With Kansas coming to Rupp Arena to play UK on Saturday, five things to know about the Jayhawks:
1. Josh Jackson is the real deal
Yes, Kansas guard Frank Mason is in the thick of Player of the Year discussions, but freshman Josh Jackson is the most talented and dangerous Jayhawk.
“Their freshman is as good as any of our freshmen,” said UK coach John Calipari on Friday.
Jackson was ranked as the No. 1 prospect for the Class of 2016 by Rivals. Currently No. 4 in the latest Draft Express mock 2017 NBA draft, the 6-foot-8 guard/forward from Detroit is averaging 15.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 49.4 percent from the floor and has made 15 of 47 three-point shots.
Jackson tied his career-high with 22 points in Kansas’ 85-69 loss at West Virginia on Tuesday night. He also scored 22 points against UAB and Kansas State earlier in the season. He picked up his fourth double-double of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds in KU’s win at Oklahoma State. His other three: 15 and 11 vs. Georgia; 19 and 12 vs UMKC; 17 and 10 versus Texas Tech.
“I mean we just wrote ‘dog’ next to his name because that’s what he is in scout,” Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said after his team’s loss to the Jayhawks. “Josh’s stuff is legendary. I mean, he stood out in the AAU circuit – and I’m probably ashamed because of our culture today – he stood out because he played hard. I mean, he’s talented, but he plays hard. He’s motored up.”
2. Jayhawks have that modern-day rarity -- veteran guards
As previously mentioned, Mason is a POY candidate, plus he’s that unique entity in college basketball today. He’s a senior POY candidate. After being held to 15 points by West Virginia, Mason is still leading the Big 12 in scoring at 19.9 points per game. He’s also averaging five assists per game.
Mason scored 30 points against both Indiana and UMKC. He’s making a ridiculous 52.8 percent of his three-pointers on the year, hitting 47 of 89. Not bad for someone who, coming out of Petersburg, Virginia, originally committed to Towson State before signing with the Jayhawks.
But then his running mate Devonte Graham committed to Appalachian State before ending up in Lawrence. Now, as a junior, Graham is averaging 13.7 points and 4.7 assists per year. Graham has scored 56 points in Kansas’ last three games.
3. Kansas is thin in the front court
First there was the wrist injury to Udoka Azubuike, the Jayhawks’ talented 7-foot freshman center – Bill Self says Azubuike has a chance to be the second-best center he’s coached behind Joel Embiid – that shelved Azubuike for the season after 11 games.
Then came Thursday’s announcement that 6-10 sophomore Carlton Bragg has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. True, the McDonald’s All-American has disappointed on the floor since arriving in Lawrence, but he was averaging 15 minutes per game.
That means Mitch Lightfoot and Dwight Coleby could see playing time Saturday. Lightfoot is a 6-8 freshman averaging 1.1 points in 4.3 minutes per game. You may remember Coleby from Ole Miss before he transferred to Kansas. Unfortunately, the 6-9 junior suffered a knee injury while sitting out last season and is averaging just 1.1 points in 4.3 minutes per game.
The lack of size and depth on the interior has hurt the Jayhawks. According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, Kansas is currently 41st in the nation in defensive efficiency. It ranked in the top five two of the last three years – third in 2014-15; fifth in 2012-13.
4. Kansas has a hard time at the foul line
The Jayhawks made just six of 15 free throws in Morgantown on Tuesday, which actually was not too far off how Self’s team has performed at the foul line this season.
Kansas is sixth in the nation in three-point field goal percentage at 41.8. Yet the Jayhawks are making just 63.2 percent of their free throws, a percentage that currently ranks 330th out of the 347 Division I teams.
Despite shooting nearly 50 percent from three-point range, Jackson is making just 55.8 percent of his free throws. Graham is at 69.8 percent. Svi Mykhailiuk is at 65.2 percent. Lagerald Vick is shooting 90.5 percent but has taken just 21 free throws on the season, making 19.
Mason has been the most consistent. The senior is shooting 73.7 percent from the foul line, but he hasn’t made it there much in recent games. He’s just one-for-three over his last three games and did not shoot a free throw at West Virginia.
5. This is an important game for Kansas, too
While there is speculation that Kentucky needs a win over the Jayhawks to be in the running for a No. 1 seed come NCAA Tournament time, Kansas could used a win Saturday, as well.
After a season-opening 103-99 overtime loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu, Kansas reeled off 17 straight victories. Several of those wins were close wins. The Jayhawks beat Duke 77-75; TCU 86-80; Kansas State 90-88 on a controversial layup at the end of the game; Iowa State 76-72.
Tuesday’s trip to West Virginia was the first of a stretch when the Jayhawks play three straight ranked teams – No. 18 West Virginia; No. 4 Kentucky and No. 5 Baylor.
The WVU game didn’t go so well. Actually, KU was within three points 64-61 after a Josh Jackson dunk with 7:16 left before Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers outscored the visitors 21-8 the rest of the way.
Then after the trip to Lexington, Kansas returns home Wednesday night to face Baylor, who is tied with the Jayhawks atop the Big 12 standings at 7-1.
Remember, Kansas has won outright or tied for the Big 12 title in each of the last 12 years. Wednesday’s game is a big game for Rock Chalk Jayhawk. But then so is Saturday’s game.
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