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Oregon State a team built on getting (and making) layups

Oregon State's Roberto Nelson (55) celebrates with teammates Ahmad Starks (3) and Jarmal Reid (32) during the first half of their game against Purdue in the consolation round of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, in New York. Oregon State beat Purdue, 66-58.

Oregon State's Roberto Nelson (55) celebrates with teammates Ahmad Starks (3) and Jarmal Reid (32) during the first half of their game against Purdue in the consolation round of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, in New York. Oregon State beat Purdue, 66-58.

Team: Oregon State
Record: 4-1
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 62

3 Strengths

Interior defense: Oregon State boasts the 18th-tallest team according to KenPom's effective height stat, which ranks a team's average height of the center and power forward positions. Perhaps not surprisingly, it's been tough for opponents to score inside against the Beavers. Teams have made just 38 percent of their twos against OSU this year, which ranks 12th nationally. According to Hoop-Math.com, Oregon State's opponents have made just 44 percent of their layups this year (NCAA average last year was 61 percent on layups).

Shooting: Oregon State has been well above NCAA averages for both three-point shooting (36.2 percent) and two-point shooting (51.7 percent) so far this season. Part of the reason for the inside success is getting good shots, as according to Hoop-Math, a whopping 48 percent of the Beavers' shot have been layups this year (34 percent is NCAA average).

Offensive rebounding: The Beavers' size also has translated to success on the offensive glass, where it's grabbed 38.9 percent of its misses this year (43rd nationally). This deviates from a typical Craig Robinson-coached team, as in his seven years with the school, OSU has never posted an offensive rebounding percentage above 33.6 percent. Oregon State was especially dominant on the offensive boards in a 66-58 win over Purdue on Nov. 16, grabbing more offensive rebounds (19) than Purdue had defensive rebounds (18).

3 Weaknesses

Turnovers — on both ends: Oregon State has especially struggled defensively, forcing turnovers on just 15.3 percent of its opponents' possessions (334th nationally). Though OSU is a fast-paced team, it has created just 28 turnovers combined in its last three games against Alabama, Purdue and Montana State. The Beavers also have giveaway problems offensively, turning it over on 22.4 percent of their possessions (235th nationally).

Defensive rebounding: OSU's great size hasn't always translated to success on the defensive glass, as opponents have been able to pick off 33.8 percent of their missed shots (ranking OSU 208th nationally). The Beavers' last two opponents both have come away with at least 38 percent of the available offensive rebounds, with Purdue grabbing 18 and Montana State tracking down 20.

Depth: OSU's non-starters play just 26.8 percent of the minutes, which ranks 267th nationally. The Beavers have just seven players that average 10 or more minutes per game, with six of those players averaging 24 minutes or more. OSU has done a good job at avoiding foul trouble this year (just one foulout), but the short bench is something to be aware of, especially in a semi-home game for KU.

3 Players to Watch

• Six-foot-8 forward Devon Collier (No. 44) has been OSU's best all-around player this year (though strangely, he doesn't start). He's especially gifted at getting to the free throw line, drawing 8.3 fouls per game (13th nationally) while shooting almost as many free throws (37) as field goals (39). The junior from St. Anthony High School in Bronx, N.Y., is a solid free throw shooter (73 percent) and two-point shooter (54 percent) and also posts top-300 numbers in offensive rebounding and shot-blocking.

• Six-foot-7 forward Joe Burton (No. 11) will be hard to miss when he's out there because of his size (295 pounds). The senior has shown a great ability to get to the rim this year, as 34 of his 42 two-point attempts have been layups, according to Hoop-Math. Burton doesn't miss those shots either, making 68 percent of his layup attempts to help boost him into the country's top 200 in effective field-goal percentage. Burton is an interesting player in that he's a good offensive rebounder but not a great defensive rebounder; also, he boasts the best assist rate of the team's regulars, but also is extremely turnover prone, with a team-high 17 giveaways this year.

