SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Adam Woodard talks with college basketball insiders Lindsay Schnell and Scott Gleeson for insight on the upcoming season.
USA TODAY Sports
CHICAGO — Breaking down No. 3 Kansas’ 65-61 win over No. 4 Kentucky on Tuesday in the Champions Classic.
The difference maker
Despite a cold shooting performance from its typically potent perimeter players, ultimately Kansas’ experience outmatched Kentucky’s youth and athleticism.
But it wasn’t easy. Whether the Jayhawks’ 29% three-point shooting night was a credit to the Wildcats’ length and defensive tenacity or simply a sloppy early season performance, it brought KU’s high-octane offense down to earth and allowed Kentucky to keep it uncomfortably close while showing waves of potential in the process.
“It was a great grind out win,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after the game.
What we learned about Kansas
Consider if starters Devonte’ Graham (3-for-14), Malik Newman (4-for-14), Lagerald Vick (4-for-13) and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (7-for-18) shot at normal shooting percentages. This sloppily close game would’ve been a blowout, as many experts forecasted. That’s not a knock to a Kentucky team that could be better than KU in March. But it’s more so an illustration of how perimeter-oriented Kansas will be this season. There’s ample talent for another Big 12 regular season title here, but the live-or-die by the three style doesn’t always bode well in the NCAAs — where the Jayhawks are trying to break a streak of back-to-back Elite Eight losses to get back to the Final Four.
Graham, a preseason first-team All-American, is the key for this team, as he has national player of the year potential similar to Frank Mason last season. It didn’t show Tuesday night, but when he’s making those shots and Kansas’ ball-pick offense is free-flowing, it’s a pretty sight. Instead we saw a stagnant halfcourt offense for most of the night.
Self only goes seven-deep, but there were some positives that helped his team pick up a W when the guards weren’t hitting. The biggest is 7-footer Udoka Azubuike (13 points, 8 rebounds), who gives the Jayhawks a backbone they desperately need with his interior muscle pounding the glass.
What we learned about Kentucky
The Wildcats looked raw and inexperienced at first — as expected. But they also showed flashes of brilliance in the form of Hamidou Diallo (14 points) highlight reels and Kevin Knox (20 points) three-point shooting. For a roster full of players still adjusting to the college level and developing its team chemistry, Kentucky gave fans a taste of the type of team it can become come March, and that’s a dangerous one. Coach John Calipari has a lot of nice weapons, but like many years before, it’s the process of putting those one-and-done pieces together that will make or break a season.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE CHAMPIONS CLASSIC