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Thursday, March 24, 2022

Game Day Breakdown: No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 4 seed Providence - NCAA Sweet 16

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and the Jayhawks lean in for a team huddle during practice on Thursday, March 24, 2022 at United Center in Chicago.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) and the Jayhawks lean in for a team huddle during practice on Thursday, March 24, 2022 at United Center in Chicago.

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No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (30-6) vs. No. 4 Providence Friars (27-5)

Time: 6:29 p.m., Friday, March 25, 2022

Location: United Center, Chicago, Illinois

TV: TBS | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network

Keys for Kansas

1. Win the 3-point line

The Jayhawks struggled with this in their Round 2 win over Creighton, and, in many ways, have had issues with defending the 3-point line throughout the season.

Part of that had to do with the way the Bluejays game-planned to attack Kansas and part of it had to do with the Jayhawks still being a work in progress defensively.

Controlling the 3-point line will be absolutely critical in this one, and the Jayhawks seem to have very clear understanding of that. That emphasis starts with defense.

Providence ranks 94th nationally in 3-point percentage, knocking in 35% of their 3-point tries, a point-and-a-half better than the national average. The Friars made 20 of 44 from behind the arc (45.5%) in their first two NCAA Tournament wins, bringing even more attention to their ability to hit from the outside. Earlier this week, Self said KU’s preliminary scouting of the Friars showed that Providence typically has four players who can stretch it on the floor at the same time.

So, the key for Kansas will be to prevent catch-and-shoot opportunities as much as possible.

“We have to have great switches,” Self said Thursday. “You’ve got to switch to take something away rather than let them catch and then react. They’re going to make 3s. But you would rather them get them off the bounce than off the catch.”

Added Providence guard Al Durham of the KU D: “They want to speed you up. They want to deny. They want to be in the passing lane. They try to disrupt you. So we’ve got to be able to get open and not let them steer us off what we have planned.”

Defensively, Providence has been even better when it comes to 3-point shooting. The Friars limited opponents to 30.2% shooting from 3-point range this season, which ranks 32nd nationally.

The Jayhawks’ four-guard lineup and deep ball prowess will be a tough test for the Friars. KU ranks 10th nationally in 3-point shooting, at 40.1%, and they hit 43.5% (17-of-39) from behind the arc in their two wins in Fort Worth, Texas, last week.

Providence limited Richmond to 1-of-22 3-point shooting in Round 2 and held South Dakota State to 7-of-23 from the outside in their opening-round win.

2. Push in transition

Providence wing Jared Bynum said Thursday that transition defense would be a big key for the Friars against Kansas.

So it would make sense for the Jayhawks to want to exploit that matchup as much as possible. It’s not that Providence can’t run, it’s just that they generally don’t prefer to do so.

The Friars rank 283rd national in adjusted tempo, which tracks the number of offensive possessions a team has per game. Kansas, meanwhile, ranks 144th in that category, and the Jayhawks have shown throughout the season that they will look to run whenever the opportunity presents itself.

While steals, deflections and defensive intensity have proven to be the easiest way for KU to create transition opportunities, KU has shown it can and will run after both misses and makes, as well.

Sophomore wing Jalen Wilson is one of the most dangerous Kansas players in transition because of his ability to clean up the glass and push the ball up the floor immediately. Wilson did a lot of that in Fort Worth and will look to keep it going against Providence.

But it’s not just Wilson. Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun, Dajuan Harris and Remy Martin have all been trained to pitch the ball ahead as soon as possible to KU’s wings who like to fly up the floor at the first sign of trouble for the opposing team.

“Transition defense is going to be one thing that we kind of have to hone in on because they’re athletic and they play good defense,” Durham said Thursday. “(When they) get out in transition in the open court, they can find shooters and get to the rim and finish and make plays.”

Said KU’s Christian Braun of his team’s love of running the floor: “That’s when we’re at our best. We know when we get out and we get stops, we can run.”

3. Offense is nice but ugliness is better

Throughout his time at Kansas, Self often has referred back to one of his Illinois teams that won the Big Ten title despite shooting 42% from the floor for the season.

“It wasn’t us playing good,” Self recalled again on Thursday. “The mindset was we just have to make sure that everybody else plays worse.”

This Kansas team, which has been led by its fifth-ranked offense throughout much of the season, has started to embrace that approach during their current postseason run.

