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Kentucky Wildcats vs. Kansas Jayhawks: Game Preview

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Tonight, Kentucky jumps into the proverbial deep end of the college basketball pool. It will be "big boy" basketball tonight, fans, and the world will be watching. Here's your rundown.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to our preview of the Kansas Jayhawks at Kentucky Wildcats contest tonight. Obviously, this game represents the first big test for both teams, and both squads are expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament championship this season, much like every season over the last four or five years. Tonight’s game has the feel of the 2011 Kansas-Kentucky game in terms of anticipation and buildup.

That game three years ago saw the Wildcats come in at #2 in the nation, and the Jayhawks at #12. It launched both teams into a season that saw them meet again in the 2012 NCAA Tournament final, which Kentucky ultimately won. It sure would be great if history repeated itself.

Game particulars

Event: State Farm Champions Classic
Date: Tuesday, November 19th
Time: 9:30 PM
Place: Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
TV: ESPN
Radio: UK Sports Network
Live Video: Watch ESPN

About Kansas:

Location: Lawrence, Kansas
Conference: Big 12
Head Coach: Bill Self
NCAA Appearances: 43
Most recent NCAA appearance: 2014
Most recent NCAA win: 2014
Founded: 1866
Enrollment: 16,917
Last season’s record: 25-10, (14-4 Conf.)
Source: Basketball State

Season so far for Kansas:

Season record: 1-0

Kansas’ first and only game this season was against UC Santa Barbara last Friday, which the Jayhawks won by 10, 69-59. The spread on that game was figured to be 16 points in favor of the Jayhawks.

Kansas, like Kentucky, played a couple of exhibition games. They defeated Division II Washburn 85-53 and Division II Emporia State 109-56 earlier in November.

Series history

Kentucky and Kansas have met a total of 27 times in history prior to tonight. The current record stands at 21-6 Kentucky, with five of the six KU victories coming in the last 30 years. Prior to 1985, the Jayhawks had only defeated the Wildcats once in 17 tries, that lone defeat coming at Allen Fieldhouse in 1973.

Kentucky’s ties to Kansas run deep. The legendary Adolph Rupp was from Kansas, and went to KU.

Stats

TEAM Roster:

# FULL NAME STATUS HT. WT. POS. YR. HOMETOWN/PREVIOUS SCHOOL
0 Frank Mason III S+ 5-11 185 Guard So. Petersburg, Va. / Massanutten Military Academy
1 Wayne Selden Jr. S* 6-5 230 Guard So. Roxbury, Mass. / Tilton (N.H.) School
14 Brannen Greene S+ 6-7 215 Guard So. Juliette, Ga. / Tift County HS
31 Jamari Traylor S+ 6-8 220 Forward Jr. Chicago, Ill. / IMG Academy [Fla.]
34 Perry Ellis S* 6-8 225 Forward Jr. Wichita, Kan. / Wichita Heights HS
2 Cliff Alexander MR 6-8 240 Forward Fr. Chicago, Ill. / Curie HS
4 Devonte' Graham MR 6-2 175 Guard Fr. Raleigh, N.C. / Brewster Academy [N.H.]
10 Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk MR 6-8 195 Guard Fr. Cherkasy, Ukraine
42 Hunter Mickelson R 6-10 245 Forward R-Jr. Jonesboro, Ark. / University of Arkansas
12 Kelly Oubre, Jr. R 6-7 200 Guard Fr. New Orleans, La. / Findlay (Nev.) Prep
5 Evan Manning R@+ 6-3 170 Guard Jr. Lawrence, Kan. / New Hampton Prep
11 Tyler Self R@+ 6-2 165 Guard R-So. Lawrence, Kan. / Free State HS
15 Christian Garrett R@+ 6-3 185 Guard Sr. Los Angeles, Calif. / IMG Academy [Fla.]
22 Josh Pollard R 6-4 200 Guard Fr. Cedar Hills, Utah / Orem HS
33 Landen Lucas R+ 6-10 240 Forward So. Portland, Ore. / Westview HS









Legend
S Starter
MR Major Reserve
R Reserve
* Returning Starter
+ Returning player
@ Walk-on

"R" before year indicates redshirt last season

Source: KU Athletics

Team Comparison

Stat Kentucky Kansas
Record: 2-0 1-0
RPI: 67 78
AP rank: 1 5
Coaches rank: 1 5
Kenpom rank: 3 4

Four Factors

Kansas-UK four factors pregame

Kansas Team Notes

  • Kansas didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in their first game.
  • The Jayhawks turned the ball over quite a bit in their first contest as well. This has been an ongoing problem with them over the last two years, and with either sophomore Frank Mason III or freshman Devonte’ Graham at the point, this is a trend that is unlikely to improve soon.
  • Kansas’ offensive rebounding wasn’t great against UCSB, but the do have guys who can rebound, including Perry Ellis, Cliff Alexander and Jarami Traylor.
  • The Jayhawks have been getting to the rim well and getting fouled.
  • 3-point shooting has not yet shown itself to be a strength.
  • Kansas was aggressive on defense in their only regular-season game, managing 13.5% steals.
  • The Jayhawks are showing a preference for scoring inside the arc so far this season.

Kansas player notes

It’s hard to make many judgments about Kansas from afar this early in the season, but here’s some likely possibilities:

  • Perry Ellis was a reliable combo forward last season, and he figures to be among the team’s leading scorers this year. Ellis is the kind of guy that isn’t outstanding at anything, but rather does everything well. He can make threes, but rarely takes them, he rebounds well and draws fouls. He also doesn’t turn the ball over.