• Six-foot-10 forward Eric Moreland (No. 15) appears to be a guy that Robinson should be begging to be more aggressive. The sophomore's numbers are outstanding across the board, especially on the glass, where he grabs 22.1 percent of the available defensive rebounds (156th nationally) and 11.8 percent of the available offensive rebounds (225th nationally). He's also posted an outstanding two-point shooting percentage, making 16 of 26 twos (61.5 percent), and is a great shot-blocker, rejecting 7.5 percent of opponents' twos (107th nationally) The problem for Moreland is he's incredibly passive on the offensive end, shooting just 13.4 percent of his team's shots this year. A person that shoots that little can often turn into a liability for his teammates, as opposing teams are able to focus more of their attention on other players.

Prediction

At first glance, this seems to be a bad matchup for Oregon State, which gets 57 percent of its scoring from two-pointers (84th nationally).

While the Beavers have done a great job of avoiding blocked shots so far, they haven't taken on a center with defensive skills like Jeff Withey yet. Having a few big guys in might help divert Withey's attention a bit, but the point still remains that OSU's best source of offense (inside game) is facing the nation's third-best two-point defense and the nation's best shot-blocker.

The reason it's hard to make predictions for KU, though, is that we don't have much of an idea of which offense will show up from minute to minute, much less game to game.

OSU also will offer some challenges with its size inside, but the big number for KU will be turnovers. The Beavers can hang in and win this game if the Jayhawks have unforced giveaways against a team that should provide little-to-no defensive pressure.

Though I'm on a cold streak with score predictions, I'll go with a comfortable KU victory in a defensive struggle at Sprint.

Kansas 71, Oregon State 58

Hawk to Rock

Jeff Withey is the easy pick against Oregon State, which has had a lot of success getting layups this year. I'm sure the Beavers have seen plenty of film of the senior's 12-block performance against San Jose State on Monday, but with the volume of shots Withey's going to see inside, it's hard for me to see how he will end up with fewer than seven blocks in Friday night's game. OSU's best bet might be to see if Collier can attack him to draw a couple of early fouls, but if that doesn't happen, Withey should be in line for a big night.

Predictions tally
6-0 record, 73 points off (12.2 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)
Average: 4.8th in KUsports.com ratings

Reply

San Jose State features good size, a go-to guy and a really bad free throw shooter

Team: San Jose State
Record: 2-2
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 270

(Note: All team statistics are from KenPom and do not include San Jose State's win over Div. III UC-Santa Cruz unless otherwise noted.)

3 Strengths

Defensive rebounding: This has been the biggest strength of San Jose State so far, as the Spartans have grabbed 76 percent of the available defensive rebounds this year (11th nationally). The Spartans actually do have good size for a mid-major, which includes six-foot-11 Alex Brown and 6-9 Chris Cunningham on the front line. SJSU ranks 36th nationally in KenPom's "effective height" measure, which ranks a team's average height of the center and power forward positions (Pomeroy has found it is more vital — especially defensively — to have height at those two positions compared to the other spots on the floor).

Three-point prevention: Much like Saint Louis, San Jose State has done a great job of preventing opponents' three-point shots. Just 18.8 percent of the field goals against SJSU in D-I games have been threes this year, which ranks second nationally (Saint Louis is third). D-I opponents have made 36.4 percent of their threes against the Spartans, which means teams still have been able to make a few of the rare perimeter tries they get.

Three-point shooting: This might be a small sample size, but the Spartans have shown the ability to shoot it from deep this year. Though SJSU doesn't shoot many threes (averaging 14.5 per game through four contests), it has made 43.1 percent of them (25 of 58). Guard D.J. Brown has helped that percentage the most, making 9 of 14 threes (64.3 percent) this year.

3 Weaknesses

Turnovers: Though George Nessman's SJSU teams traditionally have been great at protecting the basketball (San Jose State ranked in the top 13 in turnover percentage in each of the last two years), this team has been careless against weak competition early. The Spartans have turned it over on 22.1 percent of their possessions against D-I competition (21.1 percent in NCAA average), and that's especially troubling when SJSU hasn't exactly been playing defensive juggernauts in New Orleans (337th in KenPom rankings), Houston (200th) and Weber State (196th).

