Can KU break its two-point jump-shooting slump against Kansas State?
Team: Kansas State
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 44
• Offensive rebounding: The Frank Martin identity has not totally left the Wildcats, and that's most evident by their impressive offensive rebounding numbers. Kansas State grabs 40.8 percent of its missed shots, which ranks sixth nationally. New coach Bruce Weber never had a team at Illinois that ranked better than 44th in offensive rebounding, so it's a credit to him that he didn't entirely tear down a positive characteristic that the previous coach left with KSU. Kansas has been the second-best defensive rebounding team in Big 12 games this year, so this will be a matchup of strength versus strength.
• Turnovers: Kansas State has been good on both ends when it comes to turnovers, ranking 104th nationally in offensive turnover percentage and 61st nationally in defensive turnover percentage. Playing at a below-average pace, KSU has a plus-2.5 turnover margin per game while giving it away just 12.4 times per contest. The Wildcats are second during Big 12 play in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage and have turned it over just eight times in each of their last two games.
• Forcing teams into difficult shots: We've talked often about how KU does a poor job of limiting opponents' three-point attempts. KSU, on the other hand, is one of the nation's best, as only 25.5 percent of the field goals taken against the Wildcats are threes (13th-best split nationally). According to Hoop-Math.com, KSU is stingy at the rim as well, as only 28 percent of opponents' field goals are shots at the rim (NCAA average is 28 percent). Basically, KSU's defense has forced teams into a high number of two-point jumpers, which is statistically the worst shot in basketball. KU has struggled with its two-point jumpshots during Big 12 play, as the graph below shows (data from Hoop-Math.com).
• Free throw shooting: The Wildcats have made just 64.8 percent of their shots at the charity stripe, which ranks 283rd nationally. Most of this can be pinned on one player, though: 6-foot-11 senior Jordan Henriquez. The center has made just 11 of 38 tries for a miserable 28.9 percent. Take his numbers out, and KSU's free throw percentage improves almost five percentage points to 69.5 percent.
• Two-point shooting: Though the Wildcats do a great job of forcing others into two-point jumpshots, they also settle for too many jumpers themselves. According to Hoop-Math, 45 percent of KSU's field-goal attempts have been two-point jumpers, which is the 20th-highest split nationally. K-State is actually above the NCAA average when it comes to two-point jumper accuracy (38 percent compared to 35 percent), but taking that many tough shots has dragged the Wildcats' overall two-point percentage down; KSU has made just 45.9 percent of its twos, which ranks 224th nationally and is below the NCAA average of 47.3 percent.
• Defensive rebounding: Playing primarily with a four-guard lineup, KSU has struggled at times grabbing defensive rebounds. The Wildcats come down with 67.7 percent of their opponents' misses, which ranks just below the national average. Six-foot-7 Thomas Gipson and 6-6 Shane Southwell are KSU's best defensive rebounders, pulling down 17.9 percent of the available caroms each. KU is only middle of the pack when it comes to offensive rebounds in Big 12 play, so this weakness might not necessarily hurt the Wildcats too much on Tuesday night.
3 Players to Watch
• Six-foot-4 guard Rodney McGruder (No. 22) is Kansas State's best player and already has won Big 12 player of the week four times this season. He takes 30.1 percent of KSU's shots (94th nationally) and has still managed to keep up his efficiency by almost never turning it over (11.9 percent turnover rate, 121st nationally). McGruder scores a lot of points on two-point jumpers, as he takes 46 percent of his shots from that range while making an above-average 39 percent of those attempts. Though he's only made 35 percent of his threes (26 of 75), he was a 39-percent three-point shooter last year and a 41-percent shooter his sophomore year. McGruder doesn't get to the free throw line often, meaning KU shouldn't have too worry too much about him driving to get all the way to the rim. Most of McGruder's points should come on jumpshots.
• Five-foot-11 guard Angel Rodriguez (No. 13) is responsible for the second-highest number of offensive possessions behind McGruder. The sophomore has a phenomenal assist rate (38.2 percent, 22nd nationally) while also standing out as KSU's best perimeter defender, coming up with steals on 3.3 percent of opponents' possessions (264th nationally). Rodriguez isn't without flaws, though. His turnover rate of 21.7 is higher than you'd like to see from a point guard, and his field-goal shooting has been awful. Rodriguez has made just 37 percent of his twos (23 of 63) and 32 percent of his threes (20 of 62). He's especially struggled at the rim, where he's made just 14 of 40 close-shot attempts (35 percent). His profile would appear to be that of a player that should be affected by a shot-blocker like KU's Jeff Withey.
• Six-foot-6 hybrid-forward Shane Southwell (No. 1) deserves credit for improving from an offensive liability the last few years to an above-average contributor this season. Playing as an undersized 4, Southwell has taken advantage of his open looks, making 16 of 33 three-pointers (49 percent). He also has the team's second-best assist rate (21.2 percent, 405th nationally) while emerging as one of the team's best defensive rebounders (even at 6-6). Southwell turns it over a little too often and doesn't get to the free throw line much, but he's accurate when he does shoot it and can be a matchup problem for teams playing big because of his versatility.
I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: Bramlage Coliseum is the toughest place KU plays every year. With first place in the Big 12 on the line, I'd expect the Kansas State students once again to be in a frenzy Tuesday night. It's very hard for teams to get all road wins, but this one is especially tough for KU because of the atmosphere.
All along, I figured this would be the game where I'd pick KU to lose. Thing is, the Wildcats — despite being 15-2 — haven't been able to move up the KenPom rankings much, mostly because they have been in some close games that, on paper, never should have been close (a 52-44 home win against UMKC and 65-64 road victory over West Virginia come to mind).
KSU appears to be a bit overrated — at least when you compare the polls to KenPom — because it has been able to win close games while also taking advantage of a generous early Big 12 schedule.
Even though KU has struggled as of late — and especially on the road — I think the Jayhawks are clearly the better of the two teams.
Because K-State doesn't draw many fouls, I don't see the free throw advantage swinging too much in the Wildcats' favor, even with the home crowd behind them. I think it also helps KU to have four seniors that have played in Manhattan before and know what to expect.
I'm expecting a close game, but I think KU will pull it out in the end.
Kansas 64, Kansas State 58
Hawk to Rock
KU forward Kevin Young seems like a good bounceback candidate after having a tough game at Texas on Saturday. Young appears to be one of KU's best defenders at getting out to three-point shooters, and that should help him guard a guy like Southwell on the perimeter. Not only that, Young should be able to hustle his way to offensive rebounds against a K-State team that has had its issues on the defensive glass. Put me down for double-figure points with at least four offensive rebounds for Young.
16-1 record, 205 points off (12.1 points off/game)
Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Iowa State: Travis Releford (4th)
Texas Tech: Ben McLemore (4th)
Baylor: Jeff Withey (4th)
Texas: Elijah Johnson (8th)
Average: 4.1st in KUsports.com ratings