Loss of Devonte’ Graham Puts Kansas Rotation in Even More Flux

Posted by Chris Stone on December 15th, 2014

Kansas head coach Bill Self announced prior to the Jayhawks’ win against Utah on Saturday that freshman guard Devonte’ Graham will miss at least the next four weeks after suffering a severely sprained right big toe in a 75-70 victory over Georgetown last Wednesday. The injury is not likely to require surgery, but the team’s doctors told Self it is possible that Graham won’t return this season. Although the team isn’t planning for it, Kansas would likely seek a medical redshirt if Graham is unable to return. According to Self, “The doctors feel he can come back but also say he may not come back. We’ll have to make a decision before the first half of the season is probably over so we can obviously utilize a medical redshirt if we need to, but we’re not thinking like that.”

Kansas will be without freshman guard Devonte' Graham for at least four weeks (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas will be without freshman guard Devonte’ Graham for at least four weeks (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

The loss only magnifies Kansas’ lack of depth at the point guard position after the preseason transfer of sophomore Conner Frankamp, as Graham and Frank Mason III are the only two point guards on scholarship. Prior to his injury, the freshman was averaging 14.9 minutes per game, mostly as the backup point guard, but Self has also used Graham and Mason together to increase defensive pressure on ball-handlers. “Just watching the game, we put so much more pressure on the defense when those guys were in there together, as opposed to when just one of them was in the game,” Self said in his news conference last Monday. Indeed, Kansas will miss Graham defensively. His 4.1 percent steal percentage would rank in the top 100 in the country if he had enough minutes to qualify. That number is important because a high steal percentage has correlated well with the Jayhawks’ best defensive efficiency numbers throughout Self’s tenure.

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Utah vs. Kansas: Three Keys on Each Side

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 12th, 2014

One of the bigger games of the weekend takes place in Kansas City on Saturday, with Utah riding its recent success to take a shot at the Jayhawks. Below, Pac-12 microsite writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) and Big 12 microsite writer Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) break down the keys for the Utes and Jayhawks, respectively.

Three Keys for Utah

The Glass. Given recent history and if you didn’t know anything about these teams’ current rosters, you’d figure that the Kansas roster is filled with glass-eating big men while the Utes were made up of undersized, scrappy kids along the front line. Instead it is Utah that has the seven-footer in the middle, long and athletic wings littering the roster, and a 6’5” future pro running the point. Freshman center Jakob Poeltl is the best offensive rebounder in the nation (grabbing more than 20 percent of his team’s misses when he’s on the floor), while the rest of the Utah bigs go equally hard to the boards on offense, and their guards even chip in a bit too. Priority one, as Utah faces a Kansas team with its own future lottery pick in the middle (Cliff Alexander), is to continue to outrebound its foe, especially on the offensive end. Guys like Poeltl and Chris Reyes and Brekkot Chapman (to name just a few) may not be all that polished on the offensive end, so getting easy hoops in the paint will be a prerequisite to any hopes of a Utah win in Kansas City.

A big day from Delon Wright is paramount to Utah's chances of beating Kansas tomorrow (USA TODAY Sports)

A big day from Delon Wright is paramount to Utah’s chances of beating Kansas. (USA TODAY Sports)

The Star. Delon Wright is undeniably very good. He does almost everything on the court: He scores in the paint and in transition, sets up teammates with easy hoops, rebounds the ball on both ends of the floor, grabs steals, blocks shots, provides on-court leadership, and even gets to the line and knocks in his freebies. But in Utah’s one loss this season, he was, well, not good. Against San Diego State, he made just two of his 13 field goal attempts (both in the waning moments of a comeback attempt), turned it over three times, and was generally ineffective in helping his team put points on the scoreboard. That can’t happen against Kansas tomorrow. He needs to play within himself, set up his teammates and, when the opportunity presents itself, get his own. If Wright has a subpar game, Utah cannot win. Read the rest of this entry »

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Two Burning Questions: Previewing Kansas vs. Florida

Posted by Brian Goodman & David Changas on December 5th, 2014

The Big 12/SEC Challenge will wrap up tonight at 9:00 ET as Kansas looks to exact revenge for a loss in Gainesville last year. Meanwhile, the Gators are in need of a signature non-conference win, and what better venue to get that win than in a raucous Allen Fieldhouse? RTC contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and David Changas (@dchangas) are here to break down a tilt between two of the millennium’s best programs.