Fouling too often: San Jose State has surrendered 20 free throws per game through four contests, which includes three home dates. Three of SJSU's rotation players also average more than six fouls per 40 minutes, meaning there's a good possibility for at least one foulout in Monday night's game (along with quite a few free throws for KU).

Forcing turnovers: SJSU has not been above NCAA average in forcing turnovers in any of Nessman's eight years with the school. This season hasn't been any different so far, as the Spartans have created turnovers on 20.3 percent of opponents' possessions (198th nationally) despite going against below-average NCAA teams.

3 Players to Watch

• Six-foot-2 guard James Kinney (No. 33) is the go-to guy and then some for SJSU. He has taken 37.7 percent of his team's shots this year, which ranks seventh nationally. He's actually been somewhat productive in that role, making 53 percent of his twos while turning it over at an acceptable rate for as much as he handles it. He's also not likely to foul (1.8 fouls per 40 minutes) and is the Spartans' best perimeter defender (4.5 percent steal percentage, 125th nationally).

• Six-foot-9 forward Chris Cunningham (No. 15) has been a welcome addition after transferring in from Santa Clara. Not only is he an elite defensive rebounder (grabbing 28.9 percent of the available defensive boards, which ranks 15th nationally), but he's also given the Spartans an offensive boost inside. So far this year, he's made 22 of 32 twos (68.8 percent), which puts him in the top 40 in effective field-goal percentage.

• The good news for 6-11 forward Alex Brown (No. 44) is that he does a great job of getting to the free throw line. The bad news is that he's truly awful when he gets there. The junior has made just two of 16 free throw attempts this year (12.5 percent), a percentage that is pretty astounding when you think about it. Brown's size still has given SJSU a nice lift defensively, as he blocks 8.9 percent of opponents' two-pointers while he's in (74th nationally) while coming away with a decent number of rebounds.

Prediction

This game could end up being a bit of basketball culture shock for SJSU. The Spartans haven't played an above-average D-I opponent yet this year and are coming to Allen Fieldhouse following a 40-point home win over a Div. III team.

The Spartans addressed one of their glaring weaknesses by bringing in more size this year, and the combination of Alex Brown and Cunningham could make it difficult on KU's bigs offensively if they are able to avoid foul trouble.

Still, this doesn't look like a game that should be close, especially if KU can force turnovers and get transition points against an SJSU team that hasn't taken care of it well so far this season.

Kansas 85, San Jose State 56

Hawk to Rock

This looks like another game where Travis Releford could thrive. The reigning Big 12 player of the week will most likely be matched up on Kinney defensively, so pay close attention to the matchup on that end. The senior should also get some opportunities in transition, where he's been one of KU's best players, making 65 percent of his shots at the rim this season. Mark me down for double-figure points, three steals and solid, on-ball defense from Releford.

Predictions tally
5-0 record, 57 points off (11.4 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)
Average: 5.4th in KUsports.com ratings

Reply

Saint Louis a scary opponent for KU

Saint Louis players Dwayne Evans, left, and Mike McCall Jr. slap hands during a run by the Billikens in the second half of the CBE Classic, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Saint Louis players Dwayne Evans, left, and Mike McCall Jr. slap hands during a run by the Billikens in the second half of the CBE Classic, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Team: Saint Louis
Record: 2-1
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 35

3 Strengths

Defense ... all of it: Former coach Rick Majerus turned his team into a defensive force a year ago, as the Billikens ranked 10th nationally in KenPom's overall defensive measure (adjusted defensive efficiency). Saint Louis hasn't forgotten its principles under new coach Jim Crews, ranking in the top 60 so far in forcing turnovers (58th), defensive rebounding (15th) and defensive free-throw rate, which measures how often an opposing team goes to the line compared to its field-goal attempts (27th).