“We haven’t been consistent with that,” Self said Thursday. “But I do think we’re getting better at it. We won the (2008) national championship and had a great, great team and their whole mindset was that if the other team can’t score, you can’t lose. We haven’t developed that as of yet, even though I think we’ve made some pretty big strides on it.”

The do-or-die nature of the postseason has helped hammer home that message, and the Jayhawks have started to take more pride in their ability to grind out wins even on off nights.

“It’s easier to make a team play bad than it is to go out and make shots every game,” Braun said. “So we’ve got to focus on making them play bad, focus on their sets and take things away that we know they’re good at. If we can do that, we can win the game.”

Marquee Matchup

Kansas senior Ochai Agbaji vs. Providence senior Justin Minaya

There’s not a defense out there that Agbaji has not seen at least once or twice this season. And very few of them have had much success in slowing him down.

Even the ones that have — Texas and Oklahoma come to mind — have helped make Agbaji a better player, creating the need for him to find new and more creative ways to score or pushing him into the role of decoy and distributor.

He’s fine with any of it because his No. 1 goal every time he takes the floor is for Kansas to win.

The bigger the games, the more important your All-American players become. So Agbaji, one way or the other, will play a huge role in this one, regardless of whether he’s red hot or laboring to get what he gets.

He knows that, and he says his past experience against different defensive looks has prepared him for just about anything.

“He’s a really good player,” Providence big man Nate Watson said of Agbaji. “But we have one of the best defensive players in the country, Justin Minaya, so I’m excited to see that matchup.”

So, too, is Agbaji. But that’s more because finding out how he’ll be guarded has become a part of his game day process throughout the past couple of months.

“Going into every game, it’s kind of a mystery,” he said Thursday. There’s some teams that will face-guard me. There’s some teams that will play regular (defense). So it’s kind of just one of those things where you have to get out and see in the moment how they’re playing me.”

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Agbaji’s athletic ability and ability to elevate on his jump shot should help him in this matchup with the 6-7, 210-pound Minaya. But even the tale of the tape is an area that these two seem to be made to square off with one another.

Jayhawk Pulse

The Jayhawks have reached the point in their season where it’s all about preparation and execution now. The latter carries a little more importance than the former, because even the best game plan can go awry with poor execution.

But being loose, playing with confidence and having at least a little bit of experience to fall back on can do wonders at this time of the season, and the Jayhawks are flush in all three of those areas.

Even the demanding Self has been pleased with the way his team has conducted and carried itself throughout the past few weeks.

“There’s a lot of things I like a lot,” Self said of his team. “They’re fun to be around. We have a good blend of youth and experience. I think we have some toughness. I think we have some skill. But the biggest thing, I think, is they like to compete. That, to me, is what makes it more fun.”

Self kept going.

“It’s always fun to compete and win,” he added. “But it’s also fun, in some guys’ minds, when you’re down three at the under-four timeout (and you say), ‘Let’s figure this out.’ I do think we have a team that enjoys that.”

As Self noted, Providence does, too, with the Friars boastin an 11-2 record in games decided by five points or fewer.

Friday’s matchup will be the first all-time between the Friars and Jayhawks, and it features teams, and head coaches, in two different positions.

For Self, Friday’s game will mark his 14 Sweet 16 appearance as a head coach. He’s 10-3 in his previous 13 Sweet 16 games. For Cooley, it will mark his first Sweet 16 game as a head coach and just his second in a 28-year coaching career.

As you might expect, that was reflected in the way the two carried themselves on Thursday during their pregame press conferences at United Center.

Self was loose, laughing with reporters and his players and comfortable in his surroundings. Cooley was much more intense, carrying a season-long demand for respect into just about every answer.

“Not a lot of people believe that we should be here,” Cooley said. “Guess what, doubters? Providence is in the damn building and I’m proud of those kids. Drop. The. Mic.”

Despite those comments toward Providence’s critics, Self said no such opinion about the fourth-seeded Friars resides in the Kansas locker room.

“(They) have a chip every time they play,” Self said of Providence. “Which is part of being a good salesman. Teams need to buy into a certain thought or theory. And I’m sure that’s been the thing that’s probably been driven into them as much as anybody. But they’re not a team, from our perspective, that gets no respect. They have gotten respect and they’ve earned it all. I know they’re going into this game believing that if they play well, they can handle us. And we know that we’re going to have to play well to do that to them.”

