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: No. 5 Kansas vs. No. 23 Oklahoma, 8 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence
Opponent’s record: 11-1
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 24
Point spread: KU by 8 1/2.
All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Interior defense: Oklahoma ranks sixth in two-point percentage defense, and that’s more impressive considering the team has played the top schedule of any Power Five school so far.
▪ Foul avoidance: The Sooners are fifth nationally in defensive free-throw rate, meaning they shouldn’t allow KU many free throws, even at Allen Fieldhouse.
▪ Transition offense: Oklahoma is below average when it comes to getting fast-break opportunities, but it’s spectacular when it has them, ranking ninth nationally in transition shooting percentage.
▪ Defensive pressure: It’s long been coach Lon Kruger’s philosophy to play a non-gambling defensive style, and this year is no different; Oklahoma is 254th in turnover percentage and 245th in steal rate.
▪ Three-point frequency: Though the Sooners have shot well from three (37 percent), outside shooting is not a major part of the offense, as the team ranks 310th in three-point frequency.
▪ Rim efficiency: Oklahoma does a good job of creating close shots, but it ranks 230th in shooting percentage at the rim and also doesn’t draw as many fouls there as you’d expect.
3 Players to Watch
6-foot-4 guard Christian James (No. 0)
Plus: Unquestioned go-to guy offensively
Plus: Good shot selection; rarely attempts in mid-range
Plus: Above-average three-point shooter
Plus: Good defensive rebounder for his size
Minus: Doesn’t get to line as often as you’d expect
6-foot-3 guard Miles Reynolds (No. 3)
Plus: Excellent player off the dribble
Plus: One of nation’s best at drawing fouls and is 81 percent free throw shooter
Plus: Creates shots for himself at the rim and is good shooter there
Plus: Synergy’s logs rank him as “excellent” overall defender
Minus: Poor shooter in mid-range and from three
Minus: Rarely creates for others
6-foot-9 forward Brady Manek (No. 35)
Plus: Scored 14 points with help from 4-for-6 three-point shooting in last year’s win over KU
Plus: Solid rebounder, both ends
Plus: Not shy about shooting threes; 37 percent career accuracy there
Minus: Below-average finisher at rim
Minus: Not a passer
Minus: Struggles to defend in isolation situations
Kansas once again faces an awkward matchup as it tries to integrate just-recovered Udoka Azubuike back into the lineup.
With the big man’s return — and KU struggling recently from three — the Jayhawks are likely to focus on interior scoring and drawing fouls offensively. That just happens to be two of the greatest strengths of this particular Oklahoma team.
The Sooners could face some of the same scoring issues Wednesday, as they’re a two-point-reliant team as well. KU has defended that area much better this season than the perimeter, and because Oklahoma’s defense is not focused on getting steals and runouts, it’s likely the Sooners could find it difficult to get the easy baskets they’re accustomed to.
An easy KU cover, to me, would involve either the Jayhawks upping their three-point volume or having a good shooting night on limited attempts. That, or Allen Fieldhouse helping KU turn a season-long trend of Oklahoma keeping opponents off the free-throw line.
I can’t talk myself into any of those happening (even if they might), so I’ll stick with the thought that KU is able to close out a competitive win with strong defense.
Kansas 74, Oklahoma 70
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Oklahoma
Hawk to Rock
KU could sure use a good offensive night from Lagerald Vick, who appears to have the best matchup in this one. Oklahoma’s defense will be looking to push KU away from the rim, which should allow Vick plenty of opportunities from three if his teammates look for him.
Last game prediction: Kansas 74, Eastern Michigan 57 (Actual: KU 87-63)
2018-19 record vs. spread: 6-6
Last five seasons’ record vs. spread: 83-68-3