No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (6-1) vs. No. 20 Colorado Buffaloes (7-0)
Time: 6 p.m. | Location: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas
TV: ESPN2 | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
Sign up for ESPN+ and watch your Hawks on the go.
Log on to KUsports.com for our live game blog coverage and follow the KUsports.com staff on Twitter: @KUSports @mctait @bentonasmith @SJacksonLJW & @ByBradenShaw
1. Better communication
Kansas coach Bill Self believes that the current KU team has the potential to be one of the best defensive teams he has had at KU in a while.
But in order for this team to get there, Self said the Jayhawks still need to improve in several areas including toughness, defending ball screens and playing as one unit that trusts and helps its teammates all over the floor.
While some of those areas will take time and reps to improve, one aspect of becoming a great defensive team can happen immediately and Self is looking for improvement in that area every day and in every game.
“It’s hard to be really good if you don’t communicate,” Self said this week. “And I think we’re bad communicators. So that’s an area that, potentially, I can see us getting a lot better.”
Asked how this team could do that, KU sophomore David McCormack said it starts with being intentional about it.
“Constantly talking,” McCormack said. “Whether it’s offense, defense, whatever it may be, that’s what we’ve been working on on the court. We just kind of force everybody to talk right now. Even if it’s about nothing, just talk, run your mouth so you can get used to talking.”
Because this Colorado team is so well organized and athletic in the half court, defensive communication will be huge for the Jayhawks in this one and success in that area today could go a long way toward helping them reach their goals in the future.
2. All five to the glass
So far this season, the Jayhawks have been an average rebounding team.
Despite starting two big bodies in McCormack and Udoka Azubuike, Kansas still has played small more than half of the time, limiting their size advantage and making rebounds harder to come by.
“When you really look at it, if we play small the majority of the time, that’s a tiny team out there that you wouldn’t think would be a dominant rebounding team,” Self explained this week. “I think we’ve done OK, but that’s certainly an area that we can always get better at.”
Kansas currently is outrebounding its opponents by six boards per game, but that includes a mark of just plus-one on the offensive glass.
Look for the Jayhawks to focus on sending all five players on the floor to the glass as much as possible against Colorado, both to negate the rebounding potential of CU’s athletic lineup and to create the proper mindset for this Kansas team to become better on the boards in the weeks ahead.
“Everybody just hitting somebody before they run to the glass,” said junior guard Marcus Garrett, when asked how this team can become better at rebounding. “That’s the big thing we’ve been emphasizing lately is actually hitting your man before you go and rebound instead of just running in there.”
Garrett currently ranks third on the team at 5.1 rebounds per game, behind Azubuike (7.6) and McCormack (5.7). No other Jayhawk averages more than four rebounds per game.
“When the bigs are doing what we’re supposed to do, as far as playing to our size and strengths and rebounding, it makes the game easier and helps control the pace as far as making easy baskets and getting things in transition,” McCormack said. “And then offensively, it gives us extra possessions, runs down the clock and makes the game easier as a whole.”
CU junior Tyler Bey (6-foot-7, 216 pounds) leads both teams with an average of 12 rebounds per game to go along with his 14 points-per-outing clip.
“Tyler’s a great rebounder,” said Garrett, who likely will be charged with containing Bey in this one. “He knows where to be, and every time he gets it it’s a dunk.”
3. Know where the 3-point line is
One of the big things Self has emphasized defensively this season is forcing teams to play inside of the arc.
The reason? Because of KU’s two-big lineups and several other teams looking to play smaller, with four and even five shooters on the floor, funneling everything inside the 3-point line takes potential points off the board.
The Jayhawks do this by extending their pressure in the passing lanes and forcing opposing players to put the ball on the floor when they do catch it above the 3-point line.
“If we can make teams play inside the arc and we play inside the arc, our chances are pretty good,” Self said noting that Azubuike and McCormack can be a handful for opponents on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
But there’s more to the Jayhawks knowing where the 3-point line is than just trying to keep their opponents from raining shots from the outside.