Oddsmakers in Las Vegas list Kansas as a 7.5-point favorite in this one. KenPom.com has KU with a 7-point edge and a 74% win probability.

Probable Starters

No. 1 Kansas

G – Dajuan Harris Jr., 6-1, 180, Soph.

G – Ochai Agbaji, 6-5, 215, Sr.

G – Christian Braun, 6-7, 205, Jr.

F – Jalen Wilson, 6-8, 225, Soph.

F – David McCormack, 6-10, 265, Sr.

No. 4 Providence

G – Al Durham, 6-4, 180, Sr.

G – A.J. Reeves, 6-6, 205, Sr.

F – Justin Minaya, 6-7, 210, Sr.

F – Noah Horchler, 6-8, 220, Sr.

C – Nate Watson, 6-10, 260, Sr.

Stay in touch with KUsports.com throughout the day and night for complete coverage from Chicago.

Here's a look at our coverage from the Windy City so far:

• Game Day Breakdown: Kansas vs. Providence

• Sweet 16 Notebook: Jayhawks, Friars mirror each other

• Photo gallery from Thursday's open practices

• Providence eager to face college basketball blue blood

• Bill Self on leaving Illinois: 'It's worked out well for us'

• Basketball Friends breaks down what's at stake for KU in Chicago

• Experienced transfers lead Providence to Sweet 16

• Top-seeded Kansas arrives in Chicago

Comments

Dirk Medema 6 months, 1 week ago

Watson is their only center and they get small quick. Their bench is shorter than ours as well. It seems that one of the things that should help us is the preliminary objective for all our perimeter players is getting downhill. That hopefully gets Watson in foul trouble, but also is really effective in causing the D to sag and opening the arc.

There are also only two players that have shot a high % from outside. As long as another player doesn’t have a career day, we should be fine. At least David doesn’t need to chase Watson. It might be different if he gets in foul trouble and they go small, but I think we have the players that can also fill that need if necessary.

Rodney Crain 6 months, 1 week ago

I am hoping we don't look past them. We have one of the best teams still playing and there is a clear winnable path to the last game now.

We should be able to score, we have played better competition, we can win tight games too.

I like our chances win this one too.

Len Shaffer 6 months, 1 week ago

I like our chances too, Rodney, and one of the reasons is that I don't think this is the type of team that will take anyone too lightly. I haven't really seen that this year, and that's one of the things that I really like about this team. They don't seem to have anyone who's arrogant or full of himself.

I am a little nervous, though, about the fact that their starters are all seniors.

Dirk Medema 6 months, 1 week ago

Just noticing that JWil is about the worst 3pt shooting on the team. It would seem that solid 3pt shooting would be a minimum requirement for his future. Is that the feedback he got in declaring last year? Was it what he was trying to show at the start of the year and why he struggled so much to start? No worries about him getting drafted unless he can drastically improve that.

The encouraging stat that I hadn’t seen is that just about everyone is over 70% for FTs.

Chad Smith 6 months ago

KU has shot free throws well as of late. Braun and Wilson had missed some big ones in conference play ( game at Texas sticking out in my mind the most). But I would want Och or Harris on the line based on what I've seen recently if I had to choose. And honestly, DMac is a really good free throw shooter for a big man.

Phil Leister 6 months ago

Serious question - has Jalen Wilson every dunked a ball at KU? I'm sure he CAN dunk, but I don't recall ever seeing him dunk.

Shannon Gustafson 6 months ago

I think he did once last year but I don't think he has this year. Amazing for a guy his size to basically never dunk in-game.

Tony Bandle 6 months ago

Random Thoughts:

1] Has there ever been a year when no #1 advanced past the Sweet Sixteen? This could be the year. Every thing points to a KU victory....that's when I get nervous.

2] F%#$*&g Duke looks like a Final Four team. CBS is in love with Rat Face.

3] The Fighting Peacocks...that's right up there with the Fighting Sand Crabs and the Fighting Banana Peppers!!

4] TO Phil...yes , Jalen Wilson has dunked a ball at KU. I remember it because it shocked the hell out of me. :}

5] TO Len, good point but we have a lot of senior [and mega senior] leadership in our rotation. Besides, I don't see a POY candidate and Lottery Pick anywhere on their roster.

6] Maybe I'll tape this game, while being in church lighting candles and praying rosaries!!

7] The good news, historically, KU saves it's downfall for the Elite Eight!

