Quick scout: Why the first few minutes will be key for KU against Syracuse

Kansas Jayhawks guard Devonte' Graham lays up a shot during a game against the Texas Southern Tigers last month. | John Sleezer | JOHN SLEEZER jsleezer@kcstar.co
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By Jesse Newell jnewell@kcstar.com

Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.

Saturday’s game: Syracuse vs. No. 2 Kansas, 4:30 p.m. central, American Airlines Arena, Miami

TV: ESPN

Opponent’s record: 6-0

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 53

Point spread: KU by 10.

All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.

3 Strengths

▪ Offensive rebounding: Syracuse is No. 1 nationally in O-board percentage, with four players ranking in the top 300. It’s also the tallest team in the nation according to KenPom’s average height measure.

▪ Interior defense: The Orange’s length and 2-3 zone make it difficult for opponents inside. The team ranks No. 1 nationally in block rate and third in two-point percentage defense.

▪ Defensive rebounding: This has been a glaring weakness of Jim Boeheim teams the past two seasons, but so far, Syracuse has done a good job of grabbing defensive boards out of the zone while ranking 62nd nationally in D-board percentage.

3 Weaknesses

▪ Three-point defense: Forty-six percent of opponents’ shots are coming from behind the arc, and teams are hitting those shots at a roughly average clip. It’s no secret: The best way to beat this zone is to move the ball, kick it out, then shoot over the top.

▪ Three-point shooting: Syracuse is shooting 29 percent from three (KU, to compare, is at 45 percent) and that’s while ranking in the bottom 25 nationally when it comes to three-point attempts.

▪ Transition offense: Though Syracuse forces a high number of steals, it is not a team built to run. The Orange are below NCAA average when it comes to both creating transition and shooting in those situations.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-6 guard Tyus Battle (No. 25)

BattleTyus16

Plus: Team’s best offensive player

Plus: Rarely turns it over

Plus: Great shooter in mid-range

Plus: Team’s only true three-point threat

Minus: More of a scorer than distributor offensively

6-foot-5 guard Frank Howard (No. 23)

HowardFrank16

Plus: Takes on large offensive role for Orange

Plus: One of nation’s top passers

Plus: Like Battle, he’s an above-average shooter on two-point jumpshots

Plus: Does good job creating steals

Minus: Not a great three-point shooter

Minus: Synergy lists him as a “below average” overall defender

7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu (No. 13)

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Plus: Elite shot-blocker

Plus: Synergy’s logs rank him as “excellent” overall defender

Plus: Good offensive rebounder

Minus: Doesn’t shoot much offensively

Minus: Can be turnover prone

Prediction

This game will be all about the threes.

KU’s players have been unselfish this season, and coach Bill Self has done a good job in the past of getting his teams prepared to play zone defenses. With a couple quick passes, the Jayhawks should get open threes.

Whether they make the first few will go a long way toward determining how this game ends up.

If KU continues to shoot like it has at home, look out. There will be plenty more open perimeter shots, and the Jayhawks have the potential to run away with this one early.

If some early shots miss, though? And KU once again is inaccurate away from home, like it was against Kentucky in Chicago earlier this year? That could lead to some panic, and the last thing this KU team will want to do is lose patience. Trying to go one-on-one against Syracuse’s extreme length inside will not be a formula for offensive success.

Defensively for KU, it’s simple: Get the rebound. Like Kentucky, Syracuse jacks up a lot of mid-range shots, with the hope that when those do miss, their big bodies can grab the board and clean up with two points.

Still, the biggest question that looms: Will KU trust its three-point shooting, even if shots don’t go down early?

With this particular team, I’ll say yes.

Kansas 81, Syracuse 67

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

I’m not going to overthink this: Svi Mykhailiuk has been KU’s best and most reliable outside shooter, and he’s also likely to be the one who will wait on the perimeter while teammates create to get him open shots. Here are Mykhailiuk’s three-point numbers the last four games: 5-for-7, 5-for-7, 1-for-3, 5-for-6. Add it up, and that’s 70 percent accuracy in those four contests. Whether he can make threes Saturday will go a long way toward determining KU’s offensive success.

Last game prediction: Kansas 90, Toledo 70 (Actual: KU 96-58)

2017-18 record vs. spread: 2-3

Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 60-46-3

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell


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