Quick scout: This defensive weakness could be costly for KU’s first foe

KU’s Svi Mykhailiuk shoots over Pitt State’s Jabari Antwine during the first half of an exhibition game at Allen Fieldhouse. KU beat Ptit State, 100-54. | Rich Sugg | rsugg@kcstar.com
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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.

Friday’s game: Tennessee State vs. No. 4 Kansas, 8 p.m. Friday, Allen Fieldhouse (ESPNU)

Opponent’s record: 0-0

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 212

Point spread: KU by 26 12.

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

3 Strengths

▪ Interior defense: Tennessee State’s defense was strong a year ago when it was able to get set. Opponents made only 45 percent of their twos against the Tigers, while Synergy’s logs ranked the team in the 95th percentile defensively in non-transition possessions.

▪ Offensive rebounding: Coach Dana Ford has had aggressive teams on the offensive glass the last two seasons, with the Tigers ranking 35th in O-rebounding percentage a year ago.

▪ Creating havoc: Tennessee State was 28th in defensive turnover percentage last year, though that number should drop some following the departure of Tahjere McCall, who ranked fifth nationally in steal rate.

3 Weaknesses

▪ Carelessness: The Tigers were 331st in turnover rate a season ago and have been below NCAA average in this stat each of Ford’s three seasons.

▪ Perimeter defense: Tennessee State gives up huge amounts of three-point attempts while trying to discourage interior shots.

▪ Three-point shooting: On the flip side, the Tigers rarely shoot threes and aren’t good when they attempt them, making 33 percent last season.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-3 guard Delano Spencer (No. 1)


Plus: Team’s best returning offensive player

Plus: Must guard on three-point line … 38 percent shooter last year

Plus: Rarely turns it over

Minus: Mostly a spot-up shooter; doesn’t create much for himself/others off dribble

Minus: Synergy’s logs have him as “poor” defender who loses three-point shooters too often

Six-foot-9 forward Ken’Darrius Hamilton (No. 4)


Plus: Excellent defender; Synergy had him in 99th percentile in overall defense last season

Plus: Good shot-blocker

Plus: One of team’s best offensive rebounders

Minus: Turns it over too often

Minus: Made only 55 percent of shots at rim last year; seems more comfortable away from basket

Minus: Not as good of a defensive rebounder as you’d expect

5-foot-10 point guard Armani Chaney (No. 0)


Plus: Backup last year who has shown potential to create steals

Plus: Great free throw shooter in limited attempts a year ago

Minus: Has been turnover prone in first two seasons

Minus: Has struggled shooting both inside (30 percent at rim last year) and out (29 percent from three)


KenPom’s numbers have KU winning this game by 25, so Vegas has shaded slightly toward the Jayhawks — a common occurrence this time of year.

For early games at Allen Fieldhouse, I often like to look at two factors first: transition defense and three-point prevention.

Tennessee State’s grade for the first category is mixed. The Tigers do a decent job of getting back to prevent transition chances, but opponents have success when they are able to run against them. Tennessee State also has been one of the worst teams nationally in terms of fouling the last few years, and that weakness typically doesn’t play well at Allen Fieldhouse.

The second factor definitely should play against the Tigers. This particular KU team is likely to shoot more threes than any other that Bill Self has coached, and the Jayhawks should find plenty of openings against a program that simply doesn’t mind if opponents fire away.

From there, we just have to figure out if KU is going to make its outside shots. The Jayhawks were poor in the exhibition season (32 percent from three), but with wide-open attempts, there’s no reason to think KU can’t return to form in a familiar environment Friday.

Add to all this the fact that KU literally can’t put in a bad lineup at the end of games, and I like the Jayhawks for the cover.

Kansas 93, Tennessee State 60

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

I mentioned Spencer’s defensive issues above, and he’ll likely be matched up some against … KU’s Malik Newman. The transfer couldn’t ask for a better matchup in his first regular season game as a Jayhawk, as he should get open threes and will have plenty of motivation after getting called out by Self on Tuesday.

Last game prediction: Kansas 75, Oregon 72 (Actual: Oregon 74-60)

2016-17 record vs. spread: 17-16-1

Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 58-43-3

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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