Campus Corner

Quick scout: Could KU defensive weakness open door for K-State upset?

Dean Wade (left) is one of Kansas State’s best players when it comes to ball security
Dean Wade (left) is one of Kansas State’s best players when it comes to ball security The Wichita Eagle

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

Saturday’s game: No. 2 Kansas at Kansas State, 5 p.m. on ESPN2

Opponent record: 15-11

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 44

Point spread: KU by 5 1/2.

All statistics from KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com. KenPom stats also only include Div. I competition.

3 Strengths

▪ Creating havoc: Kansas State is the second-best team in Big 12 play when it comes to turnover percentage while also ranking in the top 20 in defensive steal percentage.

▪ Generating offense at the rim: K-State has struggled offensively this season, but its two strengths have been offensive rebounding and getting to the free-throw line. Though KU has done a good job on the defensive glass, especially with Landen Lucas in, the Jayhawks have been foul prone, which could be an issue Saturday.

▪ Three-point defense: Though studies have shown it’s difficult for defenses to have much control over a team’s three-point shooting percentage, K-State coach Bruce Weber has shown an ability in certain years to voodoo other teams into missing shots. That’s happened this year, as the Wildcats have surrendered the second-highest percentage of threes in the conference, though foes are shooting a league-worst 32 percent on those attempts.

3 Weaknesses

▪ Three-point shooting: K-State has been zoned often this season, and for good reason. The Wildcats have no players shooting above NCAA average from beyond the arc while ranking 337th nationally in three-point accuracy (29 percent).

▪ Carelessness: The Wildcats have been the worst team in the Big 12 during league play at turning it over. That weakness was on display at Allen Fieldhouse, when K-State gave it away on 32 percent of its possessions.

▪ Mid-range: Any time KU can force an in-between jumper should be considered a win defensively. The Wildcats are above-average finishers at the rim but awful in the mid-range, ranking 337th in two-point jumpshot percentage.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-10 forward Dean Wade (No. 32)

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+ One of team’s most efficient offensive options

+ Great finisher at the rim (77 percent)

+ Team’s best at ball security

+ Gets to free-throw line at above-average pace

- Poor shooter in mid-range (26 percent)

- Below-average free-throw shooter and three-point shooter

Six-foot forward D.J. Johnson (No. 4)

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+ Elite offensive rebounder who ranks in top 40 nationally

+ Rare defensive player who excels with blocks and steals

+ Strong finisher at rim (74 percent) and in mid-range (39 percent)

+ Draws contact and gets to free-throw line often

- Poor free-throw shooter (63 percent)

- Turnover prone

Six-foot-7 forward Wesley Iwundu (No. 25)

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+ Team’s best passer

+ Best on team at creating contact and getting to the line

+ Does great job creating shots at rim, where he’s a strong shooter

- Turns it over too often

- Not a three-point threat (6-for-26 this season)

Prediction

There are definitely reasons to like Kansas State’s chances against KU on Saturday.

Though K-State’s biggest weakness is scoring, it was able to offensive rebound effectively against KU in the first matchup, and it also shouldn’t face the same defensive pressure it went against at Allen Fieldhouse.

Whistles also will be a factor. Though K-State didn’t get many calls in Game 1, it’s likely to get to the free-throw line often Saturday, especially against a KU team that has been foul prone.

Defensively, it’s a bit risky for K-State to dare the second-best three-point shooting team in the nation to shoot, but Weber’s teams have historically limited KU defensively when playing at Bramlage.

In the end, KU has been playing better as of late, and I like its chances of making outside shots better than I like K-State’s odds of forcing misses. The Wildcats should get free throws often, but with an average shooting performance, I think the Jayhawks will be good enough offensively to get a close win.

Kansas 69, Kansas State 67

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas State

Hawk to Rock

K-State does not have a strong rim-protector and is a below-average interior defense as a whole. That makes this pick easy: Perry Ellis has put up big games against the Wildcats in the past, and there’s no reason to expect anything different this time.

2015-16 record vs. spread (with Topeka Capital-Journal): 14-9

Last two seasons’ record vs. spread: 36-21-1

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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