“We need to start scoring the ball behind the arc better ourselves,” Self noted.
So far this season, Kansas has hit 35.8% from 3-point range. But, as Self pointed out, that number has been a little misleading. All but 36 of the team’s 49 3-pointers came in three games, and KU made just four triples per game in wins over BYU and Dayton in Maui.
“We know we have to improve above the 3-point line so teams don’t double team Dok,” Garrett said. “I feel like (with) what he’s been able to do, teams are going to try to double team him because we haven’t knocked down any perimeter shots lately.”
Colorado point guard McKinley Wright vs. Kansas point guard Devon Dotson
Dubbed by Self a matchup of “fast on fast,” Colorado brings to Lawrence one of the few point guards in the country who might be able to match Kansas sophomore Devon Dotson in terms of pure speed.
So far this season, Wright is averaging 12.4 points and roughly four rebounds and four assists per game. Not known as the most gifted shooter — 41.5% from the field and just 25% from 3-point range so far — Wright’s advantage often comes from his legs, which he uses to outrun defenders and put pressure on opponents on both ends of the floor.
“McKinley Wright’s one of the fastest point guards in the country,” Self added. “He’s been on a lot of the preseason watch lists as far as one of the premier college point guards in America, so that’ll be a good matchup.”
Dotson enters the showdown on the heels of winning Big 12 Player of the Week honors and the co-MVP award at last week’s Maui Invitational.
He boasts averages of 19.7 points, 4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game and is shooting 50% from the field and 87% at the free-throw line.
“That’ll be speed on speed,” Self said of the battle between Wright, who stands 6-foot, 196 pounds, and Dotson, who is listed at 6-2, 185. “That’ll be fun to watch.”
After returning from Maui and taking a mini break for Thanksgiving and travel time, the Jayhawks jumped right back to work to prepare for their next opponent.
“It hasn’t been a rest week at all,” Self said of the nine days between KU’s latest games. “We’re trying to get better.”
Their performance in Maui left a good taste in the Jayhawks’ mouths and has helped completely erase the memories of that season-opening loss to Duke. But just as this team is not dwelling on that loss to the Blue Devils, it also is not thinking too much about its performance in paradise.
“We enjoyed winning it. Don’t get me wrong,” Self said of the Maui Invitational. “But we don’t make a big deal out of that. Any time you play you want to win, and any time there’s a tournament you’d like to take home a trophy. … But I don’t think when we play (Colorado) that tournament win’s going to be on our mind in any way, shape or form.”
Added McCormack when asked about the team’s mindset entering Saturday: “We always want to keep that momentum going as far as keeping energy high, confidence high, things like that. But it still restarts and still you just want to go 1-0 and keep the same mentality and not have an arrogant or boastful mentality going into this game.”
Kansas leads the all-time series with Colorado, 123-40, including a mark of 53-5 in games played inside Allen Fieldhouse.
Colorado coach Tad Boyle is 1-4 all-time against Self, but his Buffs were victorious in the most recent meeting between the two former conference foes. Colorado won 75-72 on a late, 30-foot 3-point shot by Askia Booker in Boulder, Colo., during the 2013-14 season.
No. 2 Kansas
G – Devon Dotson, 6-2, 185, Soph.
G – Ochai Agbaji, 6-5, 210, Soph.
G – Marcus Garrett, 6-5, 195, Jr.
F – David McCormack, 6-10, 265, Soph.
C – Udoka Azubuike, 7-0, 265, Sr.
No. 20 Colorado
G – McKinley Wright IV, 6-0, 196, Jr.
G – Daylen Kountz, 6-4, 191, Soph.
G – Tyler Bey, 6-7, 216, Jr.
F – D’Shawn Schwartz, 6-7, 232, Jr.
F – Evan Battey, 6-8, 262, Soph.