Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe is a problem. Can KU find an answer? Opponent breakdown
After a tough loss to Baylor on Monday, the Kansas men’s basketball team looks to halt its three-game losing streak against fellow blue blood Kentucky on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
The two teams met last year around this time, with the Wildcats stomping the Jayhawks 80-62 in Allen Fieldhouse. Kentucky leads the all-time series 24-10 but is 2-3 in the last five.
Kentucky enters Saturday following a 69-53 win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday. The Wildcats have won four straight games and have an elite offense headlined by the 2022 Naismith National Player of the Year.
Below is a scouting report and prediction of the game.
Saturday’s game: No. 9 Kansas at Kentucky
When/where: 7 p.m., Rupp Arena (Lexington, Kentucky)
Opponent’s record: 14-6, 5-3 SEC
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 30
All statistics are from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and EvanMiya. KenPom stats only include Division I competition.
Kentucky Team Strengths
Elite offense: Kentucky ranks 23rd in adjusted offensive efficiency (114.7). Adjusted offensive efficiency is the number of points a team scores per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponent. The Wildcats also rank 41st in three-point percentage (36.9).
Unselfish play: UK ranks 34th in the nation in assist rate percentage (58).
Menace on the boards: The Wildcats love to crash the glass. They rank first in offensive rebounding percentage (38.8) and fifth in offensive rebounds per game (14).
Kentucky Team Weaknesses
No free points: Kentucky doesn’t draw many fouls. The Wildcats rank 247th in the nation in free throw rate (29.2%). When they do get to the line, the Wildcats rank 274th in free throw percentage (68).
Old School play: Despite shooting a good percentage from three, UK doesn’t shoot a lot of threes per game. The Wildcats rank 302nd in three-point-attempt percentage (32.2)
Conservative when players foul: Kentucky ranks 351st in the country in two-foul participation percentage: Essentially, if Kansas gets any Wildcats into foul trouble early, don’t expect to see that player on the court much.
Kentucky Name to Know
6-foot-9 senior forward Oscar Tshiebwe (No. 34)
+ Explosive athlete that is elite at finishing at the rim (68.9%)
+ Elite rebounder (13.9 rebounds per game)
+ Limits turnovers (1.3 turnovers per game)
- Struggles at the line (62.1% FT)
- Not a threat from beyond the arc
Tale of the Tape
Six straight points from Big O @sahvir_ ️ @Oscartshiebwe34 pic.twitter.com/LNsMGMoVbM
— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 25, 2023
Any time the Wildcats get the ball inside the paint, they’re dangerous. On this play, guard Sahvir Wheeler drove, drew a second defender and dumped the ball off to Oscar Tshiebwe in the post. The forward had a smaller defender on him and dunked the ball.
The Jayhawks can’t over-help when Kentucky players drive. If they do, it could lead to either open lanes for Tshiebwe or open threes for any of the Wildcats’ capable shooters.
Counts all the same pic.twitter.com/1dBZ0EPjkV
— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 21, 2023
Kentucky never gives up on a play; it shows in the Wildcats’ offensive-rebounding-percentage ranking (No. 1). Here, Tshiebwe boxed out two different Texas A&M defenders, tipped the ball to himself twice and somehow tapped the ball into the basket.
The Jayhawks are undersized and struggle with rebounding, so they need to make sure they box out and play more physically than the Wildcats — especially against Tshiebwe. KU’s biggest focus should be to limit every touch Tshiebwe has and a huge way of doing that is keeping him off the boards.
After three straight losses, a Saturday loss could mark an unprecedented first in the Bill Self era.
Under Self, the Jayhawks have never lost four straight games. In fact, the last time Kansas has lost four straight games was in the 1988-89 season.
Kentucky is a massive matchup problem for an undersized KU team. A significant weakness of Kansas this season is rebounding, something the Jayhawks have particularly struggled with lately. The Wildcats thrive off offensive rebounds that lead to second-chance opportunities.
KU needs to make it a point of emphasis to be more physical and aggressive on the boards like the team was against West Virginia earlier this season. Despite WVU being taller and more physical, Kansas came away with more rebounds.
Another big issue for KU lately has been defending three-pointers. In the last few games, the Jayhawks have over-helped, lost their man and left shooters wide open, which has led to easy threes for opponents.
Kansas needs to find the defensive focus it had earlier in the season and bring that to Lexington on Saturday. Otherwise, the Jayhawks could find themselves down big early, and that’s a recipe for disaster in Rupp Arena.
On the offensive end, Kansas needs to make sure it spreads the scoring load and doesn’t put so much pressure on Jalen Wilson to score the basketball.
I like Kentucky in this one. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kansas win, but I think more has to go right for the Jayhawks than the Wildcats.
Kentucky 78, Kansas 75
Shreyas’ pick to cover the spread: Kentucky (+1.5)
Shreyas’ season record: 8-4
Shreyas’ record against the spread: 8-4
KU Player to watch: KJ Adams
After 11 straight games scoring double-digit points, KJ Adams has cooled off recently. Opposing teams have started to defend him differently in the short pick-and-roll, so KU needs to adjust. While Adams’ offense is important, it’s his defense that is pivotal in this game.
Adams will perhaps have his toughest matchup of the year in reigning NPOY Tshiebwe. Not only will Adams have to defend without fouling, but he can’t let Tshiebwe be more physical than him and get offensive rebounds.
It’ll be a difficult matchup for the 6-foot-7 forward, but if Adams boxes out, limits Tshiebwe’s touches and is the more physical player between the two, then it’ll give KU an opportunity to win this game.
Essentially, for the Jayhawks to have a chance to win this game, they need to keep Tshiebwe from wreaking havoc. A large part of that will come down to Adams’ ability to play defense without fouling.