College basketball notebook: Analyzing Sunday’s slate
Kansas coach Bill Self reacts during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against UNLV on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016, in Las Vegas. Kansas won 71-53. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Arizona State @ Kansas
Arizona State brings their high octane offense to Phog Allen to face a potentially angry post-UW loss Kansas squad. It’s also the Sun Devils’ first true road game of the year, which certainly isn’t a positive heading into this showdown.
While ASU’s backcourt tandem of Shannon Evans and Tra Holder have been outstanding (both draw tons of contact off the dribble and both are shooting the three at nearly 45 percent, and I didn’t even mention instant offensive threat off the bench, Remy Martin), I’m more interested in the Sun Devil frontcourt today. I think you can attack KU at the 4, whether it’s Svi Mykhailiuk, Marcus Garrett, or Mitch Lightfoot (but especially Svi). It will be interesting to see if Bobby Hurley goes with a dual post offense more often today to take advantage of that. Per hooplens.com, Hurley has played Romello White and De’Quon Lake together at the 4 and 5 on just 149 possessions, but that lineup combo has scored at 1.36 points per possession and held opposing offenses to .85 ppp. The issue of course would that on the other end, Svi would be able to take advantage of the White on the perimeter, and the opponent 3-point attempt rate when White and Lake play together is predictably 5 percent higher, and the ASU defense already skews to allowing a lot of 3-point attempts. Hurley’s short bench does receive a boost with the eligibility of 6-foot-7 tweener forward Mikey Mitchell. Mitchell might not see a lot of minutes today, but he’s physical and athletic and could be a legitimate problem for the KU options at the 4 on both ends.
Defensively, I’m sure Hurley watched the Washington tape and saw how Mike Hopkins extended his 2-3 to completely take away the left hand of Devonte’ Graham. That was a fairly unique circumstance for UW, as Hopkins was able to receive guidance from his Syracuse connections, who had just played KU and of course utilizes the exact same defense. The UW offense scheme essentially went all in on taking away Graham, and while Lagerald Vick put up big numbers when left completely alone in the middle of the floor, he wasn’t able to facilitate offense like Graham could. UW wrote the book on beating KU, and it involved four players capable of defending on the perimeter at all times to take away the three. Hurley can certainly go small with Martin and Kodi Justice playing with Holder and Evans, but as I mentioned, the trade-off would come on the offensive end where the Sun Devils wouldn’t be as capable of attacking KU at the 4 and potentially getting Udoka Azubuike in foul trouble. Regardless, the mission is clear defensively- force the ball out of Graham’s hands and take away his left, and force Malik Newman to initiate pick and roll. Arizona State’s poor transition defense is actually my biggest concern today, as KU is an elite transition offense, and the Sun Devils struggle to rotate back because of their reliance on heavy dribble penetration from the backcourt. I can envision a fired up KU team could exploit that early, and put this game out of reach before halftime.
Washington was able to attack Newman at the 2 with the bigger Jaylen Nowell, and even used him in post-up situations when Hopkins inverted the offense. That’s not really a part of the ASU repertoire offensively, but it did showcase the vulnerabilities that KU has in post defense in general. Again, it’s going to be a question of lineup combos for Hurley today. Does he want to exploit KU at the 4 with a bigger lineup, which would fly in the face of the scout from the Washington game? Or does he try to replicate the success of UW with four perimeter defenders?
PICK: Kansas -12.5
-Chattanooga has shown solid transition defense against Marshall, as Lamont Paris is a Bo Ryan guy, and Charlotte’s offense is most potent when they’re able to run behind Jon Davis. The Niners have no way of defending Makinde London.
-Ohio can’t get or stay healthy. They returned their frontcourt of Jason Carter and Kevin Mickle but then lost their best perimeter shooter Jordan Dartis to a foot injury during the Maryland game. He’s questionable today against Western Kentucky, who have had 8 days to prep/rest.
-South Alabama is actually looking to run a little more with a smaller lineup, and SIUE has consistently been one of the worst transition defenses in the country under Jon Harris, a big man coach who loves to work the ball inside and pound the offensive glass. Some hope for the Jags if they can rebound the bountiful SIUE misses, who can’t possibly replicate the shooting performance they posted against hapless IUPUI.
-Troy has been getting worked on the glass without Jordon Varnado, who is likely out until SBC play begins. The good news is that Southern Miss poses no threat on the glass with a 4 out motion offense that lines up Cortez Edwards at the 4.
-Oral Roberts is coming off a loss to Southern Nazarene (!), so you would expect Paul Mills to have lit some sort of fire under his team after that debacle. Missouri State is clearly the superior team and has an extremely athletic frontcourt of Obi Church and Alize Johnson to mitigate the one strength of the Golden Eagles. ORU could be shorthanded with Albert Owens rumored to be in a walking boot following the Southern Nazarene loss on Friday.
-Really quick turnaround for Eastern Washington from a spirited San Francisco comeback attempt to tough travel to South Dakota. Craig Smith runs a similar high motion offense to Kyle Smith at USF, and EWU’s slower footed backcourt struggled to defend it. Yotes shouldn’t have much problem today, especially with EWU’s lack of a frontcourt to attack USD at the rim, where they can struggle.
-LSU has had nearly two weeks off, and UNCW is still struggling to defend in PnR, which will be exploited routinely by Tremont Waters and the Tigers, who in turn could have their own issues defending against CB McGrath’s UNC style two big offense. That said, LSU has been weak on the defensive glass, and crashing the offensive glass is always a point of emphasis for any Roy Williams disciple, and the Seahawks are no exception. Availability of Brandon Sampson and Jeremy Combs is a question for LSU today, as both have high ankle sprains, and I’m not sure Will Wade will push them today.
-The ability of Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie, and even Zach Norvell to be used in the middle against Washington’s 2-3 zone is key today, as the Zags have the ability to shred zones. Norvell’s ability to stay in front of Jaylen Nowell is also a check mark for the Zags here. Interesting dynamic in terms of the situations for both teams, as UW is fresh off the KU upset and can’t even catch their breath before hosting a huge rivalry game, but that KU win surely invigorated what was a dormant fan base. Gonzaga was crushed by a Villanova team that’s clearly in a different tier, but Washington’s north/south iso penetration is something that Gonzaga is more built to handle than Nova’s beautiful motion and ball movement.
Sunday Top Picks (YTD 121-111-1):
South Dakota -11