Restricting three-point shots: Ken Pomeroy has blogged recently about the best three-point defense not being one that keeps an opposing team's percentage down, but one that limits an opponent's three-point shots altogether. Because three-point percentages can vary so much from game to game due to chance, one way to play more consistent defense, Pomeroy believes, is to limit three-point shots, thus limiting a team's chances at hitting the lottery on a certain night.

Majerus had this same way of thinking when he was with Saint Louis, and it's evident by the way SLU plays. Only 19.9 percent of opponents' shots taken against the Billikens this year have been threes, which is the fifth-lowest split nationally. In three games, opponents have attempted just 29 three-pointers against SLU. Don't expect the Jayhawks to get many open looks from the perimeter Tuesday night.

Free throws: Saint Louis thrives at getting to the free throw line, averaging 23 freebies per game in the early season. Forwards Cody Ellis and Dwayne Evans have been the leaders at drawing contact this year, with Ellis putting up 20 free throws compared to 25 field goal attempts, and Evans having nearly identical numbers (25 FGS attempted; 21 FTs attempted).

SLU also has been a good free throw shooting team the last two years, making 71.9 percent of its shots from the line a year ago and 77.1 percent this year (36th nationally).

3 Weaknesses

First-shot defense: This is most likely the result of an extremely small sample size, but so far, teams have made a high percentage of their shots against SLU. Opponents have made 56 percent of their threes against the Billikens, which is the most fluky of Saint Louis' defensive stats. What might not be as fluky is St. Louis' two-point defense, which ranks 203rd nationally (48.7 percent). If teams are able to get shots inside, they have been able to convert quite a few of them.

Depth: Saint Louis doesn't have a deep rotation, as only 19.8 percent of its minutes come from its reserves (335th nationally). As mentioned before, the Billikens haven't been foul-prone this year, but keep track of the whistles, as foul trouble will be more likely to hurt SLU than KU.

Blocked shots: SLU actually went crazy with blocks against Texas A&M on Monday, rejecting five shots. That moved the Billikens' season total for blocks all the way up to ... six. Blocks weren't a staple of SLU's defense a year ago (228th nationally) and shouldn't play a major factor in Tuesday night's game, either.

3 Players to Watch

• Six-foot-5 forward Dwayne Evans (No. 21) has shouldered the most scoring load for SLU this season and has done so successfully. He is the Billikens' most efficient player while also ending more than a fourth of his team's possessions. So far, the junior has been especially dangerous inside, making 17 of 23 twos (73.9 percent) and 17 of 21 free throws (81 percent). He also returns as one of the nation's elite rebounders, ranking 25th nationally in 2011-12 in defensive rebounding percentage and 147th in offensive rebounding percentage.

• KU will face its second straight Australian in the post in 6-8 forward Cody Ellis (No. 24).

Texas A&M forward Elston Turner defends against a shot from Saint Louis forward Cody Ellis during the first half of the CBE Classic, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Texas A&M forward Elston Turner defends against a shot from Saint Louis forward Cody Ellis during the first half of the CBE Classic, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

He's SLU's second-best player offensively behind Evans despite a poor shooting start (8-for-25 from the floor) because of his ability to draw fouls and make free throws (18 of 20 free throws this year). He's also sure-handed, posting the nation's 72nd-best turnover rate a year ago. This season, he has just two giveaways in 86 minutes.

• Six-foot-1 guard Jordair Jett (No. 5) isn't a great offensive player, but defensively, he's been a pest each of the last two years.

Saint Louis guard Jordair Jett and Texas A&M guard Fabyon Harris go for a loose ball during the first half of the CBE Classic, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Saint Louis guard Jordair Jett and Texas A&M guard Fabyon Harris go for a loose ball during the first half of the CBE Classic, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. by Nick Krug

He posted steals on 3.3 percent of his defensive possessions a year ago (161st nationally) and has upped that number to 5.3 percent in three games this season. He had three steals against A&M on Monday and could cause KU's sometimes-careless backcourt problems on Tuesday night.

Prediction

Saint Louis is a good team. A really good team. And one only needs to listen to KU coach Bill Self's quote about the Billikens to have that thought confirmed.

