Kansas Jayhawks (1-1) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (1-1)
- Game Time: 9:30 pm EST
- Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
- TV Channel: Tonight’s game will be broadcast on ESPN.
- Announcers: Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and sideline reporter Holly Rowe will be calling the action.
- Live Online Stream: WatchESPN and fuboTV.
- Replay: WatchESPN and the SEC Network (check local listings).
- Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM, 98.1 FM in Lexington, and on the UK Sports Network.
- Odds: Kansas opened as a four-point favorite via OddsShark. The line has shifted to 4.5 as of Tuesday evening. ESPN BPI gives Kansas a 68.1% chance of winning this matchup. KenPom gives Kentucky a 40% chance of victory.
- Rosters: UK | KU
- Box Scores from Last Game: UK | KU
- Season Stats and Rankings: UK | KU
- Predictions: KenPom projects a 74-71 win for Kansas. numberFire has the Jayhawks winning 71-69, while TeamRankings projects a 73-69 win for them.
The Champions Classic is annually one of the most anticipated events of the college basketball season. And while 2020 and the pandemic have caused life to feel anything other than normal, this event will still put the spotlight on four of the best teams in the game.
The Michigan State Spartans will take on the Duke Blue Devils at 7:30 pm EST, and the Kentucky Wildcats will battle the Kansas Jayhawks shortly thereafter at 9:30. It is also worth noting that this will be the first game Kentucky has played this season with no fans in the stands.
Kentucky and Kansas both enter the game with a record of 1-1, and both teams have shown flashes of both their potential and their weaknesses.
Kansas fell to No. 1 Gonzaga in the opening game of the season, and perhaps that defeat had more to do with how dominant the juggernaut Gonzaga is than any struggles Kansas may have. The Jayhawks came back the next day to handle Saint Joseph’s with ease.
Kansas is led in scoring this season by sophomore guard Christian Braun, who torched St. Joe’s with 30 points to bring his season average up to 19 points per game. He’s hit 7-for-11 from deep this season. Through two games, Kentucky ranks 30th nationally in three-point defense, so Braun will be a great test for how good the Cats’ perimeter defense really is.
Junior forward Ochai Agbaji is not far behind at 17.5 points per game, and he has been the more consistent scoring over the Jayhawks’ first two outings while hitting 4-for-9 shots from deep. He averaged 10.0 points, 4.2 boards and 2.0 assists per game last season.
The real leader of this Kansas team is senior guard Marcus Garrett.
One of the best defensive players in the country, Garrett is also as poised as they come on the offensive side of the ball. He tends to shy away from three-pointers but has hit both attempts through two games.
Given the early inconsistent play of Devin Askew, Garrett should give the freshman fits. It may be a good time to rely on the experience of transfer guard Davion Mintz. Freshman guard Terrence Clarke has also been getting run at point guard.
If there’s one area where Kansas has a big advantage in this matchup, it’s Garrett going against whoever is running the point for Kentucky.
This Kansas team doesn’t have a lot of true big men that player heavy minutes, as their only legitimate center thus far has been junior David McCormack. The former top-40 recruit in the Class of 2018 recruit was actually someone Kentucky showed interest in before he ultimately pledged to Kansas.
McCormack was teammates with former Wildcat Keldon Johnson at Oak Hill Academy.
So far in 2020, McCormack is averaging 8.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and is shooting just 33 percent from the field while playing 15.5 minutes per game. He’s also battling a knee injury but should play Tuesday.
“He’s ok,” head coach Bill Self told Zags Blog on Monday. “He did not practice Saturday. He did minimal, minimal stuff Sunday, but we hope he can do more today and go be ready for [Tuesday]. He’s nicked up a little bit, but I don’t think it’s anything from a structural standpoint that’s going to keep him from being out there and competing.”
The only other true frontcourt play logging significant minutes is Jalen Wilson.
The top-50 Class of 2019 recruit was viewed as more of a combo forward coming into college, but he’s developed into a nice big man for the Jayhawks. He’s averaging 12.5 points, 6.5 boards and 2.5 assists per game.
The lack of frontcourt depth is a big reason why Kansas has struggled early defensively. They currently rank 194th nationally in two-point defense while Kentucky ranks 95th in two-point offense. The Wildcats also draws a lot of fouls, as they currently rank 34th nationally in free throws attempted per game.
Punishing Kansas in the paint seems to be Kentucky’s best strategy for winning this game, though Bill Self will likely run quite a bit of zone to force the Cats to make shots from deep since they currently rank 207th nationally in three-point percentage.
In terms of recruiting rankings, Bryce Thompson is the highest-ranked player on Kansas’ roster.
A consensus top-30 recruit in the Class of 2020, Thompson has shown some nice potential through his first two games. He’s averaging 9.5 points, 3.5 boards and 2.5 assists while playing 24.5 minutes per game.
Thompson was regarded as a great shooter coming out of high school, though he’s hit just 2-for-6 from deep.
Similarly to Kansas, Kentucky’s season has been a tale of two teams. The opening game against Morehead State illustrated the high ceiling for this group, while the tough loss to the Richmond Spiders highlighted the inexperience of the team.
Without a single player stepping on the floor that has played in a Kentucky uniform, some bumps in the road were expected early in the season. So Sunday’s loss certainly should not be reason for panic, but perhaps a barometer of how far this team has to go.
BJ Boston leads Kentucky in scoring with 17.5 points per game.
Terrence Clarke and Olivier Sarr, rounding out the three most talented players on the team, have put up 13.5 and 12.5 points per game, respectively. Isaiah Jackson leads the team in rebounding with nine rebounds per game, and Boston is not far behind with 8.5.
Sophomore forward Keion Brooks Jr., who was expected to have a major role for the Cats this season, will not play in this game due to a leg injury that kept him from playing in the first two games. He’s now expected to miss 2-3 more weeks.
Kentucky has shown that they have the ability to be an elite team on the defensive side of the court. The length and athleticism have been obvious. However, they struggled at times against Richmond due to a lack of focus and communication. Those are things that will come with time as team chemistry builds and the young guys adjust to the college game.
The offense is a bit more problematic for the Wildcats right now. Olivier Sarr looks comfortable in his role, but certainly made some mistakes on Sunday and had five turnovers.
The talent is obviously there for Boston, Clarke, and Jackson.
However, they never looked comfortable against the veteran Spiders on Sunday. Since they were not able to outrun and outjump Richmond, they struggled to space the floor and find a flow that created easy scoring opportunities.
Based on the first two games for each team, the experience of Kansas could certainly be tough to overcome on Tuesday. But if the Wildcats are able to learn from Sunday’s mistakes and make some adjustments, there is no reason they cannot come out of the Champions Classic with a win.