Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Kansas

Lineup notes

Kansas:

  • Other than for a COVID protocol thing three weeks ago, Bill Self has barely changed his lineup at all since the Gonzaga loss. Expect Garrett, Agbaji, Braun, Wilson, and McCormack all to start.
  • In Kansas’s last four games, all competitive to the final minute, Garrett topped 36+ minutes three times and Agbaji and Braun twice. You’ll see a lot of them in this game, as all three commit 2.5 or fewer fouls per 40 minutes.
  • Something interesting to watch: Bill Self has started experimenting some with Jalen Wilson at center, and on the whole, David McCormack has played just 23 minutes per game across the last five fixtures. Mitch Lightfoot is gaining on him rapidly and is a somewhat better rim protector, though he commits 6.5 fouls per 40.

Tennessee:

  • Still seems like it’ll be Vescovi, Johnson, JJJ, Pons, Fulkerson
  • …that being said, Jaden Springer had more minutes than two of the starters on Tuesday night. It feels like Rick Barnes is slowly edging his way back to a starting lineup with Springer in it.
  • I’ve been asked a lot lately about Springer’s importance to the team. I feel the following stat sums it up as well as any: Tennessee is +138 with Springer on the court in just 245 minutes of play. They’re +50 in the 315 minutes he’s been off. That’s 88 extra points in about 77.8% of the time. He’s important.

Key matchups

David McCormack vs. John Fulkerson. McCormack is not the best player on the Kansas roster, but he’s probably the key to a potential win here. When McCormack gets to 10+ points, Kansas is 7-1; when he doesn’t, they’re 4-4. Fulkerson has been fantastic in post-up defense this year, and it may do him well to stay down low with McCormack and not have to guard a player eight inches shorter than him 20+ feet from the basket. Really, what I’d like to see is this: can Fulkerson force the McCormack/Lightfoot combo into at least six combined fouls? If so, that’s one small win.

Jalen Wilson vs. Yves Pons. The most fun matchup of these three I’m highlighting. Wilson can score at all three levels fairly regularly; Pons can score at about 1.5 with regularity and 1.5 inconsistently. That said, this is a huge opportunity for Pons: he has an athletic matchup that isn’t a good defender. Could we see him draw Wilson out to 15+ feet and push his way to the rim?

Ochai Agbaji vs. Keon Johnson. Or Victor Bailey, or Josiah-Jordan James, or maybe even Jaden Springer for a spell. But it’s Johnson who’s likely to start. Johnson has struggled to score from beyond 10 feet out, while Agbaji is probably the best shooter on either team in this game. Johnson, however, has done an excellent job of closing out hard and forcing opponents to either take tough guarded threes or to try and pull up off the dribble. All we can ask of him is to do the same here.

Three predictions

  1. Tennessee wins the turnover battle by 3 or more;
  2. Neither team converts more than 36% of their threes;
  3. Tennessee 67, Kansas 63.

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