Things maybe aren’t going exactly as planned for Kansas and Kentucky, but both are near the top of their respective Conference standings and that’s always the goal. Kansas is still trying to figure things out without big man Udoka Azubuike, while Kentucky has again looked like a top team with the improvement of freshman point guard Ashton Hagans.
Neither team is completely dominating opponents and while the Wildcats have some bigger wins, they’ve also had an easier Schedule outside of the last couple. The Jayhawks haven’t won a Conference Game by more than nine points and they were already blown out at Iowa State and fell to one of the worst teams in the conference, West Virginia. A trip to Rupp Arena is never a good thing in the middle of Conference play and KU will soon realize that.
The biggest outlier in this matchup is Kentucky’s three-point defense, which has been consistently bad and one of the main reasons they’ve had some close Games. The problem is that Kansas only has one guy that shoots at a consistent rate in LAgerald Vick at 45.7%. Otherwise, Devon Dotson is also above 40 percent, but he’s only taken 36 threes. Quentin Grimes has completely fallen off in Conference play and new starter Marcus Garrett is just 7-of-28 from deep. That’s the main issue for the Jayhawks because they won’t be able to capitalize against UK’s biggest weakness. It also doesn’t help that UK has solid defensive numbers inside the arc.
The biggest and most important matchup will be Dedric LAwson (19.5 ppg, 10.9 rpg) against Reid Travis (13.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and PJ Washington (11.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg). LAwson may have an offensive edge against those guys, but the Jayhawks will likely have to play some zone because they don’t have the lineup to body up both Travis and Washington. The other option for KU is to play KJ LAwson and one of the other bigs more, but they’ve gone with Four guards and Dedric LAwson the last few Games. As for Vick and Garrett, they often have a size or speed advantage against whoever guards them, but UK matches up fairly well with Tyler Herro (13.5 ppg) and Keldon Johnson (14.9 ppg). The other question is how much the length of Hagans will factor into defending the quicker Devon Dotson. If Dotson has trouble beating his man or getting in entry passes, that also hurts KU.
OUtside of LAwson, Kansas is still looking for more consistent offense, as Vick can go off at any moment, but he also takes some wild shots. Garrett has been a big help with at least 15 points in the last three Games and his play will be important against either Herro or Johnson. SCoring for Kentucky doesn’t come easy, either, and it doesn’t help that Kansas ranks better defensively, at least efficiency wise.
The difference could end up being Hagans, who is averaging 13.2 points, 5.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds over the last six Games. He’s been the guy that sets everything up for the offense and when you combine that with the Four starters around him, this could eventually be an elite offense. Kansas is playing good defense, but stopping a bigger Hagans will be tough. However, if the Jayhawks go zone, that could be an issue for the Wildcats because no one on the team shoots better than 39 percent from deep.
On a neutral cOurt, these teams are pretty much on the same level, but at Rupp Arena, the advantage goes to Kentucky, especially given how Kansas has looked in true road Games this season.
Our Pick – Kansas +6