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SE Missouri has punch in post, problems on D
Team: SE Missouri
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Preseason Ranking: 229
• Shooting, inside and out: The Redhawks thrived last year at shooting both two-pointers and threes. SEMO ranked in the top 63 nationally in both categories, which included an impressive 37.4-percent accuracy from three (though the Redhawks didn't shoot from the outside often). SEMO's best-three-point shooter, Marland Smith, returns for his senior year after making 63 of 158 treys in 2012-13 (39.9 percent).
• Defensive rebounding: Six-foot-8 forward Tyler Stone ranked in the top 85 in defensive rebounding percentage a year ago, and teammate Nino Johnson has also turned additional playing time into production. The 6-8 sophomore Johnson had nine defensive rebounds in each of SEMO's first two exhibition games, giving the Redhawks two strong options on the defensive glass.
• Blocked shots: Stone was decent at blocking shots a year ago, rejecting 3.8 percent of his opponent's two-point shot attempts (308th nationally). Meanwhile, Johnson has excelled at this in the Redhawks' first two exhibition games, blocking three shots in each game. Teams shot just 46.3 percent from two-point range against SEMO a year ago, which was better interior defense than the NCAA average (47.8 percent).
• Forcing turnovers: This was Southeast Missouri's biggest weakness a year ago, as the Redhawks forced giveaways on just 15.9 percent of opponents' possessions (340th nationally out of 345 teams). SEMO hasn't shown signs of being much improved in that area, either, forcing just 14 turnovers per game against a pair of Div. II teams in exhibition play.
• Committing turnovers: SEMO was about NCAA average in this stat a year ago, but the two exhibition games should be reason for some concern. Junior-college transfer small forward A.J. Jones provided some scoring punch in exhibition play (15.5 points per game), but he also turned it over nine times in just 24 minutes. Also, starting guard Lucas Nutt had more turnovers (nine) than field-goal attempts (eight) in SEMO's two exhibitions. This should be a team that KU can get after defensively, especially on the perimeter.
• Free-throw shooting: Southeast Missouri was especially poor in this area a year ago, making just 62.6 percent of its freebies (321st nationally). In the preseason, SEMO mirrored that performance exactly, making 37 of 59 free throws (62.7 percent). Johnson is the biggest liability, as he made just 8 of 18 tries in the Redhawks' two exhibition games (44.4 percent).
3 Players to Watch
• Tyler Stone (No. 33) is the Redhawks' best returning player from a year ago. He displays a nice all-around game, as he's a good two-point shooter (54.3 percent) and excellent defensive rebounder that rarely turns the ball over. SEMO's offense will go through the 6-8 forward, who was a preseason All-Ohio Valley selection.
• Nino Johnson (No. 1) appears to be an emerging forward, taking the place of the graduated Leon Powell in the post. The 6-8 sophomore had a breakout game in SEMO's final exhibition win over Truman State, posting 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting with 15 rebounds, three blocks, three assists and just one turnover. He's someone KU will have to pay attention to on both the offensive and defensive boards.
• Marland Smith (No. 23) joins Stone as a preseason All-OVC selection. At 6-foot-2, 155 pounds, the senior is SEMO's most consistent three-point threat, ranking sixth in the OVC in three-point accuracy a year ago. Almost all of his threes were assisted last year (98 percent), so he appears to be primarily a spot-up shooter on the perimeter. He also doesn't turn the ball over often and was slightly above average from two-point range last season.
Southeast Missouri doesn't project out to be a very good defensive team, as Ken Pomeroy's preseason defensive efficiency ranking of 272nd suggests. The Redhawks fouled too often a year ago, and that's usually not a good characteristic to have when entering Allen Fieldhouse.
KU has some dangerous mid-major teams on the schedule, but this shouldn't be one of them. Be sure to pay attention to KU's turnovers, though. Though the Jayhawks were careless in a 62-50 exhibition victory over Washburn, there really is no reason to give the ball away Friday night against a Redhawks' team that should provide little to no defensive pressure.
Kansas 82, Southeast Missouri 60
Hawk to Rock
Perry Ellis will start in his first official game for KU, and this looks to be a matchup that suits him. The 6-8 freshman is one of KU's best players at getting to the free-throw line, and he shouldn't be overwhelmed by SEMO's size in the paint. I'll say Ellis leads KU in scoring in the opener while also going for a double-double.