Quick scout: Numbers and common sense at odds in KU-TCU line

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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.

Monday’s game: Kansas at TCU, 8 p.m., Schollmaier Arena, Fort Worth, Texas

TV: ESPN

Opponent’s record: 17-6

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 35

Point spread: TCU by 3.

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

3 Strengths

Offensive rebounding: This is coach Jamie Dixon’s specialty; each of his last 15 teams have ranked top 75 nationally in offensive rebound percentage, and this squad (71st) is no different.

Three-point defense: The Horned Frogs do the best job of any Big 12 school of limiting opponents’ three-point attempts.

Drawing contact: TCU has improved in this aspect during Big 12 play, ranking second among league teams when it comes to creating free throw attempts.

3 Weaknesses

Interior defense: TCU blocks a decent number of shots but allows too many attempts at the rim ... a flaw that has killed its two-point percentage defense in league play (55 percent, last in Big 12).

Defensive rebounding: The Horned Frogs are a below-average team on the defensive glass, and that could be a bigger deal now considering KU is coming off its best offensive rebounding game of the year against Oklahoma State.

Carelessness: TCU has struggled with turnovers at times this year, including the previous game against KU when it had 20 giveaways at Allen Fieldhouse.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-1 guard Alex Robinson (No. 25)

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Plus: One of nation’s best passers

Plus: Gets to free throw line often

Plus: Capable three-point shooter

Plus: Synergy’s logs list him as “very good” defender

Minus: Turnover prone

Minus: Only a 66 percent free throw shooter

6-foot-7 forward Kouat Noi (No. 12)

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Plus: High-volume, accurate three-point shooter

Plus: Rarely turns it over

Plus: Good shooter in limited two-point attempts

Minus: Doesn’t create often for others

Minus: Strictly a spot-up shooter when it comes to outside shots; has zero unassisted threes this year

6-foot-5 guard Desmond Bane (No. 1)

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Plus: Strong three-point shooter

Plus: Excellent finisher at the rim for a guard

Plus: Secure with the ball

Minus: Outstanding free throw shooter, but doesn’t get to line often

Minus: Not as aggressive as he should be given his efficient offensive numbers

Prediction

I have been horrible picking KU road games this year, and Monday’s contest is another example of when my personal numbers bias makes a pick difficult.

KenPom has this as a pick ‘em game, with KU 50 percent to win. Bart Torvik’s projections have TCU by 1 1/2, with the Jayhawks’ win expectancy at 44 percent.

The line, as listed above, is 3. So Vegas is still factoring in a significant KU road penalty, even if we can’t exactly put our finger on exactly what has caused this Jayhawks’ issue.

It’s a tricky matchup for KU coach Bill Self to navigate with Noi if TCU goes small. If KU plays with two bigs then, it’ll have to stick one on Noi, and that could be an issue with the way he hits threes. The other side, though, is that the Horned Frogs struggle to grab defensive rebounds, meaning KU could potentially gain an offensive advantage with Mitch Lightfoot or David McCormack in if it concedes losing some ground on the defensive end.

Usually in these situations, Self defaults to defense. If he does that, he’ll have to rely more heavily on a four-guard lineup, but without Marcus Garrett and Lagerald Vick, there simply aren’t as many bodies to play that style.

That’s all personnel-type stuff that Self does a decent job of figuring out in game, though. Big picture: Can this KU team play with more poise (and fewer turnovers) in a road environment? And perhaps the bigger question: Will the team’s cohesiveness issues be helped without Vick on the roster in this particular game? Self spoke often about how much better his team’s chemistry was in Saturday’s win against Oklahoma State, and that didn’t seem like a coincidence.

It seems silly for me to keep picking KU in these road spots without previous evidence showing it can succeed, but I’m a numbers guy, and those are screaming that the line is overreaching here.

If the Jayhawks fool me for a fifth time or so in a road game, it’s obviously shame on me. I still think their odds to win here are better, though, than Vegas says.

Kansas 73, TCU 71

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

No reason to overthink this one. Dedric Lawson scored 31 points in KU’s previous game against TCU, and the 54-percent two-point shooter will get another shot Monday against the Big 12’s leakiest interior defense. He’s the obvious pick to lead KU in scoring.

Last game prediction: Kansas 81, Oklahoma State 63 (Actual: KU 84-72)

2018-19 record vs. spread: 13-11

Last five seasons’ record vs. spread: 90-73-3

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