Quick scout: Why it's tough to predict this KU-Penn game

View 4 photos

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.

Thursday's game: No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 16 seed Penn, 1 p.m., Intrust Bank Arena, Wichita

TV: TBS

Opponent’s record: 24-8

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 126

Point spread: KU by 13 1/2.

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

3 Strengths

Defensive rebounding: Penn does a great job on the defensive glass (11th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage) despite the fact that it does not have much size (276th in average height).

Shot selection: The Quakers' basic philosophy is avoiding mid-range jumpers on offense and forcing them on defense, and that shows through in the team's offensive numbers. Penn takes the 30th-lowest percentage of two-point jumpshots, so it's a belief the players have bought into as well.

Three-point defense: Penn ranks 39th when it comes to limiting opponents' three-point attempts, which is the best measure to use when it comes to three-point defense.

3 Weaknesses

Offensive rebounding: Though KU has had some issues on the defensive glass this season, that shouldn't be a problem Thursday. Penn ranks 304th in O-board percentage, as coach Steve Donahue puts a bigger emphasis on his team getting back in transition.

Shooting: Donahue admitted Wednesday that his team's Achilles' heel has been making open shots: threes, layups and free throws. This all can be overcome in a one-game sample, but the Quakers are slightly below average in three-point percentage and also 323rd in free throw accuracy.

Rim protection: Penn, with no player in its rotation taller than 6 foot 8, ranks 275th in block rate.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-8 forward AJ Brodeur (No. 25)

undefined

Plus: Strong finisher at rim

Plus: Good defensive rebounder

Plus: Team's only shot-blocking presence

Plus: Synergy's logs list him as "very good" defensively

Minus: Only a 28-percent three-point shooter this year

Minus: Doesn't get to line as often as you'd expect and is poor free-throw shooter

6-foot-5 guard Ryan Betley (No. 21)

undefined

Plus: High-volume, accurate three-point shooter

Plus: Rarely turns it over

Plus: Solid defensive rebounder for his size

Plus: Good free-throw shooter

Minus: Below-average finisher at the rim

Minus: Does not create often for teammates

6-foot-4 guard Caleb Wood (No. 10)

undefined

Plus: Team's most efficient offensive player

Plus: Shoots threes often and is 38 percent shooter there

Plus: One of nation's best at limiting turnovers

Plus: Doesn't shoot inside often, but he's accurate at the rim when he does

Minus: Has played in less than half of Penn's minutes as a reserve

Minus: Like Betley, he's not much of a distributor

Prediction

Good luck making a prediction for this game.

Most of what has been said in a positive way about Penn is true. The team is one of the best 16 seeds ever. Its defensive strength (three-point prevention) matches up with KU's best offensive skillset. The spread is only 13 1/2 points, which is not that far off from KU home games against Arizona State (12) and Oklahoma State (12) this season where the Jayhawks lost convincingly.

Here's the biggest problem when trying to pick a score for this game: Penn is smart. The Quakers know they want to make this a high-variance game — one where a large number of outcomes is possible.

Most likely, Penn will find it difficult to get shots at the rim against KU. The next-most efficient option is to fire away from three, which at least gives the team a punchers' chance because attempting those shots makes the game less about skill (what KU wants) and more about luck (what Penn wants).

So even if this is not a fast-paced game, I expect Penn to shoot around 35 threes. And if that's the case, I'm basically trying to guess the Quakers' shooting fortunes for Thursday, which is nearly impossible to do.

If Penn makes 5 of 35? KU wins by 30 or more. But if the team makes 18 of 35, which is possible? This 16-over-1 thing has a chance, which is why so many national media members are talking about it.

In the end, I think the Quakers will have to force some tough threes if their goal is volume. I also think KU coach Bill Self will look to take advantage of his team's athleticism (and Penn's defensive rim struggles) by scheming up multiple lob plays that should work if executed correctly.

Is this a scary matchup for KU? Yes. But only if Penn hits threes. I'll say the Quakers are below their shooting average Thursday, which would make for a comfortable KU win.

Kansas 84, Penn 63

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

This appears to be a great matchup for KU's Mitch Lightfoot. Penn doesn't have wide-bodied post players who can overpower him inside, and in this game, he should be able to get blocks against an opponent that won't be accustomed to his type of athleticism. Lightfoot also could get an offensive boost with additional lobs thrown his way as KU tries to attack the interior of Penn's defense.

Last game prediction: West Virginia 84, Kansas 80 (Actual: KU 81-70)

2017-18 record vs. spread: 16-17

Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 74-60-3


More from this section