BG: The Jayhawks may finally have their answer at point guard after Frank Mason enjoyed a very successful Orlando Classic as freshman Devonte’ Graham continued to heal from a shoulder injury. The sophomore posted averages of 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game last week and has been the primary reason why Kansas has regained its footing despite Graham’s troubles, Wayne Selden‘s shooting slump, and Kelly Oubre‘s failure to find his way onto the court for more than a few minutes a night. In the other backcourt, Kasey Hill has come up big for a Florida team that has otherwise struggled out of the gate. How important is this match-up to the outcome of the game and how do you see it turning out?

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

DC: Mason was absolutely terrific in Orlando, and Kansas looked nothing like the team that Kentucky embarrassed two and a half weeks ago. On the other hand, Florida came away from the Battle 4 Atlantis with two losses and a mediocre win over UAB to show for it. Thus far, the Gators have a long way to go to become a good offensive team, shooting a highly inefficient 44.1 percent in effective field goal rate. With Eli Carter injured and likely to miss this game, Hill, who has finally begun to look more comfortable in his role as the team’s primary ball-handler, will need to have a big night for Florida. He showed some signs of offensive life with 20 points in Sunday’s loss to North Carolina, shooting the ball well and getting to the line 12 times (making 10) against the Tar Heels. If he can do the same against Mason while simultaneously taking care of the ball, Florida will have a chance at pulling off the big upset.

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Evaluating the Kansas Backcourt a Month Into the Season

Posted by Kory Carpenter on December 4th, 2014

It has now been 16 days since Kansas suffered its worst loss of the Bill Self era, a 72-40 clubbing at the hands of the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats. Luckily for Jayhawks fans, the team has rebounded about as nicely as you could expect, winning four straight, including an Orlando Classic title after a five-point victory of Michigan State on Sunday. Still, there are plenty of questions about this team. Will Perry Ellis continue his recent surge when faced with bigger frontcourts? Will Kelly Oubre impress Self enough to earn decent minutes? What exactly is wrong with Wayne Selden? There is one thing we know for certain, though: Sophomore point guard Frank Mason III looks like the guy who will lead this team going forward. Since a disastrous outing at the Champions Classic where he was 1-of-10 from the field and largely invisible in his 32 minutes, Mason has made a strong case to become Self’s starting point guard. He has a 134.5 offensive rating since the Kentucky game, a very good mark for someone who uses fewer than 20 percent of his team’s possessions.

Frank Mason looks like Bill Self's man at point guard. (USATSI)

Frank Mason III looks like Bill Self’s man at point guard. (USATSI)

I don’t want to discount the night against Kentucky out of hand, though, because maybe it was indicative of how Mason will perform against the highest level of Division I competition. But Mason has been miles ahead of Devonte’ Graham, a player who many thought could supplant Mason in the starting lineup at some point this season. Self doesn’t appear to see it that way, as Graham has only played 13.4 MPG thus far and is no realistic threat to take Mason’s job from him anytime soon. In Orlando last week, Mason looked nothing like the player who went barreling into the lane with no apparent plan against the Wildcats. Instead, he picked his spots for aggressiveness, shooting 11-of-18 from the field and 4-of-6 from three-point range over three games. He also grabbed 10 rebounds in the match-up against Michigan State and averaged 5.6 APG. Read the rest of this entry »

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Grading the Big 12’s Feast Week Performances

