Preview: KU men’s basketball continues homestand against Kansas City

The Kansas Jayhawks’ starting lineup is announced before tipoff against UConn on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

Kansas coach Bill Self said prior to the Eastern Illinois game that he didn’t expect UConn or Missouri to be the sort of games in which he could afford to give a lot of minutes to his bench players.

Missouri still awaits on Saturday, but he was certainly right about Friday’s win over UConn. Fifth starter Elmarko Jackson played a career-high 32 minutes and Johnny Furphy acquitted himself well in 14 as the sixth man — and both earned praise from Self afterward — but KU’s three additional scholarship players combined for just four minutes and 29 seconds on the court.

What Self likely didn’t anticipate was that EIU would have played the Jayhawks so close and also forced them to keep their starters on the floor for so much of the night last Tuesday.

The result is that it’s been a rather strenuous stretch for KU’s veterans; Dajuan Harris Jr., for example, has played at least 35 minutes in four games over the last two weeks (not to mention 34:59 against Chaminade one day earlier). Self said his body’s not built for that.

Getting far enough in front of Tuesday’s opponent, Kansas City, that Harris and company can rest and players like Nick Timberlake and Jamari McDowell can actually stay on the floor could be a big boost to KU in the long term. Timberlake hasn’t accomplished much on either side of the ball this year after arriving as a transfer from Towson with fairly high billing — KU coach Bill Self said Monday, “I love Nick, but he had three big faux pas as soon as he checked in, in two minutes” against UConn — while McDowell hasn’t had the chance to be much of a factor since impressing against Tennessee in the Maui Invitational.

The Jayhawks enter off the resume-building victory over UConn, in which incredibly tight defense for much of the game, and Kevin McCullar Jr.’s late 3-point shooting, allowed them to take down the Huskies. Now ranked second in the nation, they’ll look for a similarly complete performance, if amid a somewhat tamer Allen Fieldhouse, when they face the Roos.

To hear Self tell it, the week did not get off to a great start with what he called an “awful” practice Sunday, for which several starters were “nicked up” and the team was tired, and KJ Adams was still at home in Austin following his mother’s funeral Saturday. But Adams returned to Lawrence Monday morning and Self was hoping for better preparation from the rest of the team leading up to Tuesday’s game.

Kansas City was picked to finish eighth of nine teams in the Summit League in its second season under head coach Marvin Menzies, who earlier in his career took New Mexico State to five tournament appearances in a nine-season stint.

The Roos have never made the NCAA Tournament. Last year, Menzies had 10 freshmen on his roster and managed to go a respectable 7-11 in the Summit League but lost to Omaha in the first round of the league tournament. While Kansas City returns nine players, it lost both of its second-team all-conference players from last year and had no one selected to the preseason all-league team.

Jamar Brown, a JUCO transfer guard/forward from Phoenix College, is leading the Roos in points (14) and rebounds (5.6) per game. Fifth-year guard Anderson Kopp, back after a season-ending injury last year, and junior guard/forward Cameron Faas (another Arizona JUCO product from Scottsdale Community College) are also scoring in double figures.

Brown paced the Roos with 19 points as they earned their first win over a Division I opponent this year by dominating Southeast Missouri State, a team that had won its conference tournament last year, by a score of 74-44. That was Kansas City’s biggest win over a Division I opponent in five years.

“I think that they’ve got a much better roster than maybe what they’ve had the last couple years, so they’ll be a dangerous team in the Summit,” Self said.

KU is 8-0 in its history against the school formerly (and still somewhat more commonly) known as UMKC, with all of those wins coming by double digits.

No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (7-1) vs. Kansas City Roos (3-5)

• Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, 7 p.m.

Broadcast: ESPN+

Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network (in Lawrence, KLWN AM 1320 / K269GB FM 101.7 / KKSW FM 105.9)

Keep an eye out

Furphy’s role: When KU first made inroads toward signing and then eventually inked the freshman Furphy in August, his standout quality seemed to be his athleticism — his ability to make plays above the rim. So far, though, he seems to understand his primary purpose on offense to be shooting 3s. He said Monday, “Definitely haven’t been that kind of player in my career so far, but I think I’m enjoying it. I think I’m liking the shots I’m taking.” He has taken 26 of his 33 shots this season from beyond the arc, and he’s made 10 3s, so he’s hitting at a 38.5% clip. It’s a solid rate and it’s part of what has made Timberlake less critical in some ways early this season, but it’s also just a portion of his game. As Self noted Monday, look for Furphy to play a little bit more off the dribble as he becomes more comfortable.

Uncharitable: The Jayhawks have left a lot of points at the line this season already, as they are making just 68% of their free throws (101-for-149, 249th in the nation), but the Roos’ struggles are on a whole different level at 60% (92-for-154, 341st overall). Regardless of who gets fouled in the act of a shot Tuesday night, it’s safe to say some attempts will be clanking off the rim.

To the mean?: Hunter Dickinson has been dominant inside and on the boards, but he’s also been scarily accurate from the perimeter beyond that. The center is 11-for-17 from deep this year, including 3-for-4 against UConn, and has only gone one game without making a 3 (0-for-1 against EIU). The center, who called himself a “sniper” postgame on Friday, seems to have not only a shrewd understanding of which shots he can make from that distance, but of how quickly he needs to release them to avoid getting impeded by defenders. It’s unrealistic to expect him to continue to make 65% of his 3s; the question is simply how much he will regress in a greater sample size. He hit them at a 42% clip last season at Michigan.

Off-kilter observation

Super-senior walk-on Michael Jankovich is the only player on KU’s roster to have previously played against Kansas City. He made a 3-pointer in four minutes played against the Roos on Dec. 14, 2019.


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