The easiest stretch of the season for the Kansas Jayhawks (8-1) comes to a close this Saturday afternoon when they host the UMKC Roos (5-6) at the Sprint Center.
KU has pulled off several blowout victories so far this year and, frankly, should have another one this weekend. Sprint Center games aren’t always the cleanest for the Jayhawks, but this Kansas team is playing especially good basketball right now and UMKC isn’t much of a threat.
The Jayhawks have done what you would expect from one of the best teams in the country, recently: blown out weak teams without any doubt. The wins over the worst teams on the KU schedule have all been lopsided, which is generally a positive sign for good teams. Arguably the best player for Kansas in the last two games, at least offensively, has been sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji. In wins over Colorado and Milwaukee Agbaji averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds per game, while bringing a much-needed shooting touch as well. He shot 9-of-14 from three-point range in those two games.
While he’s broken out over the last week, senior center Udoka Azubuike and sophomore guard Devon Dotson remain the offensive stalwarts for the Jayhawks. Azubuike still hasn’t faced a genuine challenge down low all season, and when surround by four guards has had plenty of space to dominate smaller opponents. Dotson, meanwhile, leads KU with 19.8 points per game for the year and is shooting nearly 50% from the floor. ESPN’s John Gasaway named Azubuike and Dotson the fourth and 10th-best players in the country through one month of the season, respectively.
According to KenPom, Kansas City is actually worse than Milwaukee, who Kansas just trounced earlier this week in Lawrence. The Roos are 5-6 overall this season, but two of those five wins have come against NAIA teams. In those two games, UMKC is averaging 106.5 points per game while allowing just 43.5. Against Division I opponents, however, UMKC is scoring just 62.2 points per game while allowing 70.2. That also includes a pair of losses to Big 12 teams already, to Oklahoma State and Iowa State.
Senior forward Javan White has been UMKC’s most productive player through 11 games, averaging team highs in points (12) and rebounds (7.5). In fact, he’s the only Roo averaging double figures in scoring so far this year. Coach Billy Donlon does have a deep group, though, with 10 players averaging at least 11 minutes played per contest, capped by junior guard Rob Whitfield’s 26-minute average.
Who’s next? Specifically, which player is next to break out and get into an offensive groove? Agbaji needed to regain confidence and show some consistency to go along with his omnipresent athleticism, and he’s done that lately. If Kansas can get yet another player to be a consistently reliable option offensively it becomes even more difficult to stop the team that currently has KenPom’s 13th-ranked offense. Junior guard Marcus Garrett is the top candidate, given that he’s already shown a better scoring touch this season, but freshman guard/forward Tristan Enaruna could use a big game as well. He’s cooled down a bit since a hot start to the season, but a highlight performance would make him a more comfortable scoring threat off the bench.
Can they slow down KU’s three-point shooting? The Jayhawks don’t shoot the three often, but in the last few games they’ve been effective from deep anyway (largely thanks to Agbaji). Three-point defense is one of the Roos’ strengths, though, just outside the top third of the country (120 out of 353) in three-point percentage allowed (31.2%). Granted, less success beyond the arc probably means KU will be attacking UMKC down low with Azubuike more, but Kansas City desperately needs to take advantage of any possible edge it can get.
Azubuike. UMKC’s two tallest players are 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-8, and neither has the girth that Azubuike has in terms of body size. Like he has in most games so far this year, expect Azubuike to be a bully down low and control the game for the Jayhawks.
White. Statistically speaking, White is the only notable player the Roos have right now. He’s also their tallest player, meaning he’ll be matched up with Azubuike constantly. If UMKC wants to make it a game for any period of time, White needs to play phenomenally.
Don’t call it a comeback, but we’ve finally hit on a couple picks in the last two games. Self spoke earlier this week about how poor KU’s energy is for regular season games at the Sprint Center, but UMKC is even worse than Milwaukee, so the Jayhawks shouldn’t have many troubles in this one. We’re expecting another blowout win.