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2014

With much of the Big 12 participating in competitive, neutral-court tournaments last week, we were able to get a solid litmus test for most of the conference’s squads. All in all, the league had a good showing, but it wasn’t spectacular. Here are some grades relative to how each team was expected to perform during Feast Week:

  • Texas (wins vs. St. Francis and UConn): A. In the Longhorns’ first action since Isaiah Taylor broke his wrist (minus the game against Cal the following night at MSG), Rick Barnes’ team rolled over the Red Flash without a problem, as they were paced by Myles Turner’s 25 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. All they did was follow that up by handing UConn its first non-conference loss at Gampel Pavilion since 1993, when current Husky guard Sam Cassell, Jr.’s dad helped Florida State beat UConn in Storrs. Big ups go out to Jonathan Holmes, who, with this game-winner from Sunday, is now shooting an eye-popping 61.9% from distance.
Jonathan Holmes' late heroics in Storrs kept Texas undefeated.

Jonathan Holmes’ late heroics in Storrs kept Texas undefeated. (Getty)

  • Kansas (wins over Rhode Island, Tennessee and Michigan State in the Orlando Classic): A-. After the big Kentucky loss, Kansas’ last game against venerable competition before the holiday weekend, the Jayhawks had their fair share of unanswered questions. With this still being the first week in December, the rotation still has some kinks to iron out, but fans should be happy about Perry Ellis‘ improved rebounding to complement his scoring ability as well as Frank Mason‘s overall progress, though I’m still a little bearish because we’ve seen both these movies before and because I’m not sure Michigan State is all that good. The keys moving forward are whether Ellis and Mason can maintain that level of play, and whether Bill Self‘s leash on Cliff Alexander has truly lengthened. It would also be helpful if Wayne Selden could bust out of a big scoring funk (6.8 PPG on 24.1% shooting over his last four games).

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Big 12 Season Preview: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Kansas.

Kansas

Strengths: Coaching and talent. It sounds simple, but when you’ve won 10 straight conference titles, why complicate things? Consider this: Last season, the Jayhawks won the Big 12 by two games and had two of the top three picks in the NBA Draft, yet the season was considered by many to be the most disappointing of Bill Self‘s tenure (and not just because of the early NCAA Tournament flameout to Stanford, though that certainly had a lot to do with it). That’s a major testament to Self’s ability to coach and develop talent, but it also speaks to the annual expectation his track record breeds. The Jayhawks reload yet again, with Kelly Oubre replacing Andrew Wiggins on the wing and Cliff Alexander taking Joel Embiid’s spot down low. Wayne Selden is back with a healthy knee and Perry Ellis is a reliable stalwart in the post. Add a high-ceiling wild card in Svi Mykhaliuk, who Self says is sometimes the best player on the floor in practice, and you’re looking at yet another Kansas team that will be expected to win the Big 12 and, come March, should be among the smartest picks to make a run to Indianapolis.

The Cliff Alexander hype train is already leaving the station. (The Kansas City Star)

The Cliff Alexander hype train is already leaving the station. (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Weaknesses: The Jayhawks have enjoyed tremendous success since Sherron Collins left the program in 2010, but ask fans and people close the program and they’ll tell you they’d feel even better if their team had steady play at the point guard spot. It’s definitely not for a lack of trying, though. Since Collins’ departure, the Jayhawks have been connected in various degrees to several of the top floor generals available, including Emmanuel Mudiay, Tyus Jones, Mark Lyons, Gabe York and Cat Barber. For assorted reasons, though, all of them found other landing spots, leaving Kansas to make do with a group of which each had their share of moments and headaches — Josh Selby, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe. The Jayhawks have proven that they can succeed in spite of the point guard issue, but that doesn’t mean it’s a preferable position. Additionally, Kansas needs to rebound from a pedestrian defensive showing (by their standards). The Jayhawks finished last season with their worst defensive efficiency ranking of the KenPom era (#31), due to a combination of a brutal schedule, inexperience, injuries and uncharacteristically poor backcourt defense. This year’s non-conference schedule isn’t less daunting nor is this year’s team significantly more experienced (if at all), but on the other hand, it’s tough to imagine a Self team letting him down on the defensive end for a second straight year. Still, Kansas will have to quiet those concerns if it is to live up to its potential.

