Champions Classic -- Kentucky @ Kansas: Some Pre-game Thoughts

Anthony Davis is the key to Kentucky's pick and roll.

Pretty soon, it will be time for the big game between the Kentucky Wildcats and Kansas Jayhawks.  Before that, many fans will be watching the Duke Blue Devils vs. Michigan St. Spartans, or the Florida Gators vs. the Ohio St. Buckeyes.  Greg Edwards was thoughtful enough to put up an open thread for those games, which I'll be moving on to the front page around tip-off time.

But before we do that, I looked in earlier today at the Towson St. at Kansas game, saw a few interesting things that I thought I'd share with you.

Kansas Offense

I have not watched a lot of Kansas games closely, so I'm not totally familiar with what Bill Self likes to do offensively.  In the Towson St. game, Kansas got zoned a lot, and their zone offense is very traditional and was very effective against Towson.  In general, they like to run a man to the foul line, get a pass to him to force the defense to rotate, and get an open look out of that.  The also ran some other stuff, but very few ball screens.  It was more about swinging the ball around until they got a pass either to the middle of the zone or on the short baseline, depending on the zone look Towson was in.

Towson was much more effective when they ran a zone with man principles, sometimes called a matchup zone.  Kansas was often confused by that look, and ran very poor and inefficient offense that looked almost random in its futility.  Why Towson didn't stick with that look more is beyond me, but I thought Towson's coaching, especially when it came to fundamentals like, you know, making layups, was... less than impressive.  It wasn't just that they were small, they seemed poorly prepared and poorly drilled.  Probably just the early-season jitters.

When Towson was in man, which was rare, Kansas set ball screens at the elbow to force the defense out of position.  Towson tried switching, going over the top, and going under the screens, but honestly, nothing worked.  Kansas didn't use that look a lot because Towson rarely went man.

Kansas Defense

Kansas' defense is very a very aggressive, man-to-man look which puts a lot of pressure on the ball.  Kansas mostly trapped the few pick and rolls that Towson tried, and if Towson had passed the ball better, they would have gotten a ton of open looks off the pick and roll.  Kansas may try to trap Teague on the P&R, but I have a feeling that is going to lead to an open shot or a layup.

Kansas also went under pick and rolls, which is probably going to be what they are told to do when Teague is running them  But Darius Miller and Doron Lamb will kill them if they go under on them, so I expect the Jayhawks to go over the pick and trust their rotation to stop the penetration by Miller or Lamb.  I suspect we'll see a ton of Anthony Davis as the screener, because you can't switch on him and not get dunked on, and trapping it also presents problems since he'll get the ball right back and can handle like a guard.  Look for Davis to be setting high screens all night.

Kansas is very athletic, but they are surprisingly not very long.  Their 3-point shooting is good when they are open, but they seem to be streaky and nobody on their team looks like a knock-down shooter.  They will probably try to slash more or get Robinson one-on-one with Davis or Kidd-Gilchrist in the post.

Here We Go!

With all that said, this game will probably be something different than all that.  Self unquestionably understands the matchup problems presented by Kentucky, and being the outstanding coach he is, he'll formulate a strategy that gives his team a chance to win this game.

From what I saw, Kentucky is definitely not a good matchup for the Jayhawks, and unless they are really shooting the ball well, they need to do something different against UK, like control the pace.  They ran like crazy against Towson, but they out-athleted them by a lot.  They can't do that with UK, and in fact, they simply cannot run with UK as their big men just don't get down the floor quickly enough.

I'm guessing Self will control the pace and throw in some zone, as he no doubt knows that Kentucky hasn't faced a zone much this year.  The thing is, like Calipari, Self is not a zone coach.  He does play it, but mostly as a method to confuse the opponent rather than as a major defensive component, like Rick Pitino.  I also expect him to attack Marquis Teague off the dribble, because he knows Teague is a weak spot in Kentucky's depth and undoubtedly noted his tendency to reach in the last game.

That's what I have.  Go 'Cats!

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