"They remind me of Davidson in that they are physical. They don’t give up easy baskets,” Self said Monday. “You’ve got to make shots against them. (Monday night), A&M didn’t. Their big guys can stretch it. The way they play they could present problems if we are not amped up and ready to go.”

If Sprint Center is as dead Tuesday as it was Monday, the Jayhawks will have to once again create their own energy early in a quiet arena.

Honestly, the elements are there for an upset: a slow-paced team (SLU is 307th in pace) that plays tough defense and, as Self mentioned, forces KU to make jump shots.

Also add in that SLU gets to the free throw line — and KU's perimeter defense is still shaky at best — and you can see why I'm talking myself out of picking the Billikens to win.

I'll say KU holds on and that the fans will get loud when the Jayhawks need them to.

But I'm not picking KU by much.

Kansas 62, Saint Louis 61

Hawk to Rock

Going against a defense that allows a lot of twos and doesn't block many shots? It's time for KU's Perry Ellis to take advantage of a matchup that suits him perfectly. Even if he doesn't start, I'll say Ellis puts in double-figure scoring to go with at least four assists in extended minutes.

Predictions tally
4-0 record, 44 points off (11 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)
Average: 5th in KUsports.com ratings

Reply

Inside-out threat Brock Motum the player to watch for Washington State

Washington State senior forward Brock Motum, left, and head coach Ken Bone, right, take questions during Pac-12 NCAA college basketball media day, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 in San Francisco.

Washington State senior forward Brock Motum, left, and head coach Ken Bone, right, take questions during Pac-12 NCAA college basketball media day, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 in San Francisco. by AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Team: Washington State
Record: 2-1
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 87

3 Strengths

Making shots inside: Washington State has made 58 percent of its twos so far this year (21st nationally), thanks in part to last year's Pac-12 leading scorer Brock Motum, who has made 61 percent of his inside shots (19 of 31). The Cougars also thrived in the stat a year ago, ranking 30th nationally while connecting on 52 percent of its two-pointers.

Defensive rebounding: WSU has grabbed 77.2 percent of the available defensive rebounds, which ranks 10th nationally. The Cougars completely shut Pepperdine off the boards in their last game, pulling down 29 of a possible 35 defensive rebounds (83 percent).

Foul avoidance: Through three games, WSU has allowed just 31 free throws to opponents (10.3 per game). The Cougars also have just 34 fouls, meaning — so far — they have made opposing teams earn their points through field goals.

3 Weaknesses

Three-point defense: Much like Chattanooga, Washington State has struggled with limiting teams from the three-point line. So far this year, opponents have scored 46 percent of their points against WSU from the three-point line (second-highest split nationally). The Cougars defense also has allowed the opposition to make 39.1 percent of its threes, which ranks in the bottom 75 nationally.

Forcing turnovers: As the lack of fouls might suggest, WSU is not overly aggressive defensively. The Cougars ranked 307th nationally in steal percentage a year ago and haven't been much better this year, ranking 260th in the stat. Opponents are averaging 13.7 turnovers per game through three games against the Cougars.

Offensive rebounding: WSU has been below average in this stat the last two years, as the Cougars' best offensive rebounders this year are bench players. Six-foot-5 Will DiIorio and 6-7 Junior Longrus have been the Cougars' top two guys on the offensive glass percentage-wise, but neither has played more than 12 minutes per game this season.

3 Players to Watch

• We have to start with 6-foot-3 point guard Royce Woolridge (No. 22), who will play against Kansas after transferring away from the Jayhawks two years ago because of a lack of playing time. The sophomore has been forced into big minutes and also the point-guard spot following the dismissal of three-year starter Reggie Moore in September. So far, Woolridge has performed how you'd expect a combo guard to perform playing as a point guard: He's shot it well (4-for-8 from three) while turning it over too much (giving it away on nearly one-third of the possessions he ends). Woolridge is a nice kid and has always said the right things when talking about KU, but one has to wonder just how he'll react Monday night facing the team he verbally committed to as a sophomore in high school.