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Cousy Award List Reveals Kansas Struggles at Point Guard Position

Posted by Chris Stone on November 5th, 2014

Preseason award lists continued to roll in on Tuesday afternoon with the release of the 2014-15 Bob Cousy Award Watch List. For those unfamiliar, the Cousy Award is given annually to the top point guard in men’s college basketball. This year’s list is led by Preseason AP All-Americans and likely favorites Marcus Paige of North Carolina and Fred VanVleet of Wichita State. The list also exhibits the strength of the position in the Big 12 this year. Four of the league’s 10 teams are represented, including Iowa State’s Monte Morris, Oklahoma’s Jordan Woodard, Texas’ Isaiah Taylor and West Virginia’s Juwan Staten. No Big 12 player has won the award since going back-to-back in 2006-07 (Acie Law IV, Texas A&M) and 2007-08 (D.J. Augustin, Texas), but this crop of league point guards provides plenty of talent that can compete for the prize this year.

The tourney upsets his Kansas teams have suffered will not be forgotten (Getty).

Despite being considered the favorites once again to win the Big 12, Bill Self and Kansas might have some question marks at the point guard position. (Getty)

  • Monte Morris averaged 6.8 points and 3.7 assists per game for the Cyclones during his freshman season and projects to replace DeAndre Kane as the starting point guard in Ames as a sophomore. The challenge for him will be to maintain his NCAA leading assist-to-turnover ratio (4.8-to-1) and great three-point shooting (40.6%) as he transitions into the role of Fred Hoiberg’s primary ball-handler.
  • Another sophomore poised to have an excellent season is Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard. As a freshman, Woodard averaged 10.3 points and 4.6 assists per game as the Sooners made the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. He will, however, need to improve his two-point field goal shooting (35.2%) to become a more complete offensive player this season. According to Hoop-Math.com, he connected on only 29.0% of his shots away from the rim last season, which has to improve.

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Naadir Tharpe Era at Kansas Comes to a Close

Posted by Brian Goodman on May 1st, 2014

Over the last two seasons, the hope for Kansas was that Naadir Tharpe would grow into a steady, reliable point guard after previous seasons had been characterized by up-and-down play from Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson. While he wasn’t without his positive contributions from time to time, Tharpe in three seasons cemented a legacy of ill-advised shots and other questionable on-court decisions (as well as a big one off the court), all of which came to a head in a 2-of-8, two-turnover dud in Kansas’ Round of 32 loss to Stanford in this season’s NCAA Tournament. Thursday afternoon, ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman tweeted that Tharpe will transfer out of Lawrence rather than return for his senior season, and head coach Bill Self confirmed the report to Kansas City Star beat writer Rustin Dodd later in the day.

Citing a need to be close to his daughter, Naadir Tharpe and The University of Kansas are parting ways.

Citing a need to be close to his daughter, Naadir Tharpe is parting ways with The University of Kansas.

Tharpe arrived at Kansas in 2011 as a four-star recruit from prep powerhouse Brewster Academy. While his playing time, assists and shooting percentages rose in each of his three seasons, he arrived at those numbers through a series of rollercoaster performances, and his erratic play and defensive lapses turned him into a lightning rod among fans and a source of constant frustration for Self. The Kansas head coach shuffled through his other options at the position, including Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp, in the hope that either could jump-start the Jayhawks’ offense, but they didn’t prove to be markedly better.

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Four Takeaways From Kansas’ Loss to San Diego State

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2014

The Jayhawks were handed a rare home non-conference loss by Steve Fisher’s Aztecs on Sunday afternoon. Here are the top four things we learned about Bill Self’s team in the surprising defeat.

