Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Wednesday’s game: Washington vs. No. 2 Kansas, 8 p.m., Sprint Center, Kansas City
Opponent’s record: 6-2
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 140
Point spread: KU by 22.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Drawing contact: Washington does a great job of getting points at the line, ranking fifth nationally in free-throw rate. Foul trouble should be the No. 1 concern for Kansas on Wednesday.
▪ Getting back: According to Hoop-Math’s numbers, Washington is 15th-best nationally when it comes to limiting transition attempts. Opponents have scored well when they’ve gotten fast breaks, but those opportunities have been rare.
▪ Creating havoc: The Huskies rank 15th in steal percentage and 64th in defensive turnover rate — two of the only positives for the team’s underwhelming defense.
▪ Three-point defense: Coach Mike Hopkins is a Jim Boeheim disciple, so the same weakness applies to Washington’s 2-3 zone defense: It allows way too many threes. Forty-two percent of opponents’ shots have been from the outside, so KU should find many of the same openings it did in Saturday’s game against Syracuse.
▪ Interior defense: Unlike Syracuse, Washington is not holding down opponents’ shooting percentages inside. The Huskies’ two-point defense is worse than NCAA average, as both shots at the rim and in the mid-range are going in at high rates.
▪ Three-point shooting: Washington doesn’t attempt many threes, and it’s only made 32 percent of those tries through eight games.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-8 forward Noah Dickerson (No. 15)
Plus: Ranks third nationally in drawing fouls
Plus: Gets to line often and has made 73 percent there this season
Plus: Strong rebounder on both ends, though specialty is on offensive glass
Plus: Good shooter in mid-range
Minus: Not a three-point shooter
Minus: Can be turnover prone
6-foot-4 guard Jaylen Nowell (No. 5)
Plus: Efficient player who is team’s most frequent shooter
Plus: Thrives inside, where he’s above-average shooter at rim and in mid-range who can create shots for himself
Plus: Doesn’t turn it over often
Plus: Can get to line, where he’s 84 percent shooter
Minus: Has not been good three-point shooter in tiny sample
Minus: Synergy lists him as a “below average” overall defender
6-foot-11 forward Sam Timmins (No. 33)
Plus: Top-100 shot-blocker
Plus: Like Dickerson, he’s a good rebounder on both ends, but elite on the offensive side
Plus: Synergy’s logs rank him as “excellent” defender
Minus: Only a role player offensively who doesn’t shoot much
Minus: Foul prone
KU has done a great job of avoiding whistles this season, but that’ll be tougher Wednesday night.
With Dickerson leading the way, Washington has coaxed many opponents into foul issues, which isn’t ideal for a Jayhawks team that remains shorthanded without Billy Preston and Sam Cunliffe.
The good news for KU: Shooters should be open. Washington’s zone defense doesn’t have the length or ability that Syracuse has, so there should be additional scoring chances on the perimeter along with lob opportunities behind the back line.
If Washington can get back in transition, though, I like its chances of keeping this closer than Vegas suggests. Creating fouls and crashing the offensive glass (another Washington strength) are both potential ways to crack this tough KU defense, and I’m not as confident that the Jayhawks will shoot it well away from their true home.
Kansas 85, Washington 68
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Washington
Hawk to Rock
Devonté Graham had a huge game against Syracuse, and he’ll be facing a similar defensive team Wednesday. Against the 2-3 zone, Graham will be asked to make plays, throw lobs and shoot threes late in the shot clock, so a big statistical night is possible again.
Last game prediction: Kansas 81, Syracuse 67 (Actual: KU 76-60)
2017-18 record vs. spread: 3-3
Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 61-46-3