• Six-foot-10 center Brock Motum (No. 12) returns for his senior year after leading his conference in scoring a year ago. The left-handed Australian is the Cougars' unquestioned go-to guy offensively, attempting 34.1 percent of his team's shots so far this year (54th-highest nationally). Motum's range extends all the way to the perimeter, as he made 39.7 percent of his threes a year ago (29 of 73) to go with 59 percent of his twos (191 of 324). Motum also was adept at drawing fouls in 2011-12, ranking 97th nationally with 5.8 fouls drawn per game. This should be a tough inside-out assignment for KU's Jeff Withey.

• Six-foot-5 Mike Ladd (No. 2) has been impressive in the early season after fully recovering from a thumb injury a year ago. The Fresno State transfer is a threat to get to the free-throw line (shooting 16 free throws compared to 18 field goals so far this year) and also has proven to be a good scorer inside (11-for-18 on two-point attempts). Ladd doesn't turn it over often, and he's also a big reason WSU has been dominant on the boards, as he's grabbed 23.4 percent of the available defensive rebounds when he's been in (156th nationally).

Prediction

The last two seasons, WSU coach Ken Bone has elected for an extreme, slow-it-down style, with his team ranking in the 300s in tempo both years. Playing against an athletic team like Kansas, I wouldn't be surprised if Bone tried to slow it down even more, hoping for a low-possession, half-court game against a KU team that has struggled manufacturing offense in the early season.

Much like the Chattanooga game, this one could hinge quite a bit on how well KU shoots from three. WSU will play some zone, and the Cougars most likely will try to pack it in and force the Jayhawks to make open threes over the top.

Defensively, if the Jayhawks are "turned up" as KU coach Bill Self likes to call it, they should be able to force turnovers against a Cougars team that is short on ball-handlers. Woolridge is playing a team-high 31.3 minutes per game, and he's not a true point guard, showing exactly how desperate Bone has been to leave his best ball-handlers in the game.

Though the game is in Sprint Center, where KU hasn't always performed its best, I think the Jayhawks will pull away with their defense, getting some easy baskets in transition while making at least a few of the open threes they see.

Kansas 69, Washington State 54

Hawk to Rock

This has the potential to change over the course of the season, but so far, Ben McLemore has been far and away KU's best offensive player. I'll say his hot streak continues against Washington State, with the freshman continuing to stay aggressive on a KU team that needs him to take control.

Predictions tally
3-0 record, 22 points off (7.3 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)
Average: 5.3rd in KUsports.com ratings

Reply

Jayhawks should be able to bomb away against Chattanooga

Team: Chattanooga
Record: 1-0
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 283

3 Strengths

Foul avoidance: I'll say this about Chattanooga — though it doesn't appear to be very good defensively, it isn't going to give up free points at the line. Coach John Shulman's teams have traditionally not fouled often, which includes averaging just 17.3 fouls per game a year ago despite playing at a very fast pace.

Defensive rebounding: This has been another staple of Shulman's teams, and though the Mocs lost four starters from last year's team, they should still be solid in this area. Chattanooga grabbed 70.8 percent of the available defensive rebounds a year ago (60th nationally) and returns one of its best rebounders in 6-foot-9 forward Drazen Zlovaric. The Mocs have finished in the top 100 in defensive rebounding percentage in six of Shulman's eight seasons.

Depth: I know this was just against Tennessee Temple — an NAIA team — but Shulman played 11 players for 10 minutes or more in his team's season-opening 88-53 victory ... something I'm not sure I've seen before in a box score. Shulman's teams typically run at a very fast pace, and it appears that the coach has enough bench players this year to substitute freely while playing his run-and-gun style.

3 Weaknesses

Three-point defense: This is the reason I'm interested to watch Thursday night's game: to see exactly what the Mocs do to guard the three, because statistically, it doesn't look like they do anything.

Last year, a whooping 48.9 percent of opponents' shots against Chattanooga were three-point attempts (NCAA average was 32.9 percent). That was the highest percentage in the country, and Shulman's teams have been in the top five in that statistic in each of his eight seasons.