Frank Mason wasn't the only Jayhawk who had problems getting up quality shots. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Frank Mason wasn’t the only Jayhawk who had problems getting up quality shots. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  1. Interior toughness leaves a lot to be desired. One look at Joel Embiid’s line – 12 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks – would suggest otherwise, but this was a night for Kansas to forget when it came to interior defense. San Diego State won despite taking only eight three-pointers and shooting just 37 percent from the field, meaning they got it done with rebounding and putbacks. The Jayhawks deeply miss Jeff Withey, who excelled at swatting shots in a way that allowed his team to take over possession. On Sunday, Kansas blocked 13 shots, but most of those went right back to the Aztecs, and on some instances, SDSU laid the ball right back into the basket within a few seconds. Given the final score of 61-57, a couple of bounces may have been the difference between Kansas winning and losing this game, but while the analytical take is to say that it was just bad luck, this isn’t the first time the Jayhawks have been beaten on the interior. That’s somewhat disconcerting for Bill Self’s team going forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Takeaways From Kansas’ Win Over New Mexico

Posted by kory Carpenter is a RTC Big 12 contributor. You can find him on Twitter @Kory_Carpenter on December 16th, 2013

Kansas rebounded from last week’s loss to Florida nicely Saturday night with an 80-63 win over New Mexico in Kansas City. The Jayhawks had lost three out of four games coming into that one, but showed signs of improvement against a good Lobos squad. It was a strong enough performance to jump Kansas from #13 to #6 on kenpom.com. Here are a few takeaways from Saturday night’s win.

Don't expect Joel Embiid to be in Lawrence much longer. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Don’t expect Joel Embiid to be in Lawrence much longer. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Naadir Tharpe looks to be Bill Self’s point guard going forward. He had lost the starting job over the previous two games to freshman Frank Mason, but the switch wasn’t successful. Mason has a higher ceiling but he isn’t a true point guard, at least not at this point in his career. In the two games he started against Colorado and Florida, Mason averaged only two assists per game and committed seven turnovers. Tharpe returned to the starting unit against New Mexico, played 37 minutes, and had a better than 2:1 assist/turnover ratio in the contest (nine assists, four turnovers). The question remains whether he can bring that kind of performance to bear for six consecutive games in March, but there is no use looking anywhere else at this point.
  2. Bill Self joked after the game that the more freshman center Joel Embiid plays, the less time he will spend in Lawrence. The Cameroon native had 18 points in 25 minutes, shot 80 percent from the free throw line, grabbed six rebounds, rejected four shots, and gave us an Hakeem Olajuwon/Dream Shake impression that not many other college players can do (and really, how many pros?). With so few talented centers in the NBA and a history of GMs drafting on the notion of potential, don’t be shocked if Embiid jumps over the superstar freshman trio of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle and gets selected No. 1 overall in next summer’s NBA Draft. He has that much upside. Read the rest of this entry »
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Previewing Saturday’s Kansas/Colorado Battle

Posted by Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 6th, 2013

There are a lot of interesting non-conference battles around the country this weekend in advance of finals coming up in the next few weeks. Big 12 correspondent Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) and Pac-12 writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) teamed up to offer this breakdown of one of them: Kansas at Colorado, Saturday 1:15 PM MST on ESPN2.

Kansas will win if… it gets its offense back in order. After beating Wake Forest last week, the Jayhawks turned in underwhelming performances against Villanova and UTEP, shooting less than 40 percent from the field in both games. The reasons behind Kansas’ struggles have gravitated from the odd setting of the Battle 4 Atlantis, to KU’s inexperience, to the fact that Andrew Wiggins played through illness. Bill Self weighed in earlier this week and felt as though last month’s win over Duke “spoiled them a little,” perhaps leading to a more passive attitude than what we’re used to seeing out of Self’s teams. Regardless of what you want to point to as the biggest factor, the Jayhawks need to get their scorers out of their recent funks, and the best way for them to do that is to go inside and test Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon early. If Perry Ellis, Wiggins and Joel Embiid establish inside dominance in the first half, it will go a long way toward opening cleaner looks behind the three-point line, an area where the Jayhawks are much better than what they showed in three games in the Bahamas.

