The Tigers will travel to Omaha, NE, just three hours north of Lawrence, KS to face the Kansas Jayhawks. They’ve made the Final Four more times (14) than we’ve made the NCAA tournament. Outside the ACC, only Kentucky (and formerly UCLA, but they’ve faded) could claim to be quite as prolific as the Kansas basketball program.
This year they’ve been slightly less prolific, accruing 7 losses prior to the NCAA tournament after consecutive seasons with only 4. Nevertheless, they rank 9th in KenPom and won the Big 12 regular season title for the 14th consecutive year.
Their calling card is offense, in which they rank 5th in offensive efficiency. It’s led by great three-point shooting which also ranks 5th in the nation.
To get an outside perspective on the Jayhawks before our orange-clad cinderalla team goes to battle, we connected with Andy Mitts over at Rock Chalk Talk.
STS: Udoka Azubuike is the leading rebounder on a Jayhawks team that has struggled on the glass. The big seven-footer is therefore critical. Can you share your thoughts on his role and his big matchup against Clemson’s Eli Thomas? Additionally, what’s the status on his knee injury? He scored 10 points and collected 7 rebounds against Seton Hall, but wore a big knee brace.
RCT: Dok is probably the most important player on the team most nights. His ability to control the action down low is extremely important to this team, and they are nowhere near the same team without him. Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio DeSousa will need to play well to fill in, but if Dok is in foul trouble or ineffective, this could be a long night for the Jayhawks.
As for the injury, Bill Self said that he is fully healed and ready to go, so it shouldn’t be a concern.
STS: Devonte’ Graham is the name player for the Jayhawks. The senior guard averages 17.4 points per game and a gaudy 7.5 assists per game. His shooting percentages look a bit strange though. He’s shot an excellent .404 clip on 250 three-point attempts, but only .389 on 208 two-pointers. Can you tell us a bit about his game and what Seton Hall did to slow him down, as he scored just 8 points on 1-7 in that Round of 32 game?
RCT: I don’t know that Seton Hall did anything specific. Graham has had multiple games this year where he just has been off, and Saturday seemed to be another one of those. He’s been an excellent three-point shooter, but isn’t really that great at slashing to the basket, instead choosing to enable his teammates to score.
I think part of the reason he’s struggled at times is his willingness to shrink his role in the offense if it doesn’t appear to be his night. It’s not a trait that helps his stat line, but it typically leads to good results.
STS: Aside from the obvious — Clemson getting hot from three-point territory — what do you see as potential areas of concern that could give Clemson the upper hand?
RCT: Foul trouble. Kansas is still a fairly thin team, and if the guys in the post get into foul trouble early, then it’s going to be tough to keep up without a blistering effort from outside.
STS: Again, aside from the obvious — coaxing Eli Thomas into foul trouble -- what do you see that Kansas can do that could give Kansas the upper hand?
RCT: Shooting threes is the obvious answer, but I think a crucial part of that is going to be good passing. I’ve had the opportunity to watch a few Clemson games, living in ACC country, and my observation is that they are slow rotating on defense. This can be key to getting open shots and creating foul opportunities.
STS: KenPom is very bullish on the Tigers chances in this one, giving Clemson a 46% chance of victory. Nate Silver is a bit more pessimistic (and realistic) at just 27%. What is your expectation of how this game plays out?
RCT: I do think that KenPom has been underrating this Kansas team all year long, and this team has definitely improved recently. I also think that Clemson got a bigger bump than was warranted due to the beatdown of Auburn in the last round.
That being said, I think the real probability is somewhere in between, probably in the 35-40% range. Clemson is going to keep this one close, and may even lead for a good piece of the first half. But Kansas has shown a great ability to close out a game this year, and I’m expecting a late push to get Kansas over the hump. I’ll predict a 75-71 win.
To see STS’s answers to their questions, click here.