  • Wayne Selden is a big, physical guard who gets most of his work done at the rim. He can shoot the three, but doesn’t shoot a particularly high percentage from there.

  • Jamari Traylor is an inside power player, not a big shooter but a very good rebounder, particularly offensively.

  • Frank Mason III is a small point guard at 5‘11", kind of Kansas’ answer to Tyler Ulis. Mason is an outstanding passer, a decent 3-point shooter and a good defender for his size.

  • Brannen Greene is a talented wing who can give you quality minutes. He defends very well, rebounds well and can make open shots from the 3-point line in. He has good size at 6‘7"

  • Cliff Alexander was the #4 player in the nation last year. He’s a big, strong power forward who gets his damage done near the rim. He shoots a high percentage and is solid free throw shooter. So far most of his rebounds have come on the defensive glass.

  • Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is a big guard from the Ukraine. He was ranked at five stars by Rivals.com, and was considered one of the best players in Europe last year. He is considered a deadly shooter from the perimeter but also a tough-minded player with the ability to put the ball in the basket.

Injuries

No injuries to report for either team.

Likely matchups

Starters

  • Frank Mason III vs. Andrew Harrison/Tyler Ulis — Harrison has the size advantage on Mason, and that is a double-edged sword. Harrison has not shown the ability to be effective against smaller guards, but he is in better shape than last season and will be able to use his size to get to the rim. Devonte’ Graham may be the starter here and has better size, but not enough to stop the bigger Harrison. Against Kentucky’s 2nd group, Mason will be more evenly matched with Tyler Ulis.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Wayne Selden Jr. vs. Aaron Harrison/Devin Booker — This is big guard against big guard. Selden is even bigger than Harrison overall, if an inch shorter. Aaron is more of a perimeter player than Selden, but Harrison is going to have to keep Selden out of the paint and away from the basket. Against the second squad, Devin Booker will have to work very hard defensively on Selden, but Selden may have a hard time keeping up with the speedy Booker defensively.

Advantage: Push

  • Brannen Greene vs. Alex Poythress/Trey Lyles — Greene is listed as a guard, but his size makes him the likely matchup for Poythress. Greene is quicker and dangerous off the bounce, but Poythress is used to guarding players like him. Against Trey Lyles, Greene will again have the quickness advantage but a significant size disadvantage.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Perry Ellis vs. Wilie Cauley-Stein/Marcus Lee — As arguably the best defender on the team, WCS has the speed and athleticism to match up fine with Ellis, who is one of Kansas’ most dangerous players. Ellis has the advantage scoring-wise, but is at a significant size disadvantage. Both WCS and Lee will make it very hard for Ellis to score near the rim, so Kansas will need to make that up somewhere.

Advantage: Push - note below

  • Jamari Traylor vs. Karl-Anthony Towns/Dakari Johnson — Traylor suffers a major size disadvantage against both players, but he’s not a big scoring threat anyway. Traylor is going to try to defend both men on the block, and that’s going to be a major challenge for him, especially as the night wears on. Offensively, he is faster than either Johnson or Towns, but he’s going to have to try to be a slasher to be effective.

Advantage: Kentucky

Bench

I’ll only be discussing Kansas’ bench, since Kentucky’s bench mostly consists of Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins, who are not likely to see big minutes.

Regarding my note above, Cliff Alexander makes the power forward position a push. Alexander is a strong, wide-body blue-chip freshman who plays more like a junior. He will equalize the power forward matchup to a large extent.

Mykhailiuk, the freshman from Ukraine, will also be a major factor in the game. He will give Kansas more size and better perimeter shooting, and could neturalize Kentucky’s advantage at the small forward spot. He hasn’t impressed that much yet, so I’m leaving the advantage to Kentucky.

Advantage: Kansas

Analysis

If both teams bring their maximum energy, you have to like Kentucky because of their extraordinary quality depth and the different looks that Kansas is going to have to adjust to. There is a huge difference in style of play between the first and second squads Kentucky runs, and it’s very hard to game-plan for the bewildering number of personnel matchups Kentucky can put forth.

The key matchup in this game will be at point guard. Andrew Harrison looks to have leverage on Kansas because of his size, but smaller points have given Harrison trouble. We can only hope that the combination of a year of experience and having to guard Tyler Ulis all the time has helped Andrew in that area.

Another key thing to watch is 3-point shooting. Kentucky has been iffy shooting the three, and Aaron Harrison has started the year cold from outside. Devin Booker hasn’t been much better, and Kansas, even though they didn’t shoot the three well against UCSB, has more weapons from the perimeter as well as a dynamic slasher in Selden. Kentucky has struggled to defend penetration at times, so you can bet Bill Self will be sending everyone to the basket to try to get Kentucky into some foul trouble, where they have to play lineups that haven’t played that much together, or so we would be led to believe.

The big worry for Kentucky will be stopping Kansas’ penetration, and sticking to their most dangerous shooters. But inside, particularly on the offensive glass, Kansas has the potential to be very dangerous, although they have yet to perform to the level of which they are capable.

Both teams like to play fast, but given the import of the game, I expect both defenses to be very aggressive and wary of fast breaks. I think Kansas would rather live with limited offensive rebounding than deal with a running Kentucky team with the likes of WCS and Alex Poythress sprinting down the open floor.

In the end, Kentucky is favored and should be, but Kansas is a dangerous, talented opponent that can pull off the upset very easily.