Another way of looking at it: Opponents scored 41 percent of their points from three-point range last year, which again was the highest split in the country. NCAA average is just 27.5 percent.

KU should have plenty of opportunities to score from long range Thursday night.

Blocked shots: Chattanooga was next-to-last nationally in blocked shot percentage a year ago, rejecting just 3.3 percent of opponents' two-point attempts. Zlovaric was the only player on the team to have a block percentage above 1 percent (2.7 percent). To put this in perspective, all four of KU's big men a year ago (Jeff Withey, Thomas Robinson, Justin Wesley, Kevin Young) had higher block percentages than Zlovaric, and he was by far the best Moc at blocking shots.

Three-point shooting: Though the Mocs have traditionally jacked up a lot of threes under Shulman, they weren't successful at making them a year ago. Chattanooga made just 32 percent of its threes last season (265th nationally) and backed that up with a 2-for-22 shooting effort from three (9 percent) in the opener against Tennessee Temple.

3 Players to Watch

• Six-foot-9 senior Drazen Zlovaric (No. 20) was UTC's best shooter a year ago after transferring from Georgia. He made 55 percent of his twos last season (147 of 266) and was especially dangerous at the rim, making 71 percent of his layups (team average was 58 percent). He's also a strong defensive rebounder who limited his turnovers in 2011-12.

• Six-foot-5 forward Z. Mason (No. 30) will be relied upon more in his second season after transferring in from Ole Miss, where he played tight end for for the Runnin' Rebels for two seasons. Mason led the Mocs with 16 points (7-for-12 shooting) to go with five rebounds in 19 minutes against Tennessee Temple.

• Six-foot point guard Farad Cobb (No. 22) stood out defensively in the Mocs' opener, setting a freshman record with six steals in his first game. Cobb, who was ranked the No. 38 point guard in the class of 2012 by ESPN.com, also wasn't afraid to shoot, putting up 11 field-goal attempts in his 20 minutes. He made three of them to finish with eight points.

Prediction

Combine an up-tempo pace with a team that doesn't defend well, and this could be a game filled with highlight-reel plays for the Jayhawks.

Looking at KenPom's rankings, Chattanooga will probably end up being the worst team that KU plays all season.

KU coach Bill Self should have plenty of opportunity to empty his bench to get guys more game experience.

Kansas 81, Chattanooga 49

Hawk to Rock

Sharpshooter Andrew White III should get his longest look of the season, and he'll also be playing against a team that most likely won't bother covering him on the three-point line. I'll say that White puts in three three-pointers while limiting himself to two turnovers or fewer.

Predictions tally
2-0 record, 4 points off (2 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Average: 3rd in KUsports.com ratings

Reply

Could Jeff Withey be in line for big game against Michigan State?

Michigan State center Derrick Nix (25) and Connecticut forward Tyler Olander (10), back, watch the ball during their NCAA men's basketball game on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, on the Ramstein U.S. Air Force Base, in Ramstein, Germany.

Michigan State center Derrick Nix (25) and Connecticut forward Tyler Olander (10), back, watch the ball during their NCAA men's basketball game on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, on the Ramstein U.S. Air Force Base, in Ramstein, Germany.

Team: Michigan State
Record: 0-1
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 6

3 Strengths

Rebounding: Michigan State was a dominant rebounding team a year ago, and the Spartans did nothing to hurt that reputation against UConn. The Spartans were most impressive on the offensive glass, grabbing nearly half of their own missed shots (47.6 percent). Six-foot-6 sophomore Branden Dawson and 6-9 senior Derrick Nix are the two to watch on the offensive boards, as they combined for 15 of MSU's 20 offensive rebounds against UConn. MSU also controlled the defensive glass against the Huskies, allowing only seven offensive boards in Game One.

First-shot defense: It was tough to score against MSU from anywhere on the floor a year ago, as opponents shot just 30 percent from three and 42 percent from two (both numbers ranked in the top 15 nationally for defense). Though Big Ten player of the year Draymond Green has graduated, MSU should still be stingy defensively with above-average size on the wing and inside. MSU ranked third nationally in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency stat a year ago, and odds are, the Spartans will have a top-10 defense once again this year.

