Is Kansas Ready For the Gauntlet Ahead?Posted by Justin Fedich on January 24th, 2017
Starting tonight in Morgantown, the owner of the nation’s second-longest winning streak (18) in college basketball begins as tough of an eight-day stretch of games as we can remember with West Virginia, Kentucky and Baylor on the menu. To this point, Kansas appears destined for another No. 1 seed — perhaps the No. 1 overall seed — in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but Big 12 play has revealed some blemishes. In fact, only two of the Jayhawks’ seven Big 12 games to this point — against Texas Tech and Texas — have been wire-to-wire blowouts. With games pending against KenPom‘s #2, #4 and #5 ranked teams (Kansas is #8), the next week of basketball should determine just how prepared Bill Self‘s team is to be considered a National Championship favorite. While Kansas hasn’t shown the overall consistency of a team poised to leapfrog the field, it has all the tools necessary to win these three upcoming games and catapult itself to the mantle as the team to beat. Let’s take a snapshot look at each game heading into tonight’s battle with West Virginia.
- West Virginia (Morgantown) – Tuesday, January 24. West Virginia’s defensive success is well-documented, and a hot Kansas team will face a hungry unit at home ready to end a two-game losing skid. While it’s easy to see Kansas falling at the same arena that produced Baylor’s first loss of the season, the Jayhawks’ strengths match up well against West Virginia’s weaknesses. The most vulnerable part of West Virginia’s defense is in preventing offensive rebounds, where the Mountaineers rank 327th nationally in that metric. Kansas, meanwhile, is a very good offensive rebounding team. The Jayhawks have three players — Landen Lucas, Josh Jackson and Carlton Bragg, Jr. — who average more than five rebounds a game, while Nathan Adrian is the only player from West Virginia with that distinction. If Kansas can dominate West Virginia on the offensive glass, it will counteract much of the pressure brought on by the pesky Mountaineers’ defense.
- Kentucky (Lexington) – Saturday, January 28. One of the biggest discrepancies between these two title contenders, aside from general collegiate experience, is in three-point shooting. National Player of the Year candidate Frank Mason is shooting a ridiculous 53.7 percent from beyond the arc — a big reason why Kansas ranks fourth nationally in three-point shooting at 41.6 percent — while Kentucky, on the other hand, ranks 135th at 35.9 percent. Mason, Devonte Graham and Sviotslav Mykhailuk can all fill it up from downtown while the Wildcats really only have one player who is consistent in that area (Malik Monk). In a match-up of two of the best guard combinations in the game, the team that proves better from deep could be the difference. Winning in Rupp Arena is never an easy task, but UCLA has already pulled it off earlier this season. There’s no reason Kansas can’t do the same.
- Baylor (Lawrence) – Wednesday, February 1. This will be a match-up between two of the three lone one-loss teams in the nation (as of today), but Kansas at home will be a substantial favorite. While Baylor isn’t great in perimeter shooting this season, the Bears do very well (13th nationally) in defending the three-pointer. This will be a battle between Kansas’ strong offense against a stingy Baylor defense. Still, Baylor will likely need to score in bunches to keep up with the Jayhawks in Lawrence. Baylor hasn’t scored more than 77 points since the start of conference play while Kansas hasn’t scored fewer than 76 since conference play began. And the last time the Bears won in Allen Fieldhouse? That would be never.