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Is Belmont the toughest team left on KU's home schedule?

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Team: Belmont
Record: 7-2
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 23
(All KenPom stats/rankings current as of Friday, Dec. 14)

3 Strengths

Shooting: Belmont has been a great shooting team inside and out so far, posting the 15th-best effective shooting percentage in the country. Despite being undersized, the Bruins attempt a lot of layups/dunks, as 39 percent of their shots come from close range (NCAA average is 34 percent). Belmont has made 54.4 percent of its twos (27th nationally) and 38.5 percent of its threes (33rd nationally) this year.

Forcing turnovers: Led by senior guard Kerron Johnson (3.9 percent steal percentage, 158th nationally), Belmont's pressure defense has created turnovers at an impressive rate. Opponents have turned it over on 25.1 percent of their possessions against the Bruins, which ranks 25th nationally. Belmont coach Rick Byrd had success with a turnover-forcing team two years ago as well, as BU ranked second nationally with a 27.5 defensive turnover percentage.

Shot defense: Belmont is pretty balanced defensively, ranking in the top 70 nationally in both two-point and three-point percentage against. The Bruins also don't give up many layups/dunks (29 percent of shots against; NCAA average is 34 percent) while forcing teams into taking a high number of two-point jumpshots (37 percent; NCAA average is 33 percent).

3 Weaknesses

Defensive rebounding: Belmont plays an undersized lineup at the two post positions, where its top two rotations players are 6 foot 7. Though the Bruins still are an above-average offensive rebounding team, they've been completely crushed on the defensive boards with their lack of size. Opponents have grabbed 41.9 percent of their misses this year, which is the seventh-highest percentage allowed by any team this year.

Fouling too often: Opposing teams have gotten 25.6 percent of their points against Belmont from the foul line, which is the 27th-highest split in the country. The Bruins are allowing 23.9 free throws per game; for comparison, KU's opponents average 15.8 free throws per contest. In BU's only other game against a BCS foe this year, it surrendered 35 free throws in a 70-62 victory at Stanford.

Getting blocked: Belmont has had an unusually high number of shots blocked this year, as 12.1 percent of their twos have been rejected (288th-best nationally). Once again, Stanford gave BU the most issues, as the Cardinal blocked 10 shots, with eight of those coming from 6-foot-7 forward Josh Huestis.

3 Players to Watch

Senior Ian Clark (No. 21) has a legitimate claim for being the nation's best shooter this season. The 6-3 guard has made 56 percent of his threes this year while attempting more than seven per game (38 of 68). That trey shooting isn't a fluke, either, as he's shot over 40 percent from long range in each of his previous three seasons. Clark ranks second in the nation in effective shooting percentage and first in true shooting percentage (a stat that takes into account both field goals and free throws). The preseason All-Ohio Valley selection has made 22 of 37 twos (60 percent) and 12 of 16 free throws (75 percent) while hitching up more than a-fourth of Belmont's shots while he's on the floor.

• As mentioned above, senior Kerron Johnson (No. 3) thrives on the defensive end of the floor by leading Belmont in steal percentage. The consensus preseason All-OVC player is also involved in nearly every Belmont offensive possession, though that's not always a good thing. His strengths are passing (dishing out 32.7 percent of his team's assists when he's in, which is 83rd nationally) and getting to the free throw line (drawing 7 fouls per game, which is 38th nationally). He's only an average free throw shooter, though (68 percent), and has an extremely high turnover rate, giving it away on 24.8 percent of the possessions he ends. His 29 turnovers are 12 more than any other Bruin.

Junior forward Blake Jenkins (No. 2) isn't a ballhog, but when he does shoot it, look out. The 6-foot-7 native of Knoxville, Tenn., has put in 32 of 43 two-pointers (74 percent), with most of those coming from point-blank range. Jenkins has made 83 percent of his layup/dunk tries this year, and like Johnson, he's a threat to get to the free throw line, drawing 4.8 fouls per game. He's also a top-350 offensive rebounder and standout shot-blocker, rejecting 8.8 percent of opponents' two-pointers (74th nationally).

Prediction

Let's get this out of the way first: As of right now, KenPom gives Belmont the best chance of any team this season of knocking off the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse (23 percent).

At No. 23 in the KenPom rankings, Belmont ranks ahead of every Big 12 team not ranked Kansas. That includes Oklahoma State (No. 24), Kansas State (No. 25) and Baylor (No. 37).

Belmont might not have a scary name, but make no mistake: This is a good basketball team.

There are also reasons to think Belmont could give KU real troubles:

1. Belmont plays undersized. KU hasn't always matched up well with these sorts of teams in the last two seasons, as this forces center Jeff Withey (and KU's other bigs) to the perimeter to help often on ball screens and shooters. This has often led to open perimeter shots for KU's opponents.

2. Belmont shoots a lot of threes. If you look, 39.5 percent of Belmont's field-goal attempts have been threes, which is the 53rd-highest split nationally. As an underdog, Belmont taking a lot of threes is advantageous, as a good shooting day can make up for a lot of other flaws over the course of a single game.

3. Belmont is experienced. The Bruins' top seven rotation players are all juniors or seniors, as BU ranks 24th in KenPom's "Experience" ranking. The Bruins also have made the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons.

It also might not help that KU's main focus this week wasn't basketball because of finals.

The biggest key for KU will be offensive rebounding. It absolutely has to dominate that facet against a team that hasn't been able to keep teams off the glass.

I'm thinking this KU-Belmont game could have a similar feel to this game from 2010, which had lots of threes by an experienced opponent that took an early lead before a late KU rally.

I'll take the Jayhawks. Just barely, though.

Kansas 71, Belmont 69

Hawk to Rock

This will be a game where KU needs: 1. Offensive rebounding; 2. Energy; 3. A quicker post player to keep up with smaller guys defensively; and 4. More offensive rebounding.

KU has exactly that player. It's 6-8 senior Kevin Young, who should be in line for a big game against the Bruins.

Give me a double-double for Young (it would be his first at KU) along with a clutch play in the final minutes to help KU secure a win.

Predictions tally
8-0 record, 100 points off (12.5 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Average: 4.4th in KUsports.com ratings

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