Quick Scout: How these Kentucky Wildcats are different from other John Calipari teams

·4 min read

Before every KU men’s basketball game, Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.

Saturday’s game: No. 12 Kentucky at No. 5 Kansas, 5 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence

TV/Streaming: ESPN

Opponent’s record: 16-4

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 7

Point spread: Kansas by 5.

All statistics are from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.

3 STRENGTHS

• Rebounding ... both ends: Kentucky not only is the nation’s top team in offensive rebounding rate, but it’s also 11th in D-board percentage too.

• Running offensively: The Wildcats thrive on fastbreaks, ranking 20th in transition frequency and 72nd in adjusted shooting percentage on those attempts.

• Foul avoidance: Coach John Calipari’s team mostly plays defense without whistles, ranking 48th in defensive free-throw rate with only one foul-out in 20 games this season.

3 WEAKNESSES

• Three-point frequency: Kentucky hardly ever shoots threes; it ranks 344th in three-point rate while getting 62% of its total points from twos (fifth-highest split nationally).

• Transition defense: The Wildcats allow an above-average number of fastbreak attempts to opponents while ranking 99th in adjusted shooting percentage against in those situations.

• Creating contact: This is easily Calipari’s worst team in his 13 seasons when it comes to getting to the line; Kentucky is 306th in offensive free-throw rate, with the team’s guards especially lacking in freebie attempts.

PLAYER TO WATCH

6-foot-9 forward Oscar Tshiebwe (No. 34)

Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe.
Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe.

Plus: Ranked No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s national player of the year rankings

Plus: Has posted nation’s second-best offensive rebounding rate (behind only KU’s David McCormack)

Plus: KU coach Bill Self calls Tschiebwe “the best rebounder in the country, hands down”

Plus: Had 17 points and 17 rebounds vs. KU as a freshman for West Virginia in loss at Allen Fieldhouse

Plus: Outstanding finisher at the rim

Plus: Gets to foul line above-average amount and is 70% career shooter there

Minus: Will not shoot threes; has attempted none in career

Minus: Not much of a passer with six combined assists in eight SEC games

PREDICTION

Start with the unknown: Kentucky could be without rotation players TyTy Washington, Jacob Toppin and Daimion Collins because of injury. Calipari said those three had not practiced this week as of Friday, which leaves their statuses in question.

Washington — the dynamic freshman guard that KU also recruited — would be the most significant loss for Kentucky, as he’s an efficient scorer and one of the Wildcats’ most willing outside shooters on a team that generally shies away from those attempts.

KU, meanwhile, has been mired in a weird stretch. The Jayhawks are doing enough to win but aren’t playing particularly well, especially when holding or extending late leads.

The proof: KU has won its last three games but failed to cover in each, meaning it continues to pad its résumé while falling in advanced rankings; those numbers indicate the Jayhawks are playing worse at this moment than they were earlier in the season.

Allen Fieldhouse should be juiced, though, and KU finally was able to get a few days of rest after defeating Texas Tech in double-overtime Monday. The Jayhawks also should find some transition opportunities Saturday, and their defensive rebounding has shown signs of improvement in the last two games as McCormack and Jalen Wilson have gotten more time together.

It feels like KU is better than it has shown lately and is due for a game where it closes better than recent contests against Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

The crystal ball has been off most of this season, as you can see from the against-the-spread record below, but the more I examine this one, the more I like KU to pull away.

Give me the Jayhawks for the win and cover.

Kansas 78, Kentucky 69

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

HAWK TO ROCK

If Toppin doesn’t play, this becomes an even better matchup for KU’s Jalen Wilson. Kentucky’s other 4-man Keion Brooks has had some issues defensively, and Wilson has looked much better recently with both his drives and spot-up shooting. I’ll say Wilson leads the Jayhawks in scoring Saturday.

Last game prediction: Kansas 77, Texas Tech 66 (Actual: KU 94-91, 2OT) ❌

2021-22 record vs. spread: 6-13

Last eight seasons’ record vs. spread: 136-118-3 (54%)

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