Game 1: Tennessee State at No. 4 Kansas – Preview and Prediction

It’s go time in college basketball, as No. 4 Kansas opens up its 2017-18 season with a home tilt against the Tigers of Tennessee State. 

The 2017-18 season carries high expectations for the Jayhawks. KU is looking to become the first team in Division I college basketball history to win 14 consecutive regular-season conference championships. This is a program that has always posted strong records in non-conference play; the Jayhawks have entered January with two or fewer losses in all but three of Bill Self’s 14 seasons as head coach.

About Tennessee State: The Tigers posted a 17-13 record a season ago, finishing sixth in a mediocre Ohio Valley league. This season, Tennessee State was picked by the coaches to finish seventh. This is a team that’s only played Kansas once before; in November 2006, Sherron Collins led the Jayhawks to a 35-point win at Allen Fieldhouse against the Tigers. Additionally, Kansas is looking to improve to 21-0 all-time against Ohio Valley league teams.

Game Info and Notes:
  • Friday, November 10th, 2017 at 8:00 pm
  • Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, KS
  • Kansas is 20-0 all-time against Ohio Valley teams, and 1-0 all-time against Tennessee State
  • The Jayhawks have won 43 consecutive home openers
  • Bill Self enters this contest two wins shy of Roy Williams for second all-time as head coach of Kansas
Tennessee State Tigers

Returning two starters from a middle-of-the-pack Ohio Valley team a year ago, the Tigers added offense to a team that struggled to score the ball throughout 2016-17. Defensively, Tennessee State was solid, holding its opponents to under 68 points per contest. In 2016-17, the Tigers played the only top-25 team on their schedule close, losing to No. 5 Duke by 10 points on December 19 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.


Strength – Interior Defense: A season ago, the Tigers were one of the Ohio Valley’s best teams on the defensive end, holding their opponents to 67.7 points per contest.

Strength – Rebounding, particularly on the offensive end: Tennessee State was an above-average league team in rebounding last year, but the Tigers were third in the conference with 12.2 offensive boards per game.

Weakness – Passing: Last season, the Tigers were outside the top 300 nationally in assists with just 11 per contest. Five of those came from senior point guard Tahjere McCall, which means that the Tigers’ top returning assister averaged just 1.2 per game last year.

Weakness – Scoring: The Tigers were in the bottom half of the league in two-point percentage, three-point percentage, and points per game. Not the best recipe when you have a game at Allen Fieldhouse looming.

Weakness – Free-throw shooting: The Tigers were 11th out of 12 Ohio Valley teams with a 69.2% free-throw rate. However, this was two percentage points better than what Kansas shot as a unit, so… there’s that?

Tigers to Watch

Darreon Reddick – 6’4″ senior guard

Reddick is the team’s senior captain, coming back as Tennessee State’s top returning scorer with 9.0 points per contest in 2016-17. He shot 35% from three and played 29 minutes per contest, blending two-pointers and three-pointers with near-identical consistency.

Delano Spencer – 6’3″ senior guard

The other half of the Tiger backcourt is the only other returning starter, and Spencer led the team with an 87% free-throw clip. 147 of his 194 shots came from three-point range, where he made 40% of his attempts.

Ken’Darrius Hamilton – 6’9″ senior foward

Hamilton is the closest thing to a center on the roster at 6’9″. He’s the top returning rebounder, but despite his size, he has the ability to pop out on the perimeter and shoot threes at a high clip (34% on more than two attempts per game last year).


Kansas 83, Tennessee State 53

Hamilton is a good player, but he’s the tallest regular player in the Tennessee State rotation. At 6’9″, he’ll be undersized against Udoka Azubuike and Billy Preston. The Jayhawks should be able to establish an inside game with their young but talented frontcourt.

Defensively, Tennessee State was solid last year, holding Duke, North Carolina State, and Vanderbilt, the three best teams they faced, to 65, 67 and 83 points, respectively. But none of those teams possessed the three-point arsenal the Jayhawks do. With the inside scoring game working, Kansas should be able to open up the offense by taking a lot of three-point shots, which will be a disaster for a Tiger team that doesn’t have the firepower to slow KU down both inside and outside.

It’ll be a good night for the Jayhawks, and they’ll ride strong performances by Preston, Azubuike, and Malik Newman to a season-opening victory.


Ryan Landreth

I’m a recent graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University. In addition to writing for Rock Chalk Blog, I host the Inside the Paint podcast that covers KU basketball, and I write for Royals Review in the summer. My grandma has had season tickets to Jayhawk basketball for 30 years, and I have the privilege of going to most games with her.