In their third consecutive appearance in the Champions’ Classic, No. 5 Kansas finds itself pitted against No. 4 Duke. Also of note, Wiggins find himself going up against Jabari Parker in what has been made out to be, whether warranted or not, somewhat of a personal rivalry. The Jayhawks and Blue Devils will do battle following a matchup between Michigan State and Kentucky. All of this goes down in the house that MJ built: The United Center in Chicago.
Tip-off is slated for 8:30pm although I expect that it will be somewhat delayed given that the first game doesn’t tip until 6:30, games have been taking longer this year given the fouls, and they have to give enough time for teams to warm up in the intermission. In fact, WatchESPN has the game showing at 10:00pm EST, not 9:30. Kansas is 0-2 in this battle of basketball blue-bloods. Here are my keys to the game if the Jayhawks are to make it 1-2 before the series resets beginning next season.
1. Tharpe (and Mason) stay out of foul trouble. We saw what KU looks like without their leading ball-handler on the floor as Tharpe had to miss last weeks game. Mason played well, but the offense did not flow like it did in the exhibition games in which Tharpe played very well. When Mason got into foul trouble early on Friday, Frankamp was thrust into the action as KU’s primary point. As I mentioned after that game, he was serviceable, but it will be a different story against a savvy Duke team loaded with talent and athleticism. KU needs Tharpe in the game to win this one.
2. Three point shooting. I believe that KU matches up well with Duke. They really have no answer for Embiid if he can show up in a big way. However, Duke has more offensive firepower. When they throttled Davidson 111-77, they had three players (Hood, Parker and Sulaimon) score 20 or more points. They had another in double figures. However, Duke’s top 5 scorers racked up more than 85% of their teams total points in that game, whereas KU’s top five scorers account for only 71% of the total. They were more balanced for sure, and that was without their No. 1 assist machine in the game to distribute the ball. Still, if KU is going to stay in this one, they will need to hit a few threes in an efficient and timely manner. Look for Wiggins and Tharpe to hit a couple, with either Greene or White adding a spark.
3. Make your free throws. In case you missed it, free throw shooting possessions are the new turnover possession. According to KenPom, in the opening weekend teams recorded two more possessions ending in free throws and two less ending in turnovers compared to last season. Also, there have been nine more free throw attempts on average per 40 minutes played. These are chances to score and they Jayhawks need to do better than convert on 62 percent of these chances. Self says he doesn’t really practice free throws. Guys at this level have to get into the gym and make it happen. Also, its too early to call the poor FT shooting a trend, but it is something to watch for in this one.
Enjoy the game everyone!