No. 12 Kansas Jayhawks (12-3 overall, 2-1 Big 12) vs. Iowa State Cyclones (9-5 overall, 0-3 Big 12)
Time: 8 p.m. | Location: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas
TV: ESPN2 | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
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1. Hit the defensive glass
It’s time for the Jayhawks to get a handle on their rebounding issues and Iowa State should be just the team to help them grab it.
After giving up 18, 18 and 19 offensive rebounds to Texas, Texas Tech and TCU in its last three games, the Jayhawks are poised to break that trend against the Cyclones, who rank just 144th in the country in offensive rebound percentage (30.2) and rank below the national average in offensive rebounding per position at three spots — power forward, shooting guard and point guard.
The Jayhawks, meanwhile, rank above the national average at four of the five spots, with the lone exception being the power forward spot, where the rest of the nation gets an average of 24 percent of its defensive boards and Kansas is getting just 12 percent.
A big part of the reason for that is the recent struggles of Lagerald Vick — five total rebounds last week — who has not hit the glass with the same tenacity as he did early in the season. The Jayhawks also could get a lift in this department from 6-foot-8 guard Svi Mykhailiuk, 7-foot sophomore center Udoka Azubuike, who grabbed just one rebound against TCU because of foul trouble, and reserve guard Sam Cunliffe, who, in limited time thus far, has shown the ability to fit into the offense but needs to make an impact in other areas if he wants to earn more minutes.
Overall, ISU owns the rebounding edge entering this game — 38.9-37.5 for Kansas — and Kansas, because of its lack of size, will again have its hands full in this department. According to Self, it’s going to take improved effort and attitude for this group to become a better rebounding team.
“I actually thought against Texas Tech our block-outs were horrible and I thought against TCU our block-outs were much better, but we just don’t have the same guys to go get it,” Self said. “When we recruited Svi, we didn’t recruit him because we thought he’d get us eight boards a game. Or Lagerald eight boards a game. The bottom line is those are guards, they just have to rebound like forwards.”
2. Force bad shots
The Cyclones are among the worst shooting teams in the Power 5 in both 2-point field goals and 3-point shooting, ranking 205th in the country in 2-point field goal percentage (48.9) and 188th in the country in 3-point percentage (34.8).
That should allow the Jayhawks an opportunity to get their defense on track and the Jayhawks might be catching ISU at a great time. In their most recent game — a 96-87, overtime loss at Oklahoma State last weekend — the Cyclones shot just 40.8 percent from the floor and 33 percent from 3-point range, recording 25 of their 87 points at the free throw line.
What’s more, the Cyclones’ 50.1 percent effective field goal percentage, which takes into account twos and threes, ranks 201st in the country.
Despite those numbers, Self said the Jayhawks will have to be extremely disciplined on defense to move closer to playing the kind of defense he expects to see at this time of year.
“Personnel-wise, they are (pretty different),” Self said of a new-look ISU team. “They still run some of the same stuff and they run some really good stuff. They run some clever stuff that’ll be harder for us to guard with basically only one day of prep.”
3. Bring Allen Fieldhouse alive
With losses in two of their last three home games — and the third being a victory over a completely overmatched Omaha team over the holidays with the students on break — the Jayhawks are in need of a night when they can restore some of the Allen Fieldhouse mystique and make that a factor in their games.
Jayhawks Mitch Lightfoot and Mykhailiuk both said they felt their home environment remained as good as any place in the world to play basketball, but added that they needed to give the fans a reason to come alive. Self agreed.
“We’ve got such a great home court here and we’ve played poorly in it the last two times we’ve been here,” he said. “Just not as much energy. But we’ve had some things going on with our team, like all teams do, that have allowed us to not to probably be our best because we weren’t quite mind-right like we should be on those nights.”
Added Lightfoot: “It’s kind of a rarity we lose at home and our goal is obviously not to let that happen again. It’s on us. We let a couple of them get away from us and we just need to come out with intensity from the start.”
Devonte’ Graham vs. Nick Weiler-Babb
Tonight’s matchup pits two of the Big 12 Conference’s most used players against one another. And it’s possible that whichever one of them can steal a couple extra minutes of rest could put his team in the best position to come out on top.
ISU point guard Nick Weiler-Babb enters this one having played 94 percent of the available minutes for the Cyclones this season. That number has gone up slightly — to 94.6 percent — during ISU’s three conference games and it’s clear that the Cyclones do not feel they can be effective with him on the bench.
The same goes for Kansas and Graham, who is right behind Weiler-Babb having played 89 percent of available minutes this season, including a whopping 97.5 percent in Big 12 play.
Self said after KU’s win at TCU last weekend that he would like to find a way to give Graham more rest. But he also noted that doing so just may not be in the cards.
Weiler-Babb, at 6-5, 205, has a small size advantage over Graham, which could come into play if this is a close one and these two have to lean on each other a bunch. The goal for KU, obviously, will be to build a big lead and see if they can keep Graham on the bench for more than the one or two minutes he’s accustomed to getting.
After dropping their second home game of the season last week against a Texas Tech team now ranked No. 8 in the country, the Jayhawks responded with a gritty, road win at No. 16 TCU on Saturday night and now return home for a stretch that should help them catch their breath.
This week’s home games against Iowa State — tonight — and Kansas State on Saturday mark one of the few remaining two-game stretches this season in which the Jayhawks will play back-to-back games against teams not currently ranked in the Top 25.
Iowa State, per KenPom.com, is the lowest ranked team remaining on KU’s schedule (103rd) and the Cyclones are still struggling through a rebuild after losing nearly all of their team from a season ago.
Don’t expect the Jayhawks to take them lightly, though. After all, this is a team that, though with different personnel, walked into Allen Fieldhouse and won a year ago.
Self said that would not be a major motivating factor for his team this year, but added that he might mention it. Whether he does or doesn’t, the Jayhawks are well aware that they’ll have to be sharp once again to come out on top.
“This year it’s a pretty strong league and it’s kind of different than the last couple years, but I think it’s good because we have to compete every time and every game is going to be special this year,” Mykhailiuk said. “Every team’s a good team and we like to play against good teams. We know we’re not going to win by 20 in any games going forward and we just have to grind every game.”
No. 12 Kansas
G – Devonte’ Graham, 6-2, 185, Sr.
G – Marcus Garrett, 6-5, 180, Fr.
G – Svi Mykhailiuk, 6-8, 205, Sr.
G – Lagerald Vick, 6-5, 175, Jr.
C – Udoka Azubuike, 7-0, 280, Soph.
G – Nick Weiler-Babb, 6-5, 205, Jr.
G – Donovan Jackson, 6-2, 173, Sr.
G – Lindell Wigginton, 6-2, 188, Fr.
F – Cameron Lard, 6-9, 225, RS-Fr.
C – Solomon Young, 6-8, 245, Soph.