Saturday, January 29th (6:00pm) in Lawrence, KS on ESPN Network
SEC/Big 12 Challenge
Opponent: Kansas Jayhawks (17-2, 6-1 in Big 12)
NET Ranking: 7
KenPom Ranking: 9
10-2 vs Q1 & Q2
Best Wins: Iowa State (both home and away), home vs Texas Tech, and a neutral site season opening game against Michigan State
Worst Loss: Neutral site game against Dayton
Kansas Roster Breakdown
#30 - Ochai Agbaji | 6’5” 215 lbs Senior Guard
Agbaji is a National Player of the Year candidate, and rightfully so. The Kansas senior has been spectacular this season, averaging 21.3 ppg, 5 rpg, and 1.4 apg. The most impressive stat is the fact that he’s shooting 47% from 3 while averaging almost 7 3PAs per game. Even in their two losses, Ochai has been the leading scorer for Kansas scoring 21 and 24. The last time Kentucky faced Kansas, Agbaji logged 17 pts, 3 asts, and 5 rbs in 37 minutes last season. Obviously, Agbaji has taken a step up this season, so whether it be TyTy, Grady, or Wheeler, or defense by committee, they have their work cut out from them.
#33 David McCormack | 6’10” 250 lbs Senior Forward
McCormack is one of the better big men in the Big 12, but he isn’t even leading his own team in rebounds? Bottom line is McCormack is a great player, but if we are going off of this season’s statistics and games, Oscar should be the better player in this matchup. McCormack is averaging 9.0 pts, 6.7 rbs, and 1 blk per game. The weird part is he only averages 2.1 personal fouls per game, but is only playing 19.5 minutes per game. He is too good to be playing less than a half of basketball per game. The big advantage here for him is playing at home. His physicality naturally initiates contact, but he gets away with some fouls here and there. If officials continue to punish Oscar Tshiebwe for being good at rebounding and strong by not calling fouls on him, then it could be a long day for Kentucky fans, again…
#2 Christian Braun | 6’7” 218 lbs Junior Guard
The Junior guard is averaging 15.3 pts, 5.9 rbs, and 3.4 asts per game. Braun is a bucket-getter for the Jayhawks. In a Kellan Grady-like role, he really hits shots when they matter most. If Kentucky wants to leave Phog Allen with a W, they will need to keep Braun honest.
#11 Remy Martin | 6’0” 175 lbs Super-Senior Guard
The Arizona State Transfer has been solid in his role at Kansas, averaging 8.4 pts, 3.3 rbs, and 3.1 asts per game this season. He does a good job at controlling the pace for Kansas’ offense. He hasn’t been a fantastic scorer for the Jayhawks though, could be something to watch.
#10 Jalen Wilson | 6’8” 225 lbs RS Sophomore Forward
Wilson is the leading rebounder for the Jayhawks, averaging 6.8 rbs, 8.9 pts, and 1.7 asts per game. Wilson logged a double-double of 23 and 10 in the previous Kentucky/Kansas matchup. He could be the guy that steps up for the Jayhawks.
Other Names to Watch:
#44 Mitch Lightfoot | 6’8” 225 lbs Super-Senior Forward
#55 Jalen Coleman-Lands | 6’4” 190 lbs Super-Senior Guard
#1 Joseph Yesufu | 6’0” 180 lbs Sophomore Guard
So, how does Kentucky leave Allen Fieldhouse with a W?
#1 - Make someone not named Agbaji or Braun beat you
Remy Martin, Jalen Wilson, Jalen Coleman-Lands, or even David McCormack are all prime candidates for players who could step up or crumble in the clutch. Ochai Agbaji is going to get his, we know that. Christian Braun can be checked, but he can make some big plays. Making sure we have a man on Agbaji and Braun at all times is crucial. Martin is not a shooter, so roll out the game plan that Notre Dame successfully installed against us and make him beat us. Basically, don't go under screens on shooters, but go under screens on Martin and make him want to shoot.
#2 - Control the pace
Kentucky is better when they run. Kansas knows this and will try to slow the game down. Statistically, Kentucky is one of the best teams in both usage and makes for transition three point attempts, lean into that. Kansas has a good defense, but the Big 12, as a whole, isn't an offensive powerhouse conference. If Kentucky can control the pace and not play to what Kansas wants to do defensively, Kentucky stands a good chance.
#3 - Don't drive to draw fouls, because you won't get them
In the double-overtime thriller on Monday night against Texas Tech, there were some very questionable no-calls that definitely affected the game in Kansas' favor.
Kentucky cannot rely on the officials doing their job competently to secure a win. Offensive sets need to end with quality shots and not attacking the basket with hopes of a whistle.
The Bottom Line
Kansas has won their last three games by a combined nine points. That's the sign of a really good team, or the sign of a really lucky team. If we're being honest, it's probably a good blend of both. Kentucky absolutely can win this game if we see the same Kentucky team that we saw against Tennessee, North Carolina, and even Auburn.
Mentally, Kentucky must see this as a must-win to really take the next step for this season. Both the LSU and Auburn losses, while had good things to take away from them, still were losses. Like my Beers & Buckets podcast co-host, Dowell Harmon, always says, "it's better to learn from a win than from a loss."
Kansas has a 62% chance to win according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index. KenPom is predicting Kansas to win 80-77. Kentucky has them exactly where they want them. Leave no doubt that Kentucky is a title contender, injuries and foul discrepancies be damned.