The Cougars travel to Kansas City to face the Jayhawks on a not-so-neutral court Monday.
The Washington State Cougars will try to bounce back from their upset loss to Pepperdine in a big way when they face the Kansas Jayhawks as part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic on Monday night. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. PT and will be televised on ESPN2.
The Jayhawks are 2-1 on the year, with the loss coming to a good Michigan State team in Atlanta. Kansas was less-than-impressive in their last outing, as they trailed Chattanooga well into the second half before pulling away at the end.
Kansas went all the way to the national title game last season, but lost a couple of key contributors to that squad. Thomas Robinson was one of the nation's best players and a big reason for their success. The Jayhawks don't have anywhere near the same inside scoring presence without Robinson.
They have replaced some of the scoring with a new face, who redshirted last year. It must be nice to be able to redshirt five-star recruits and still make the national title game.
Ben McLemore has made an instant impact in his first three games as a Jayhawk. He is scoring at a highly efficient clip, due in large part to his minuscule 12.5 turnover rate. For a freshman that also dishes out plenty of assists and gets to the free throw line frequently, limiting turnovers to that extent is impressive.
Mclemore does his best offensive work inside the arc, where he is making 59 percent of his twos and hitting 81 percent of his free throws. The freshman also adds something on the defensive end, with a solid-for-a-guard 14.9 defensive rebounding percentage and 4.1 block percentage.
Let's take a look at the four factors to see how these teams match up.
The Jayhawks have not been that impressive from the field so far this year. Their 47.6 effective field goal percentage puts them in the middle of the road nationally, and they are hitting just under 25 percent of their threes.
The most dangerous outside shooter has been Elijah Johnson, but KU doesn't really possess a great spot-up guy. They might not need it, as they shoot well inside the arc.
Kansas is hitting 52.6 percent of their twos, which is primarily the product of the aforementioned McLemore and seven-footer Jeff Withey.
While Withey will be tough for WSU to guard, the place where he will make the biggest impact will be on the defensive end. Kansas is limiting opponents to just 37.3 percent on two-pointers, and Withey is a big part of that with his 15.4 percent block percentage. That means Withey blocks 15.4 percent of the two-point shots while he is on the floor.
That spells trouble for a Cougar offense that needs to do well inside, and Withey could give Brock Motum plenty of problems. WSU is a good two-point shooting team, but the game against Pepperdine showed how bad their offense can become if Motum is struggling to make his close-range shots.
The Cougars certainly have the advantage on the outside, and they'll probably need to hit a high percentage of their threes to stick around, but Kansas holds the shooting advantage overall because of how well they limit their opponents.
The Cougars have done a fine job on the defensive glass so far this year, getting solid contributions from Motum, Mike Ladd, and D.J. Shelton. However, they've yet to face a team with nearly the athleticism and size Kansas possesses.
KU isn't overwhelmingly good at rebounding on either end of the floor, but they are above average in both areas. The Cougars have been blocking out well, so they should be able to limit offensive rebounds for the most part. With Withey in the game, WSU won't get many O-boards of their own.
Rebounding is likely a push between these two teams.
WSU was doing so well taking care of the ball until the debacle in Malibu, where they gave the ball away on 33 percent of their possessions.
Their overall turnover rate now sits at 19.9, which is above average and likely around what they will be at the end of the season.
Kansas is also just above average in taking care of the ball. The problem for WSU is that the Jayhawks have done a fine job turning their opposition over. Kansas is forcing turnovers on 23.5 percent of possessions, helped by an 11.3 steal percentage. Johnson is the most likely candidate to get steals.
With both teams about the same in terms of holding on to the ball, the advantage goes to Kansas here because they are better at taking it away.
Withey and McLemore are the only two Jayhawks that are markedly better than the mean when it comes to getting to the line. Both do well when they get there, as Withey hit almost 80 percent a season ago.
Ladd, Motum, and Shelton all have a knack for getting to the line. Unfortunately for WSU, Motum seems to be the only one that is somewhat reliable in knocking down his freebies.
Going to give the slimmest of advantages in free throws to Washington State for two reasons: The first being that Motum's quickness (as long as he is over the flu) should be tough for KU's bigs to deal with, leading to more fouls and more free throws. The second being Shelton, who just has a knack for drawing contact.
Still, free throw attempts should be pretty even as WSU will also have match-up trouble against KU.
The Jayhawks are heavily favored in this one. KenPom predicts a 68-58 KU victory with 83 percent confidence. The Cougars will have to convert their inside opportunities and limit turnovers, otherwise Kansas could easily run away with the game in front of what amounts to a home crowd.
Motum and Withey will be the most intriguing battle, and will likely decide whether or not the Cougs have a chance on Monday.