8] Finally, please ignore numbers 1. 6 and 7...KU is going to win BIG!!!!! The door is open for a march to another title in San Antonio!!!!!!!

Jonathan Allison 6 months ago

only problem is that the FF is in New Orleans. Which was a place of disappointment in 2003

Bryce Landon 6 months ago

Who in the media isn't in love with Coach Ratface? Most media people would consider it a privilege to give him fellatio.

Rodney Crain 6 months ago

  • 1] hold me lol. I do not like it when the sea's part for us.

  • 2] I really thought TT could beat them, then their stud erupted in the 2nd half. I hate them, I will always hate them. My dog hates them.

  • 7] had to go there? Why???

Bryce Landon 6 months ago

Kansas needs to be on red alert in this game after what happened to Gonzaga and Arizona last night. Providence's confidence has to be sky high after seeing what Arkansas and Houston pulled off, and we have to match their intensity from the opening tip. No missed assignments, no communication issues on who is defending who. The Jayhawks need to get out there and impose their will on the Friars and snuff out all hopes of an upset.

Rodney Crain 6 months ago

Agree 100%

Arizona's key guard could not hit the floor with his dribble let alone hit a shot. He was terrible. Lottery pick who face planted.

Gonzaga's key 3 was a key 1. Only Timme showed up.

At this point especially now, you cannot afford a key player to misfire like that. Feed the hot hand, play our game, do not be slow to play small.

This should be a win.

They want to play a blueblood, we have been playing them all season. Let's show them they should be careful what they wish for!

Robert Brock 6 months ago

The tougher defense will win this game. It ain’t gonna be purty...

Mallory Briggans 6 months ago

Bryce is that some fancy jello or ice cream . lol

Mallory Briggans 6 months ago

Rodney Rodney Rodney ................almost everybody loves ice cream and Im sure Coach K does too . lol

Rodney Crain 6 months ago

Thats the problem! lol

I wanted coach k to gently fade away, a loser in his last game.

Edward Daub 6 months ago

The one matchup that makes me "cringe" is anytime KU is faced with "Big Dave" having to guard out on the perimeter at 3 point range. I really hope KU avoids that situation tonight. Rock Chalk!

Dirk Medema 6 months ago

Ed - Their big shoots just as many 3 as Dave, though you’re right about switching. The good news is we have better depth at the 5, even if it needs to be the freshmen.

Steve Zimmerman 6 months ago

If Providence focuses on Remy - and that'll be the end of our journey, folks. Then, I'm looking forward to next season's team, shooting & making buckets will improve (without depending on transition). Oh, I do hope coach BS will also adjust his offense plays - guards pass to each other and keep passing around will not cut it (without Remy). We need Harris v2.0 that can slash and drive and MAKE BUCKETS, including 3pts. A PG that's not just a facilitator or solid defender, as some of you have also suggested.

Does any of you know if Bobby will transfer next season?

Jonathan Allison 6 months ago

I hope not. Bobby is going to be a star. He will be a NPOY candidate by Sr. year as long as he sticks it out at KU. Maybe his Jr. year.

Rodney Crain 6 months ago

So Steve in the games we won when Remy did not play, against some very good tournament teams, how in the world did we win those?

Maybe something Divine? Providence perhaps?

Steve Zimmerman 6 months ago

Game will seem like 4 vs 5 at times without Remy on the floor. Harris will not be guarded outside. They'll collapse on inside - switching and defending lane to the baskets. We will be forced to take 3s and jumpers - if we can make those, we'll survive this one. But if we somehow find ways to effectively use our bigs to help create buckets, we'll win this one for sure. Transition buckets and Remy will not be enough.

Rodney Crain 6 months ago

I have to give coach K a little credit, when TT was running them out of the gym, he came out in the 2nd half with a zone and it turned that game around.

Tony Bandle 6 months ago

Bill.....take note. That guy has only won 100 NCAA playoff games so he might have a clue as to what will work!!

Kit Duncan 6 months ago

Now is the time to play to win, not play to avoid losing. There is a difference. Letting Providence hang around is playing not to lose. Sticking it to them early, and often, is playing to win. I don’t like ugly wins this time of year!

All that said, the Hawks must treat every possession like it’s the last possession. On offense, if open, shoot the ball. On defense, no open looks for the Friars. Play defense like the TCU game in Kansas City! (3 forced shot clock violations)! Rick Chalk!

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