Andrew Wiggins And Company Will Look To Bounce Back From Last Weekend's Disappointment With A Road Win At Colorado

Andrew Wiggins And Company Will Look To Bounce Back From Last Weekend’s Disappointment With A Road Win At Colorado

Kansas will lose if… its backcourt struggles. We haven’t hit winter break yet, but Bill Self is already shaking up his lineup, opting to start freshman Frank Mason over junior Naadir Tharpe, per KUSports.com. Normally, going with potential over experience would be more of a shock, but on this team, in this season, what’s one more freshman being elevated into a more prominent role? Mason has opened eyes in the early going with his fearlessness despite standing just 5’11”, and while he isn’t a pass-first point guard (at least not yet), he can find the open man when defenses collapse on him. The point guard spot hasn’t been a gaping liability for the Jayhawks, but history suggests that Kansas’ best teams have featured floor generals with more of a bulldog mentality in the mold of Sherron Collins or Tyshawn Taylor, and that’s what Mason can provide. Will he embrace that role from the get-go, or will the minutes still shake out to more of a committee setup? While the Jayhawks have talented creators up and down their roster, they’ll be reliant on passers to deliver the ball in high-percentage spots until those playmakers gain the confidence and aggression necessary for Kansas to reach its potential. That’s where Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie can cause problems against a less-experienced guard like Mason. Mix in the altitude and the knowledge that a young Kansas team will be playing its first true road game of the season and we could have a surprise on our hands.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis

Posted by Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter) on November 27th, 2013

With Feast Week already in high gear, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Big 12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: The #2 Kansas Jayhawks have played as well as fans could have expected through four games this season. They have beaten three cupcakes by 22.3 PPG and knocked off then-#4 Duke at the Champions Classic in Chicago. The inside-out combination of sophomore forward Perry Ellis and freshman guard Andrew Wiggins is averaging 16.8 PPG, freshman center Joel Embiid showed flashes of greatness in his 16-point, 13-rebound performance against Iona, and the Jayhawks lead the country in field goal shooting at 56.8 percent. The one major concern heading into the season — point guard play — has been anything but a problem early. Junior Naadir Tharpe is averaging 6.7 APG with a 3.3 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and freshman backup Frank Mason has been nearly as impressive, playing 18 MPG and averaging 8.3 PPG, 3.5 APG, and just 0.5 turnovers per game. Bill Self has about 87 different lineups he can throw out at anytime — he can go big, small, fast or slow and there isn’t much of a dropoff between each combination. The Jayhawks are deeper than any team Self has had; they have three potential one-and-done freshmen in the starting lineup in Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid; and, they have veterans like Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis to guide the youngsters. It’s not too early to say Final Four or Bust with this team.

Andrew Wiggins Leads Kansas To The Bahamas This Week.

Andrew Wiggins Leads Kansas To The Bahamas This Week.

First Round Preview Wake Forest is 5-0 but the competition has been less than stellar in that record. Wins over Colgate, VMI, Presbyterian, Jacksonville, and The Citadel aren’t proper warm-ups for a Top 25 team, much less a team as talented as Kansas. Defensively, the Jayhawks will need to slow down sophomore guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, who leads the Demon Deacons with 18.6 PPG and 4.8 APG. He opened the season with four straight 20-point games and is the focal point for the Deacons’ offense. Rebounding will be key in this first round match-up. Wake Forest is currently second in the nation with 49.2 RPG, but Kansas is grabbing 83 percent of its opponents’ misses, fifth best in the country. The Demon Deacons aren’t far behind themselves at 81 percent.

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