Mark Story

How Kentucky and Kansas match up — with a game prediction

John Calipari is in mid-season form

Kentucky Coach John Calipari goes through gyrations and noises to demonstrate how his guards need to play better defense. UK plays Kansas in Chicago Tuesday night.
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Kentucky Coach John Calipari goes through gyrations and noises to demonstrate how his guards need to play better defense. UK plays Kansas in Chicago Tuesday night.

How No. 7 Kentucky (2-0) and No. 4 Kansas (1-0) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Small forward

▪  Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox hit a clutch three-pointer late in UK’s narrow 73-69 escape against Vermont on Sunday. Expected to emerge as Kentucky’s go-to scorer, the 6-foot-9, 215-pound Tampa product (11.5 ppg) has struggled with his shot (6-for-23 field goals, 2-for-8 three-pointers) in the Wildcats’ first two games. Knox has done a good job rebounding (7.0), however.

▪  A 6-5, 175-pound junior from Memphis, Lagerald Vick was part of a four-guard lineup Kansas started in its season-opening 92-56 demolition of Tennessee State. Vick played well, too, hitting eight of 12 shots and four of seven treys en route to 23 points. A season ago, Vick averaged 7.4 points and 3.5 rebounds as a key reserve for Bill Self’s Jayhawks. Vick had two points and three rebounds in KU’s 79-73 win over UK in Rupp Arena on Jan. 28.

Advantage: Kansas

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Kentucky forward Kevin Knox is off to slow start with his shooting (6-of-23 field goals made) through two games. Mark Mahan

Power forward

▪  After PJ Washington struggled (five points, three rebounds, two assists, four turnovers) in Kentucky’s 73-63 season-opening win over Utah Valley, the 6-7, 236-pound freshman came back strong against Vermont. The Dallas product produced a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. If the game is close, Washington’s foul shooting (6-for-13) bears watching.

▪  Offensively skilled at 6-8, 215 pounds, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has never quite produced at the level of his perceived talent. Last season, Mykhailiuk averaged 9.8 points and 3.0 reobunds and is best remembered for his mad dash to a game-winning layup in the Jayhawks’ 90-88 home victory over archrival Kansas State. In Kansas’ win over Kentucky in Rupp, the Ukraine product had eight points, two rebounds and one assist in 28 minutes. In the blowout of Tennessee State, Mykhailiuk hit six of 11 field goals, three of six treys and scored 15 points.

Advantage: Kansas

Center

▪  Kentucky freshman Nick Richards was productive (10 points on 4-for-7 shooting, three rebounds, three blocks, a steal) in the win over Utah Valley. The 6-11, 240-pound product of Kingston, Jamaica, was less of a factor in the victory over Vermont, with two points and four rebounds. Effective minutes from Richards against Kansas figure to be important because UK will need his length to contest the Jayhawks’ mammoth center.

▪  Seven-footer Udoka Azubuike missed KU’s win over UK last season due to the torn ligaments in his left wrist that sidelined him for the year after 11 games. A 280-pound sophomore, Azubuike started six games last season as a freshman and averaged 5.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. A native of Delta, Nigeria, he had 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting, six rebounds and two blocked shots in the win over Tennessee State.

Advantage: Kansas

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At 7-foot, 280 pounds, Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, dunking, will be a challenge for the youthful Kentucky front line. Rich Sugg The Kansas City Star

Shooting guard

▪  Hamidou Diallo is Kentucky’s most experienced starter by virtue of enrolling at UK at midseason last year and sitting out the second semester as a redshirt. The 6-5, 198-pounder is off to a strong start through two games, leading UK in scoring (17.0). An explosive athlete, Diallo has been considered by recruiting analysts to have a questionable jump shot. So far, however, the Queens, N.Y., product is hitting 48.3 percent (14-for-29) from the field is and 3-for-6 on treys.

▪  Kansas freshman Marcus Garrett was a surprise starter over heralded Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman in the Jayhawks’ opener. A 6-5, 180-pound product of Dallas, Garrett played well, going for a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) while also adding two assists and two steals. Garrett entered college with a reputation for being versatile enough to play every position on the court other than center.

Advantage: Kentucky

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Despite preseason questions about his shooting, Kentucky guard Hamidou Diallo (3) has made 14 of 29 field goals in UK’s first two games. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Point guard

▪  Kentucky has started true freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Utah Valley) and Quade Green (Vermont) one game each at the point. Each played well in the game they started. A 6-6, 180-pound product of Hamilton, Canada, Gilgeous-Alexander had 13 points, three rebounds and four assists in the season opener. In game two, Green got the start and scored 15 points with four assists vs. only one turnover in the tight win over Vermont. It will be interesting to see which of the two John Calipari tabs to start vs. KU.

▪  After serving as the sidekick to Kansas star Frank Mason III last year, senior Devonte’ Graham is expected to be the man in the KU backcourt in 2017-18. Last season, the 6-2, 185-pound product of Raleigh, N.C., averaged 13.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.5 steals. Graham had 10 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds vs. Tennessee State. In KU’s win over UK in January, Graham had 12 points and seven rebounds but turned the ball over five times.

Advantage: Kansas

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With Frank Mason III in the NBA, Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham is now the main man in the Kansas backcourt. Rich Sugg The Kansas City Star

Bench

▪  Kentucky depth is thinned by injuries to freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) and frosh guard Jemarl Baker (knee). UK has played the same eight players in each of its first two games. Sophomore forwards Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones have each had a good moment. Gabriel, a 6-9, 205-pound product of Manchester, N.H., had 13 rebounds vs. Utah Valley. Killeya-Jones, a 6-10 product of Chapel Hill, N.C., had six points and four rebounds against Vermont and played with energy. At 6-10, 250 pounds, redshirt sophomore Tai Wynyard could see his first action against Kansas to help the Cats try to combat the bulk of Azubuike.

▪  Two players projected to start for Kansas in the preseason did not hear their names called when lineups were announced vs. Tennessee State. Shooting guard Malik Newman came off the bench and hit five of eight shots to score 12 points but also had four turnovers. Two seasons ago, the 6-3, 190-pound Newman averaged 11.3 points at Mississippi State but shot only 39.1 percent. Billy Preston, a 6-10, 240-pound freshman, was a five-star recruit. However, Preston was suspended for KU’s opener for missing curfew and class. Mitch Lightfoot, a 6-8 sophomore forward, had six points and five boards vs. TSU.

Advantage: Kentucky

Through two games, Kentucky sophomore Sacha Killeya-Jones looks much improved. Why?

Intangibles

Kentucky and Kansas are the two winningest programs in men’s college basketball history with UK (2,239 wins) 21 victories ahead of KU (2,218). John Calipari and Bill Self will forever be linked in basketball history, having split two NCAA championship games. In 2008, Kansas and Self rallied late to force overtime against Calipari and Memphis and went on to win 75-68. Four years later, Caliapari and Kentucky got the upper hand, holding off Self and Kansas 67-59. Kentucky leads the all-time series with Kansas 22-8, but Self is 5-3 vs. the Cats as Kansas head man.

Advantage: Even

Prediction

Kansas 75, Kentucky 71

After win over Vermont, Kentucky’s players talked about Tuesday’s game against Kansas in the Champions Classic in Chicago.

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