Campus Corner

Quick scout: The two keys for KU against UConn

KU's Devonte' Graham (left) and Perry Ellis take questions during Friday's press conference at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, where the Jayhawks will take on UConn Saturday evening in a second-round game of the NCAA Tournament.
KU's Devonte' Graham (left) and Perry Ellis take questions during Friday's press conference at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, where the Jayhawks will take on UConn Saturday evening in a second-round game of the NCAA Tournament. rsugg@kcstar.com

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. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 9 UConn, 6:45 p.m. on CBS

Opponent record: 25-10

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 23

Point spread: KU by 8 1/2.

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

3 Strengths

▪ Interior defense: UConn ranks sixth nationally in two-point percentage defense and 14th in block percentage. It’ll go up against a KU team that has elevated itself to 37th nationally in 2-point percentage.

▪ Free-throw shooting: The Huskies are accurate when they get to the line, as their 79-percent shooting ranks first nationally. They also made 22 of 23 free throws against Colorado on Thursday.

▪ Transition defense: KU goes from facing one of the worst transition defensive teams in the country (Austin Peay) to one of the best. UConn is 67th nationally at limiting opponent fast-break opportunities and fourth in effective field-goal percentage against in those situations.

3 Weaknesses

▪ Getting to the line: UConn ranks 329th in offensive free-throw rate, as its guards and big men both struggle at creating contact needed to take advantage of the team’s charity-shooting strength.

▪ Three-point defense: The Huskies, who play some zone, allow more three-point attempts than the NCAA average. AAC opponents made 35 percent of their three-pointers against UConn, and this should be one of the most effective ways to score against the team’s length.

▪ Offensive rebounding: UConn’s strong transition defense appears to come at a cost: The Huskies are a below-average offensive rebounding team, giving away some of those opportunities to sell out on the defensive end.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-7 forward Shonn Miller (No. 32)

Plus: Team’s best offensive option who is one of nation’s best shooters

Plus: Specialty is scoring close, where he gets 48 percent of shots and finishes well

Plus: Well-above-average mid-range shooter as well (49 percent)

Plus: Ranks 10th nationally in turnover rate

Plus: Great shot-blocker for his size

Minus: Not a volume three-point shooter, attempting less than one per game

Minus: Doesn’t shoot as often as he should considering his impressive numbers

Six-foot-7 guard Daniel Hamilton (No. 5)

Plus: Takes on large offensive role for his team

Plus: Good free-throw shooter (86 percent)

Plus: Elite defensive rebounder, especially for his size

Plus: Team’s best passer

Minus: Struggles to finish at rim (53 percent)

Minus: Below-average three-point shooter

Seven-foot center Amida Brimah (No. 35)

Plus: One of nation’s top shot-blockers

Plus: Good offensive rebounder

Plus: Strong finisher at rim (78 percent)

Minus: Limited offensive player who doesn’t shoot often

Minus: Struggles on defensive glass

Prediction

Is this the toughest 8/9 matchup that any No. 1 seed received? That answer appears to be yes based on KenPom’s numbers, which have UConn (23rd) significantly higher than Butler (37th), Saint Joseph’s (44th) and Providence (47th).

While this is the tough part of the draw, KU fans shouldn’t be too upset, as the potential Sweet 16 matchup aganist Maryland (24th) or Hawaii (49th) likely wouldn’t be any more difficult than Saturday’s game in Des Moines.

To me, this matchup comes down to two main factors for KU. For one, will KU be able to stop dribble penetration? Coach Bill Self spoke earlier this season about his team’s ability to guard quick opposing guards, and since then, Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham have elevated their play defensively. That will be important Saturday against a UConn team that doesn’t get to the line often, but is deadly when it does.

Also, will KU continue its season-long trend of hitting three-pointers? Perimeter defense appears to be the biggest weakness on a sound UConn defense, and in past NCAA Tournament games when early outside shots haven’t fallen, the Jayhawks often have abandoned threes altogether. That doesn’t seem like a smart strategy against UConn’s strong interior defense, so KU could definitely be helped by making a few threes early or by not panicking even if they don’t go down.

I think it’ll be close. UConn is talented, and this should be the biggest pressure game for KU as it tries to escape the second-round jinx.

Give me the Jayhawks in a two-possession game.

Kansas 69, UConn 64

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: UConn

Hawk to Rock

I’ve got to go with a three-point shooter here, and Devonte’ Graham seems like the safest bet as long as he’s fully recoverd from last week’s three-games-in-three-days marathon. Though the sophomore went scoreless in KU’s victory Thursday, he has shot with a free mind as of late and should get the green light after making 46 percent of his threes in Big 12 play.

Last game prediction: Kansas 93, Austin Peay 64 (Actual KU 105-79)

2015-16 record vs. spread: 17-14-1

Last two seasons’ record vs. spread: 39-26-2

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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