No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks (12-1 overall, 1-0 Big 12) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (12-1, 1-0)
Time: 8 p.m. | Location: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas
TV: ESPN2 | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
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1. Guards have to defend
Kansas coach Bill Self called sophomore guard Kamau Stokes “the key” to K-State’s team.
Add to that belief the fact that the Jayhawks’ backcourt is coming off of a defensive effort against TCU that left Self less than pleased both after the game last Friday and again on Monday, when Self previewed the K-State match-up.
Always one to pick the perfect times to issue his challenges, Self clearly is calling on Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham to be better defensively against the Wildcats than they have been maybe at any point this season.
It’s not just Stokes that the Jayhawks have to worry about. Fellow starters Barry Brown and Wesley Iwundu, along with reserve Xavier Sneed and forward Dean Wade, all can make plays off the dribble. While stopping the K-State attack that is averaging 76 points per game will pose a challenge for the Jayhawks, it all will be easier if one of those KU guards can frustrate and contain Stokes.
“I think they’re one of the most improved teams in the country,” Self said. “I really do. They’re sound defensively. They’re scoring more points and looking to score early yet still very disciplined. They’re good on the wings, without question. To me, you can have a lot of guys that think they can play point and can play some point. But there’s very few out there that are points and (Stokes is) a guy that makes ’em tick.”
2. Put the clamps on Wade
In three games against Kansas during his strong freshman season, K-State forward Dean Wade, a member of last season’s Big 12 all-newcomer team, struggled mightily.
In 23 minutes per game, Wade tallied just 11 total points and six rebounds while shooting 3-of-11. For a player that nearly averaged those numbers per night, that kind of performance against the Jayhawks significantly hurt Kansas State’s chances each time and likely would again if KU is able to hold him in check in this one.
“We had a guy that was pretty good that he was guarding and that was playing against him,” Self said of former Jayhawk Perry Ellis. “Some of Perry’s best games came against K-State. We actually did a pretty good job on him last year, primarily because we had active big guys. Perry was an athlete and Jamari (Traylor) was an athlete. And (Wade is) such a good pick-and-pop guy and face-up guy, that we were able to get to him some. He had a great freshman year and he’s much improved this year.”
3. Speed up the Wildcats
Bruce Weber’s squad tends to lean toward a slow-paced, frustrate-the-heck-out-of-you type of game and figures to emphasize that style even more in the hostile environment known as Allen Fieldhouse.
Because of that, look for the Jayhawks to extend their defense high in the halfcourt and look to run out whenever possible in transition. Doing so, history has proven, can encourage the Wildcats to try to match that style and winds up playing right into KU’s hands.
K-State’s scoring defense ranks second in the Big 12 thus far, as the Wildcats are giving up just 58.8 points per game to opponents. KU, meanwhile, is scoring 86.5 per game and that means that only one of these teams will get its way on Tuesday night.
“I’m looking forward to it," Lucas said. "It’s always a fun game. In my time here, I’ve learned more and more about the rivalry, so to have it be the last time playing them at home will be fun.”
KU forward Landen Lucas vs. K-State’s D.J. Johnson
Tuesday’s marquee big man match-up will feature the eighth and ninth rated rebounders in the Big 12 and a couple of players with contrasting styles. In one corner, KU’s large and long Landen Lucas uses his size, strength and ability to lean on opposing players to create problems on the glass and in the lane. In the other corner, K-State’s D.J. Johnson uses quickness and all-out effort to pick up his production. Regardless of which style prevails tonight, it’s clear that Lucas and KU coach Bill Self have a ton of respect for Johnson, who averages 6.8 rebounds per game, just 0.2 boards per outing ahead of Lucas. “We’re prepared for a really hard-fought game,” Lucas said. “And I know, personally, I’m going up against a big who goes after everything.” Added Self: “(Lucas is) gonna have a challenge, obviously, in this game, with Johnson because he’s so active and he’s an undersized guy who can create some problems because he’s such a good athlete. Johnson’s one of my favorite players in the league. I love his energy and how he plays.”
After opening up their pursuit of a record-tying 13th consecutive conference title with a hard-fought, road victory last Friday at TCU, the Jayhawks return home for their Big 12 home opener against Sunflower State rival Kansas State.
After sweeping three games from the Wildcats in 2015-16, the Jayhawks lead the overall series 191-93, including 52 wins in the last 57 meetings.
Kansas has won nine straight over K-State in Allen Fieldhouse and three straight overall. K-State’s last victory in the series came in February of 2015, a 70-63 K-State win in Manhattan that was accompanied by the chaos of a wild court-storming.
There will be no court-storming at Allen Fieldhouse tonight, but that same type of fire could be seen on the KU bench from Self if the Jayhawks are not better defensively than they were against TCU. Self has lamented this team’s defensive play throughout much of the season and desperately would like to see his team take steps toward bringing its defense up to match the level of its offense, which ranks 13th nationally in scoring offense.
Still, the Jayhawks enter the game as 12.5-point favorites over a Kansas State team that has lost just once — a one-point loss to Maryland in the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn — but is ranked 62nd in the RPI and 33rd in the KenPom ratings.
No. 3 Kansas
G – Frank Mason III, 5-11, 190, Sr.
G – Devonte’ Graham, 6-2, 185, Jr.
G – Josh Jackson, 6-8, 207, Fr.
G – Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, 6-8, 205, Jr.
F – Landen Lucas, 6-10, 250, Sr.
G – Kamau Stokes, 6-0, 165, Soph.
G – Barry Brown, 6-3, 195, Soph.
F – Wesley Iwundu, 6-7, 205, Sr.
F – Dean Wade, 6-10, 235, Soph.
F – D.J. Johnson, 6-9, 237, Sr.