Duke vs. Kansas: What to Watch

After coming up short in Hawaii against Indiana, the Jayhawks flew directly to New York City to face the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils. In order to avoid an 0-2 start to the season, here are the things we’ll be watching.

Will the Kansas bigs be able to hold their own against the Duke front line on the glass?

The warning signs were apparent when in the Kansas basketball opener, the Jayhawks weren’t able to easily out-rebound Washburn in an exhibition. Indiana is not a big team and they still grabbed 11 more rebounds than the Jayhawks. If the battle on the glass is not fairly even, it will be very difficult to beat the Blue Devils.

Injuries could make this task a little easier as Duke is without three of their most talented freshmen. Forwards Jayson Tatum (6’8″) and Harry Giles (6’10”) are expected to miss the game due to injuries as is Center Marques Bolden (6’11”). Duke’s Amile Jefferson (6’9″) has logged the most minutes by far of any of the Blue Devil bigs and he has averaged 8 boards per game this season.

At the end of last season Landen Lucas was dominant on the boards. In his 35 minutes against Indiana, he only grabbed seven. Carlton Bragg and Josh Jackson have to help out more than they showed against the Hoosiers. It is clear that Udoka Azubuike has yet to earn the trust of the coaching staff as he logged only seven minutes in the Indiana game. Once he learns proper positioning and boxing out, he should be a beast on the glass. For now, this is a major weakness for the Jayhawk front court.

It is easy to picture Coach Self walking up and down the aisles of the flight from Honolulu to New York and reminding players to not play soft. While that probably wasn’t the case, expect more aggression from the Jayhawk bigs along with the injured Blue Devil bigs to keep rebounding fairly even on the night.

Frank Mason drove again and again near the end of the Indiana game. Can the other guards follow his lead?

There were a total of nine times that Bill Self called the “5 Up” play with all but one of them coming with less than seven minutes remaining in the game and overtime. The most obvious examples were in the last minute of the game as Frank Mason drove again and again to score a layup and draw a foul. He doesn’t always drive, he can also shoot or dish to an open shooter depending on the defense.

By contrast, Josh Jackson has the talent to run the play and he opted to take several bad shots instead. In a lineup dominated by talented guards, this is a play that each of them needs to master. Instead of just Mason, imagine if Graham, Jackson, Vick and Svi all could run this play. Defenses would struggle to guard the play and playmakers could work to get the ball into the hot hand.

Foul trouble was a major problem against Indiana. Thanks to Mason effectively running “5 Up” near the end of the game, it also created foul trouble for the Hoosiers. Duke’s best player is point guard Grayson Allen and getting a couple of early fouls on him would be very advantageous to Kansas.

Can the Jayhawks guard the perimeter?

The scouting report said that Indiana shoots a large number of 3-pointers. When they are left open, they can score in bunches. So it was no surprise that Indiana took 31 triples against the Jayhawks and made 15 of them. Duke has only shot 51 total in their two games, making 19 of them.

Grayson Allen is a potential national player of the year and he has taken a third of Duke’s 3-pointers on the season. Whoever has his defensive assignment needs to stay on him to prevent good looks. As he is 6’5″, it could make sense to have a big guard like Josh Jackson or Lagerald Vick on him for a good part of the game.

Bottom Line

The last place team in the Big 12 goes up against the top-ranked team in the country after a very long road trip. That sounds like a recipe for a blowout. Yet it is only the Jayhawks tough schedule that has them in the basketball basement and they’ve had a couple of days to adjust after the long flight. This game is likely to be every bit as close as the game against Indiana where neither team gets more than an 8-10 point lead. Don’t be surprised if it is determined by a last minute play by Frank Mason or Grayson Allen. I’m guessing more was learned in a tough loss than two cupcake wins. KU wins, 87-86.

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