Before every KU men’s basketball game, Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Friday’s game: No. 8 Kansas vs. St. John’s, 6 p.m. Central, UBS Arena, Elmont, New York
Opponent’s record: 5-1
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 55
Point spread: KU by 7.
All statistics are from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
• Transition offense: St. John’s ranks top 30 in both fastbreak opportunities and adjusted field-goal percentage on those attempts.
• Creating havoc: As you might expect from a Mike Anderson-coached team, the Red Storm is excellent at forcing turnovers (18th nationally) and creating steals (24th).
• Unselfishness: St. John’s has had assists on 67% of its field goals — the fourth-highest mark in Division I.
• Giveaways: St. John’s great assist numbers might come at a price; the team perhaps is overly pass-happy at times, ranking 241st in offensive turnover rate.
• Defensive rebounding: This has always been a stylistic choice for Anderson because of the gambling style he plays, but the Red Storm is susceptible on the defensive glass, where it’s 258th in D-board percentage.
• Competition played: St. John’s played a close game at Indiana, but outside of that, its schedule has been exceptionally light; KenPom ranks it right now as the fourth-weakest slate of any Division-I team.
PLAYER TO WATCH
6-foot-8 guard/forward Julian Champagnie (No. 2)
Plus: Projected as 46th pick in ESPN’s latest 2022 NBA mock draft
Plus: Efficient overall scorer who takes on substantial offensive role
Plus: Elite finisher at the rim in transition
Plus: Rarely turns it over
Plus: High-volume three-point shooter who has made 36% in career
Plus: Rarely in foul trouble
Minus: Synergy’s logs indicate he has struggled some defensively, especially getting out to spot-up shooters
Minus: Two-point numbers are significantly worse when he plays in half-court settings
When breaking this one down, you have to start with the press, with Synergy showing that St. John’s goes to that on 33% of its defensive possessions.
It’s so important to handle that well. As mentioned earlier, the Red Storm is lethal in transition, so any steals created often have the double-whammy effect, leading to an immediate score on the other end.
KU, though, seems well-equipped to handle this style. The Jayhawks have multiple reliable ball handlers on the roster, and while they haven’t faced full-court presses much this season, they’ve done well in those settings, scoring in the 91st percentile, according to Synergy.
St. John’s also could have some opposite problems offensively in the half-court. The Red Storm is prone to opponent steals and turnovers, and KU has already proven thus far to be one of the best transition offensive teams when it gets those chances.
Champagnie could be a problem for KU’s switching guards defensively, especially if smaller guys like Remy Martin or Dajuan Harris have to check him. As mentioned, though, Champagnie is most dangerous on fastbreaks, and his offensive repertoire hasn’t mixed in much isolation or post-ups this season, which would be how he’d best take advantage of his size against KU’s shorter backcourt.
One thing to note: The Jayhawks have blown big leads to allow three opponent backdoor covers in six games this season. Even playing well for most of the game, then, hasn’t always resulted in happy bettors afterward.
I still like this matchup for KU, though. I think the Jayhawks should withstand pressure just fine and will be better defensively after coach Bill Self challenged his guys this week.
I like the Jayhawks by double figures.
Kansas 81, St. John’s 70
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
HAWK TO ROCK
It makes sense to go with KU’s best transition player, so Ochai Agbaji is the pick. Martin and Harris will likely be doing the challenging work of getting it across half-court, but once they break pressure, someone has to take advantage by scoring too. That could easily be Agbaji, who should be set up for another great night offensively.
Last game prediction: Kansas 83, Iona 65 (Actual: KU 96-83) ❌
2021-22 record vs. spread: 2-4
Last eight seasons’ record vs. spread: 132-109-3 (55%)