inside against the Longhorns this season.
▪ Close shots: Texas gets an above-average number of shots at the rim, and the Longhorns rank 19th in field-goal percentage on those attempts.
▪ Transition defense: The Longhorns are 51st when it comes to limiting opponents fast-break chances and 13th in shooting percentage against in those situations.
▪ Three-point shooting: Texas hasn’t fixed its biggest offensive issue from last season. While ranking about average when it comes to threes attempted, the Longhorns have made 28 percent of those tries — a percentage that ranks 344th nationally.
▪ Rebounding ... both ends: The Longhorns are a good defensive transition team, so it would stand to reason that coach Shaka Smart has not emphasized offensive rebounding as much while urging his players to get back defensively. Texas, though, hasn’t been dominant on the defensive glass either, despite a strong early season in that area from freshman Mo Bamba.
▪ Free throw shooting: Texas has done a decent job getting to the line, but it’s made just 62 percent of its shots there (341st nationally). Reserve forward Jericho Sims (11 of 27, 41 percent) has struggled most.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-11 forward Mo Bamba (No. 4)
Plus: Elite shot-blocker
Plus: Strong rebounder on both ends, though strength is on defensive glass
Plus: Gets to free-throw line often
Plus: Good finisher at the rim
Minus: Not a good three-point shooter in small sample (3 of 19)
Minus: Synergy lists him as “below average” defender in post, which means he could struggle to defend stronger players
6-foot-9 forward Dylan Osetkowski (No. 21)
Plus: Takes on large offensive load
Plus: Decent rebound on both ends
Plus: Strong finisher on close shots
Plus: Synergy lists him as “very good” overall defender
Minus: Overall inefficient player, mostly because of poor three-point shooting (11-for-44)
Minus: Not a shot-blocker — has two this season
6-foot-4 guard Andrew Jones (No. 1)
Plus: Team’s best offensive player who has missed last four games with wrist injury; Texas is “hopeful” that he’ll play against KU, according to Jon Rothstein
Plus: Only true three-point threat (43 percent)
Plus: Does good job creating own shot and finishes strong at the rim
Plus: Synergy lists him as “excellent” overall defender
Minus: Can be turnover prone, though he’s improved in that area this season
The deeper I look into this matchup, the more I like KU’s chances.
Texas doesn’t have many defensive weaknesses — the team ranks second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency — but it does allow three-pointers at a roughly average clip. The Jayhawks can definitely make outside shots, and they shouldn’t pass up any open tries considering how difficult it is to score against the Longhorns inside.
KU shouldn’t get much in transition, but it also could have success throwing it to Udoka Azubuike, who has a definite strength advantage.
Defensively, KU has to hope that Jones doesn’t play or is not fully himself coming off a wrist injury. Either is possible, and you would think Smart will be cautious with his top guard.
The Jayhawks will get in trouble if they try to drive with guards and score at the rim. They’ll also likely have problems if they settle for mid-range jumpshots, as Bamba blocks those well too.
So far, though, this KU team’s identity has been open threes or letting Azubuike go to work inside. Both of those give the Jayhawks a decent chance or scoring against a Longhorns’ defense that has been elite this season.
Kansas 72, Texas 64
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
He’ll have to avoid foul trouble, but Udoka Azubuike is likely to get the ball force-fed to him inside. KU coach Bill Self has always been someone who likes to attack shot-blockers, and Azubuike is the Jayhawks’ only player who has the potential to do that.
Last game prediction: Kansas 76, Stanford 68 (Actual: KU 75-54)
2017-18 record vs. spread: 4-7
Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 62-50-3