Swiping the ball: Michigan State was skilled at getting steals a year ago, ranking 61st nationally in steal percentage. Against UConn, the Spartans had nine steals, which included five from the aforementioned Dawson. Four other players registered steals in the game for MSU, meaning a sometimes-careless KU team will need to be wary of MSU's pressure.

3 Weaknesses

Shooting over length: Michigan State had problems getting shots off inside against UConn's size, as the Spartans had 10 shots blocked in the opener. Dawson and Nix appeared to have the most issues, as Dawson had four shots blocked, while Nix had three rejected. Partly because of those blocks, MSU made just 43 percent of its twos against UConn.

Three-point shooting: The big man Green actually was MSU's best and most frequent three-point shooter a year ago, and his departure (along with Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood) leaves the Spartans a little thin as far as perimeter shooting goes. It's a small sample size, but MSU made just 4 of 17 threes against UConn (23.5 percent).

Turnovers: A really good Michigan State team was only average at taking care of the ball a year ago, ranking 147th in turnover percentage (19.8 percent). The Spartans didn't do any better against UConn, turning it over on 23 percent of their possessions. MSU's big men appear to be the most turnover-prone, as the three frontcourt starters combined for eight of the team's 15 giveaways.

3 Players to Watch

• Six-foot-1 junior point guard Keith Appling (No. 11) is Michigan State's most dangerous player creating his own shot. He made 51 percent of his two-pointers last year while getting assists on just 29 percent of his shots at the rim and 15 percent of his two-point jumpers. He's also a threat to get to the line, as he had nearly as many free throws (170) as two-point attempts (211) a year ago. Though Appling was a good free throw shooter in 2011-12 (79 percent), he struggled from behind the arc, making just 25 percent of his three-point tries (24 of 96).

• Six-foot-4 freshman shooting guard Gary Harris (No. 14) was a McDonald's All-American last year and is known as an athletic player who has the ability to attack the rim. He struggled against UConn on Friday, making just 4 of 13 shots, including 1 of 7 from three-point range, though that's an extremely small sample size from which to draw. Harris has scored in double figures in each of MSU's first three games, which includes two exhibitions.

• Six-foot-6 sophomore Branden Dawson (No. 22) plays much bigger than his height. After tearing his ACL in March, Dawson showed no ill effects against UConn, posting 15 points and 10 rebounds (eight offensive) to go with five steals. The offensive rebounding isn't a fluke, as Dawson was the nation's 60th-best offensive rebounder as a freshman last season.

Prediction

This game could be ugly ... really ugly. Both teams play tough defense when set, and neither one was particularly impressive shooting the ball in its first game.

Though the Spartans dropped to No. 21/22 in the latest national polls, I think that might be a bit of an overreaction to one loss in an unfamiliar setting (the UConn game was played in Germany). Michigan State was ranked in the preseason top five by quite a few polls (including KenPom and Basketball Prosectus' Dan Hanner), so there's a pretty good chance that this Michigan State team ends up as a top 10 team by the time the season's over.

I'm expecting a close game, but I think Michigan State prevails, taking advantage of a young KU team that will struggle with turnovers in its first big-stage game.

Michigan State 60, Kansas 56

Hawk to Rock

This seems like the perfect game for Jeff Withey. It's no secret by now that the KU center plays better against true big men, and MSU has plenty of those. Also, Michigan State struggled getting shots over UConn's shot-blockers, meaning Withey should have plenty of chances for rejections. Withey has not always been known for his toughness, though, and he'll need to find his mean streak to fight for rebounds against MSU's bruisers. I'll still say Withey gets to 10 points, 12 boards and six blocks against the Spartans.

Predictions tally
1-0 record, 3 points off (3 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)

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SE Missouri has punch in post, problems on D

Team: SE Missouri
Record: 0-0
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Preseason Ranking: 229

3 Strengths

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).

3 Weaknesses

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.

Prediction

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.

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